Join the discussion – you can comment below each post

Monday, 27 February 2017

News updates - from the internet

Our regular round up of relevant news items, selected by Steve Ion of NW ARMS.

Health cuts most likely cause of major rise in mortality, study claims - here.

Burnley first football club to use older mascots - here.

A community of LGBT pensioners could be set up in Manchester - here.

Many pensioners will be worst off under new state pension - here.

Life expectancy to break 90 barrier by 2030 - here.

One in six parents may ask children for cash to fund retirement - here.

New study suggests Alzheimers could be caused by excess sugar - here.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Blame the message, not the messenger

A PCS rep posted this on Facebook:
PCS has started a petition against all of the proposed [Jobcentre] closures. Please consider signing and sharing with others. 
Someone wrote underneath: 
PCS scum still doing the Tories dirty work. Now you've outlived your usefulness ...
To which I replied:
Doing the government's dirty work by:
Marching to support the NHS on 4 March against Tory attacks.
Opposing fascism and racism.
Opposing Tory-approved tax gap that loses the UK economy £120 billion a year.
Opposing Tory Jobcentre closures.
Campaigning against Tory attacks on benefits.
Opposing Tory HMRC office closures.
Supporting strike action in EHRC to protect jobs against Tory cuts.
Immediately I posted that, a 'like' by a woman appeared, far too quickly for anyone to have read the whole comment. A few seconds later the 'like' vanished: presumably it hadn't been what she'd expected after all.

This exchange summarises a problem I have experienced quite a few times previously. I recall in the late 80s/early 90s trying to set up liaison with local NALGO representing social workers and council welfare rights advisers to campaign on welfare issues. They didn't have the courtesy to reply to any of my approaches.

I have argued with people who claim that PCS members should refuse to implement sanctions on principle. I've told them quite clearly that:
  • Individuals who do so of their own initiative will be disciplined; if they still refuse to do their job as required, they'd be sacked.
  • If the union told DWP staff not to implement sanctions, it would be taken to court. If it persisted in such illegal industrial action, then all its funds would be sequestrated.
  • Reps would be systematically picked off by individually being ordered to carry out sanctions, and sacked when they refused. Union organisation within DWP would disappear.
  • Members would desert PCS in droves because the union would have thrown away all their money on a political action that was doomed to failure from the start. Plus there wouldn't be any reps left anyway.
  • We would have a non-unionised DWP, which is what the Tories would love.
I've found that, faced with that scenario, the critic concerned usually has had no response.

I'd previously had similar arguments about Crisis Loans with people who told me we should pay everyone who applied, and not turn them down on judgemental grounds. I'd explain that if we had done that, we'd have blown our monthly budget too soon, after which we'd have to reject every application for the rest of the month. They too preferred to see the staff as the villains, rather than blame the people who devised the system.

There's no easy answer to this problem. All we can do is challenge such attitudes as and when they occur, and try to reason with any organisations if they spout such arrant prejudice, because that is what it is. In my experience, most people don't feel this way, but the minority that does is very vocal, self-righteous and sometimes ill-mannered, as above.

Attacking PCS members because of the injustices caused by sanctions is a bit like criticising hospital staff because of unacceptable waiting times in A&E. Too many people cannot distinguish the messenger from the message, but it is particularly exasperating when such political short-sightedness comes from people who, presumably being somewhere on the Left, should be capable of pinning the blame where it truly belongs. When they don't, they are falling into the Tories' favourite trap: divide and rule.

The petition opposing Jobcentre closures is here.

Neville Grundy

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Generations unite!

Reject the divide-and-rule propaganda.

Since I began working in the DHSS (now DWP) in 1980, it has been government practice to vilify in turn particular sections of society who they claim are a drain on resources. Firstly it was 'feckless' 16 and 17 year old benefit claimants who had their rights to claim removed on the basis that education and training were available. The fact that they may live in households where everyone was on benefits due to the massive contraction in employment in the 1980s was not considered relevant. Quite often the consequences were either financial hardship for the whole household, or the young person being thrown out. I don't believe it's a coincidence that the modern version of homelessness began around this time. Next in line were the chronically sick and disabled and the single parents, who had all previously been exempt from the requirement to be available for work; they too were told they could no longer expect something for nothing. Now it's the turn of pensioners.

None of this is new: there have always been attempts to divide and rule the populace, whether the basis is class, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, family structure (such as the demonisation of single parent families or same-sex couples raising children) or employment status. It is a more recent tactic to try to make younger generations feel deprived because of the privileges allegedly enjoyed by the so-called baby boomer generation.

