Saga has joined the campaign to restore pensions for up to 125,000 workers who lost out when their companies collapsed.
Following the rejection of the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s report in March, Saga says it has decided to join the campaign after it was struck by the response to this issue from the readers of Saga Magazine.
Saga says perhaps the most unpleasant aspect of the scandal is the way the government “has been spinning numbers”, by using “questionable methodology” to arrive at what it calls the ‘cash’ cost of £15bn which is needed to restore all the pensions.
However Saga says the actual cost estimated in today’s money is only £3bn spread over 60 years, with the amount being reduced over the years by the claw back of taxes and a reduction in the benefits which victims of failed schemes currently have to claim to make ends meet.
Tim Bull, director of the Saga Group, says it is pressing for assistance of failed schemes now, as there are thousands of people of retirement age in economic limbo, but he points out there are wider implications of rebuilding faith in the future of pensions.
He says: “How can the government encourage people to save for their retirement if people who did just that are left without the pensions the government always assured them were safe?”
As a result Saga is urging its two million customers, the readers of Saga Magazine and listeners of Saga radio to all lobby their MPs to call for justice to be done, while also signing up to its Campaign for Pensions Justice.
It says while complete government U-turns are rare, in this case natural justice demands just that.
Bull adds: “Many pensioners and those planning for retirement are sick with worry about their future. It is time the government recognised the strength of feeling and the depth of the injustice. Saga is proud to support this campaign.”
Dr Ros Altmann, an independent consultant and campaigner with the Pensions Action Group (PAG), says: “The potential for Saga’s two million customers to wreak political damage on the government is enormous. This group of people is far more likely to vote than the rest of the population and will not stand by while this scandal worsens.”
Saga also plans to start an online petition through its website, it will lobby Ministers and will help mobilise support at the Labour Party conference to try and persuade Labour backbenchers to join the campaign.
Altmann says once Saga’s customers learn the truth about the government’s “callous behaviour” and unprecedented rejection of both the Parliamentary Ombudsman and Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) reports, they are bound to demand action.
She says: “The shambolic Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS) which has hardly helped any of those affected, while government pretends it is being generous, is no more than political spin. We are talking about a gross injustice, that the government is morally obliged to fix and the nation is well able to afford.”
Altmann points out the scandal will affect everyone both because of the damage to our democracy if Ministers are allowed to behave as if they are unaccountable for the injustices they cause to innocent citizens.
“This issue will not go away and the sooner the government admits its mistakes and faces up to its responsibility, the better for all of us,” says Altmann.
Meanwhile the campaign already has the support of at least one Labour backbencher as Alan Simpson, MP for Nottingham South, has started a public petition to try and persuade the House of Commons to force the government to restore pensions to those who have lost out.
The petition states “there is a public duty to restore the pension entitlements of the 85,000 pensioners whose lifetime contributions disappeared in collapsed pension schemes”.
It points out the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s report: Trusting in the Pension Promise, concluded successive governments ignored warnings the Minimum Funding Requirement did not adequately protect workers’ pensions.
As a result the petition reads: “The Petitioners believe the Government has to accept responsibility for ignoring these warnings and concealing them from the public. The Petitioners therefore request the House of Commons press the Government to introduce legislation restoring full pension entitlements to those who have lost their pensions.”
Meanwhile John Benson, a former employee of Allied Steel & Wire (AS&W) a company which collapsed in 2002, has started a private petition which is planned to be delivered directly to the government.
Benson’s petition points out that although the Parliamentary Ombudsman found the government guilty of misleading workers over the safety of their occupational pensions, and recommended financial redress, the government refuses to accept its responsibilities to these victims.
The petition follows Simpson’s in calling for Parliament to hold the government to account, by stating: “We the undersigned condemn this government for their actions an attitude towards these decent people and call on government to uphold the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s report in full.”
This additional support for the PAG comes on top of its own petition which currently has over 1,400 signatures asking for the restoration of lost pensions, with the aim they will continue to campaign until “we get our promised pensions”.
Meanwhile the PAG is currently waiting for the government’s defence to the Judicial Review papers which was launched on 14 June. It was temporarily adjourned while the organisation waited for the outcome of the PASC inquiry into the government’s rejection of the Ombudsman’s report.
Once the government has responded to the papers Altmann says they can go forward and apply for a judicial hearing.
The Review is the second court case being brought against the government over its mismanagement of occupational pensions.
A case accusing the government of breaching the Insolvency Directive is currently awaiting a decision in the European Court of Justice. Although the Advocate General has announced her opinion in favour of the government the court decision is not expected until the Autumn.
However Altmann says: “So far there has been no date set yet for the verdict, but it is expected in the Autumn. However even if it is in our favour. this would only be a step to more court action in the UK, so no result is likely to come very quickly from that.”
In the meantime, the organisation is planning a demonstration at the Labour Party Conference in Manchester, where it is hoping to see the trade unions pushing hard for the government to change its stance, while gaining additional public support through a half mile march followed by its trademark “stripped of our pensions” protest.
If you have any comments you would like to add to this story or would like to speak to its author about a similar subject, telephone Nyree Stewart on 020 7968 4558 or email [email protected]IFAonline
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