Pensions campaigner and former WPC chair Frank Field dies aged 81

Field was a former Work and Pensions Committee chair and a welfare champion

Professional Pensions
clock • 5 min read
Frank Field - 1942-2024 Photo: parliament.uk (CC BY 3.0)
Image:

Frank Field - 1942-2024 Photo: parliament.uk (CC BY 3.0)

Former Labour minister and crossbench peer Frank Field has died aged 81, his family has announced.

The politician announced in 2021 that he was suffering from a terminal illness. He died in a London care home on Tuesday night.

A statement from Lord Field of Birkenhead's family, issued by his parliamentary office, said: "It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Frank Field, Lord Field of Birkenhead. Through a long battle with cancer, Frank Field remained resilient and engaged with life until the end. He will be enormously missed by his family and wide circle of friends.

"Frank was an extraordinary individual who spend his life fighting poverty, injustice and environmental destruction. His decency and faith in people's self-interested altruism made a unique contribution to British politics. After 40 years of dedicated public service, Frank will be mourned by admirers across the political divide. But above all he will be deeply missed by those lucky enough to have enjoyed his laughter and friendship."

Field was MP for Birkenhead for 40 years from 1979 to 2019, serving as a Labour MP until August 2018 and, after resigning the Labour whip, sitting as an independent MP until November 2019.

After leaving the House of Commons he was awarded a life peerage in the 2019 Dissolution Honours List and sat in the House of Lords as a crossbencher.

Frank Field had been a pensions champion for many years and was elected as chairman of the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee (WPC) in June 2015 – a role to which he was re-elected unopposed following the 2017 general election and continued in until 2019.

During his time as WPC chair, Field led on many issues – including probes into pension scheme deficits following the collapse of BHS and Carillion.

Field had long campaigned on pension issues during his time in politics.

Field's work in pensions includes establishing the Pensions Reform Group in 1999 to campaign on pensioner poverty issues. The group was responsible for putting forward the idea of a Universal Protected Pension, an idea that was later taken up and implemented in a limited way by Steve Webb during his time as pensions minister from 2010 to 2015.

Field has also written or contributed to a number of books and articles on the topic, including: Making Sense of Pensions (Fabian Society, 1993), Private Pensions for All (Fabian Society, 1993), National Pensions Savings Plan (Fabian Society, 1994), Universal Protected Pension (Institute Of Community Studies, 2001), Debating Pensions: Self-Interest, Citizenship and the Common Good (Civitas, 2002) and How Saving Damages your Retirement (Politeia, 2003).

Field has also long been outspoken on welfare issues - and led the transformation of the debate on welfare from one that believed in a process of pure altruism to one which had a more sane view of human nature.

He was first elected as MP for Birkenhead in 1979 and served as the Labour Party's Education and Social Security spokesman between 1980 and 1981 under the leadership of Michael Foot.

In 1990 he took up the chairmanship of the Social Security Select Committee and continued in this role up to 1997. From 1997 to 1998 he was minister for welfare reform in Tony Blair's first cabinet. He then served as a member of the Public Accounts Committee between 2002 and 2005.

In 2010, in recognition of his expertise in the fields of poverty and welfare, Field was appointed chair of the Independent Review on Poverty and Life Chances.

Field also served as co-chair of the Cross Party Group on Balanced Migration and was a member of several all-party parliamentary groups, including the All-Party Group on Zimbabwe, the Group for Clean Coal and the Group for Dying Well.

He was also been a tireless campaigner against poverty and low pay. From 1969 to 1979, Field worked as director of the Child Poverty Action Group and in 1974 he became director of the Low Pay Unit.

Tributes

Paying tribute to Frank Field, Lane Clark & Peacock partner and former pensions minister Steve Webb said: "The world of Parliament, pensions and public life is lessened today by the loss of Frank Field. I first met Frank more than 30 years ago when I was a young economist and his support and engagement first got me involved in the world of Westminster.

"Although Frank was passionate about all the causes he believed in, he was not a ‘tribal' politician and was willing to work with people of all parties in support of causes that he believed in. Frank set the gold standard for how to run an all-party select committee. As chair of the WPC he used his position to hold the powerful to account and was particularly effective in support of members of the BHS pension scheme.

"Frank had that rare combination of compassion, anger about injustice and deep policy expertise which made him such an effective campaigner. His campaigning spanned early work with the Child Poverty Action Group to working for pensions justice on a range of issues in Parliament. He was valued around the House of Commons and his contributions were always listened to with respect. He will be much missed."

Pensions Management Institute president Robert Wakefield added: "We were saddened to learn of the death of Lord Field. Frank Field was for many years one of the most authoritative voices on the UK's pension system, and whether one agreed with his views or not, he was always held in the highest respect by all who worked with him. He was an outstanding chair of the WPC, and his impact of the pensions system will be felt for years to come. He will be greatly missed."

 

 

 

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