I was one of several ARMS NW members who attended a Generations United Against Austerity conference in November 2016 organised by the Merseyside Pensioners Association. The overriding theme was opposition to government and media attempts to create divisions in society based on the flawed concept of generational unfairness. Quite crudely, the older generation stands accused of various privileges, such as having final salary pensions, state pensions received earlier than those now working ever will, bus passes, winter fuel payments, and so on. Some of us are even guilty of owning our own homes that we paid for over a lifetime of work. Downsize, we are now being told, to make room for younger people who can't afford to get on the property ladder. The nonsense here is that downsizing will not reduce house prices by a single penny, but it does help stoke the deliberately-cultivated impression of a selfish older generation jealously guarding its privileges, while concealing the reality that housebuilding has declined massively in recent years through deliberate government inaction. There simply aren't enough houses to go round, and shortages always result in price rises, thus perpetuating a vicious circle of ever more unaffordable homes.

It is true that many younger workers will have worse pensions than those paid to their older counterparts with the ongoing collapse of final salary schemes, and the suggestion is that such schemes are becoming increasingly unaffordable, but how true is this assumption? As I recall, the big question about pension schemes in the 1970s was not whether they could be afforded, but what to do about the fact that, because they had so much money, they were distorting the Stock Market. Pension fund investors were accused of being too cautious and unwilling to take risks, thereby constituting an obstacle to entrepreneurship and innovation in the economy which, it was argued, impacted negatively upon growth. The Thatcher government therefore introduced pension contribution holidays, whereby employers could take a break from paying into funds that, supposedly, had more than enough capital to meet their obligations. Light touch regulation, a euphemism for no effective regulation at all, allowed employers such as Robert Maxwell to steal from their companies' pension schemes with impunity. The taxpayer ended picking up some of the pieces, but the Maxwell pensioners still lost out badly; I doubt any of them would agree they were generationally privileged. Former BHS employees today probably feel similarly aggrieved.

One of the first acts by Gordon Brown in 1997 was to abolish the tax relief pension funds earned on dividends from stock market investment. Presumably he was still of the mindset that pension funds were cash cows waiting to be milked, rather than deferred wages upon which ordinary people without huge reserves of capital had to depend in their later years. The consequence of all this political interference in pension funds was that they have gradually slipped into deficit, but our rulers still insist that demographic changes (meaning increased life expectancy – politicians love words like 'demographic') are the primary cause of the collapse of final salary pension schemes.

There are some exemptions to the assault upon final salary schemes: boardroom executives still continue to retire early on final salary schemes (such as Fred 'the Shred' Goodwin), while MPs accrue a pension equal to the average UK salary (£27,600) in under 15 years, and after 40 years can have a pension of £74,962. For everyone else, the reduction of pension scheme benefits continues unabated. The recent Tata Steel settlement requires the workforce to abandon its final salary pension scheme in favour of a less beneficial money purchase 'defined contribution' fund.

Parallel with all this talk of generational unfairness has been the rapidly widening chasm between boardroom salaries and shop floor wages. Chief executives are frequently paid millions of pounds per year, with huge bonuses on top, while the average wage in the UK is £27,600. In the 1970s, bosses might receive 40 times what their employees did, but now they are paid hundreds of times more.

It is this increasingly unbridgeable gap between bosses and workers, between rich and poor, between the governing classes and those they rule, that all the talk of intergenerational unfairness is trying to obscure. Many in the media are happy to go along with this facile nonsense, but seeing that 43% of UK national newspaper columnists were privately educated (according to Government research published in 2014), this is scarcely surprising. Most MPs are millionaires now, so it is clear where their instincts lie, even among some who might call themselves socialists. It is important we reject these new myths of generational privilege and focus upon the real causes of unfairness in our society.

It would be wrong to suggest that all pensioners live in poverty; clearly that is not the case, and no one is seriously making such a claim, but when I listen to official pronouncements about pensioner privilege, the mindset behind the propaganda that I perceive is that the natural condition of ordinary retired people should be poverty. Actually, that's the direction we're going with pensioner deprivation on the increase. For example:
  • According to the Office for National Statistics, 24,300 older people died of cold related illnesses from December 2015 to March 2016, with rising fuel costs being seen as the main cause.
  • Since 2010, social care budgets have been cut by around £5bn and experts say that next year there will be a £1.9bn shortfall which will increase to £2.3bn by 2019/20.
  • The number of councils providing meals on wheels to vulnerable older people has now dropped for the first time to below 50%, according to the National Association of Care Catering.
The government disguises the reduction in state support for older people with their rhetoric of generational unfairness. Wealthy MPs, i.e. most of them, will never suffer in old age from the indignities and poverty they are increasingly imposing on a 'privileged' generation of retired people.

A final thought for younger workers who may find the intergenerational unfairness arguments persuasive: the consequences of cutting benefits and pensions for older people now will come to you in time, and will certainly not enhance your own prosperity, neither now nor at any time in the future. Quite the opposite is likely: cutbacks will continue until it's your turn to retire, leaving you in an even worse position. The main aim of the inter-generational conference was to oppose cuts that affect all people - young, old, unemployed, students, workers and pensioners - and resisting the 'divide-and-rule' tactics that are being deployed against us all. If we do not, then what we all lose will contribute to the further enrichment of the already wealthy. 

Neville Grundy

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Fracking Day of Action - 25 February

NW ARMS is looking into the possibility of coordinated action involving PCS branches and ARMS in the National Day of Action against fracking on Saturday 25 February at Preston New Road near Little Plumpton in Lancashire.

The fracking fight is now moving into a new phase where causing physical delays and ramping up costs will hold the key to deterring future investment in the industry. There is a rolling blockade at Preston New Road (9am-3pm weekdays) when work is happening.

For more details of the Day of Action, and other information about fracking and the campaign against it, please see the Frack Off Newsletter for February and March - click here.

News updates - from the web

Our regular round up of relevant news items, selected by ARMS' Steve Ion.
Social care on the brink - here.

Labour supports variable pension retirement age, but I am not convinced. Office workers suffer stress and long hours; why should they be any different? There is real dangers in this - here.

Threat to sheltered housing - here.

Stranded hospital patients lengthy waiting times for care, with one left waiting a year - here.

The robot revolution and care for older people - here.

Up in ARMs Issue 1 2017

Click here for the latest edition of the ARMS newsletter Up in ARMs, the national magazine for the union’s retired and associate members. Your views on content are always welcome.

In this edition:
  • Pensioners back-door bedroom tax
  • Save Chorley A&E
  • Triple-lock loss
  • State pension age review
  • Sick of the NHS?
  • ARMs members and austerity
  • Turning tides in Hull?
  • ARMs newsbrief
  • Contact details

Friday, 10 February 2017

NHS demo, London 4 March

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to update you on arrangements for the transport to London for members who want to attend the National NHS Demonstration on March 4 2017, we plan to arrange buses to transport members from Liverpool, Manchester and Preston.

We expect the buses to leave the appointed locations on Saturday March 4 at around 7am to arrive in Tavistock Square London, WC1 in time to assemble at noon, the buses back to the return locations would leave Parliament Square at 5pm, we would expect the journey back to take at least 4.30 hours.

Can any members wanting a place on the appointed buses please notify me on stating which location you want to depart from by noon on Monday 13 February 2017.

Thank you in advance for your cooperation,


Caroline Turner
Regional Organising Officer

Thursday, 9 February 2017

News updates - from the web

Our regular round up of relevant news items, selected by ARMS' Steve Ion.

Robots could help solve social care crisis - here.

£1 billion is needed to stabilise social care - here.

The state pension the only option for the future - here.

Will the UK state pension age reach 74? - here.

5% increase in council tax to pay for social care - here.

Pensioners at risk of housing shortage - here.

Ministers' social care suggestion that families should provide care ignores the million childless over 65s - here.

Friday, 3 February 2017

For a socialist - not red, white & blue - post-EU Britain

Derek Hatton’s criticism of Jeremy Corbyn’s proposed support for May’s Brexit position is off the mark (Liverpool Echo 31/1/17). Corbyn is reflecting the majority 'Out' vote which I supported on the basis that the EU is a pro-capitalist, pro-austerity institution. Derek will remember that we campaigned for a socialist Brexit because EU directives opposed public ownership and enshrined privatisation. I remain implacably opposed to May’s 'red, white and blue Brexit' as an attempt to offer more of the same.

Corbyn had the choice of voting against Brexit, thus ignoring the wish of the majority or voting 'For' while demanding that the interests of the working class be protected. Correctly, he chose to do this.

Some Labour MPs are justifying their criticism of Corbyn by quoting the majority Remain vote in their own constituencies. It's a pity they didn't reflect that wish when poll after poll showed support for the public ownership of rail, energy, and the whole of the NHS.

In or out of the EU the working class will still be faced with facing down the most savage attack on the trade unions and social provision for a hundred years. That’s why I will continue to support Corbyn, albeit with the call for him to go further in transforming Labour into a fighting socialist party.

Tony Mulhearn
Letter to the Liverpool Echo