Women’s entitlement to a State Pension has been systematically exploited by Westminster governments over the years. First we have the scandal of the WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) women, women born in the early 1950s who were not afforded the government’s own rules of notice of an increase to their state pension age. Now we hear that women awarded a small state pension in their own right were ultimately eligible to claim 60 per cent of the basic state pension, based on their husbands’ contributions, something the women affected were not made aware of.
This anomaly was highlighted as far back as during the coalition government’s time in office (2010-2015) by the then Work & Pensions Secretary Steve Webb, yet only now do we hear any call for justice. This is a scandal of monumental proportions because it affects well in excess of 100,000 women, many of whom have existed in poverty, with deteriorating health, unable to correctly look after themselves due to a lack of income – it is scandalous.
Many hundreds of hours of debate on the plight of the WASPI women have been heard in the House of Commons, with cross-party agreement for justice, even from the Government benches, yet the Westminster Government’s exploitation of women and state pensions continues. Becoming a pensioner should be a good experience, a feeling of “well done” after an average of 50 years of work, so it is quite galling to learn that the Government are exploiting your entitlement to a state pension.
Catriona C Clark, Banknock, Falkirk
In that great parody of Victorian life HMS Pinafore, Gilbert & Sullivan created a caricature of legal pomposity, Sir Joseph Porter KCB, who sang the immortal words: “I grew so rich that I was sent, by a rotten borough into Parliament, I always voted at my party's call, and I never thought of thinking for myself at all. I thought so little they rewarded me, by making me the ruler of the Queen's navy.”
Now, happily, our parliament in Westminster is filled with honest, hard working professionals, few of whom would be First Lord of the Admiralty. This coming week will see just how many of the occupants of the green chaise at Westminster actually have a conscience – or how many will hope, like Sir Joseph, to be rewarded with some minute ministry post and the concomitant rewards.
Sir Joseph was fictional; this, however, actually matters to folks who are facing real hardship this year and we need a government clean, bright and slightly oiled to face the problems in society. Hopefully “Partygate” will be over this week and minds can concentrate on societal problems. Just check the number of foodbanks in the UK and remember that we are the seventh richest country in the world – but where is the money held?
Vote with your conscience and clean out the Augean stables
Alan Naylor, Penicuik, Midlothian
Professor David Simpson has proposed that the Scottish Government should cease to publish the annual statement of Government Expenditure Revenue Scotland (GERS) because it is misleading, open to misinterpretation and serves only as ammunition for Unionists. His proposal is sound, but the danger is that if it was implemented, the accusation would be levelled that the SNP was trying to obscure the country’s fiscal position and might possibly lead to Westminster taking over the publication, with figures given no scrutiny by Scottish Government officials.
If it is to continue, however, there is a case for attaching a clear health warning to every issue, detailing the flaws in its make-up, its irrelevance to an independent country with a full range of fiscal powers, and including a comparable, short form statement of UK revenue and expenditure over the same period demonstrating the extent of the UK fiscal deficit covered by borrowing.
James Scott, Edinburgh
Now that restrictions are being lifted again, people will be looking forwards and hoping that we are at last seeing the end of the Covid nightmare and that we can ease ourselves back towards some sort of normality.
Inevitably, there will be questions asked about how we dealt with the pandemic, and in Scotland we will almost certainly see comparisons about how we did compared to other areas of the UK. The truth of this is that our pattern and trajectory has usually been more or less the same, with a lot of ineffectual talk and confusion arising out of small differences and timings. The overall result has been more or less the same everywhere, namely a lot of heartache and anguish and a weakened economy which will probably take the rest of this decade to recover.
However, we have now seen the Scottish Government coming up with a really good and distinctive idea, which will hopefully be adopted by others. The suggested badge/lanyard that indicates that people are still anxious about distancing is a really simple and intuitive way of acknowledging that some people are ready to move forward with more confidence than others who will just need a bit more time to readjust. I hope that the badges/lanyards can be made available and rolled out quickly, and that people respect them and the need for them. Potentially, they could be an important component in what will hopefully now be a period of transition.
Victor Clements, Aberfeldy, Perthshire
I won't be stepping into the road to give “extra space” to anyone who fears catching Covid – the onus is clearly on the badge-wearer to step away from me. Or will the badge-wearer be legally allowed to push me into the gutter? I've rarely heard of such tripe, but I'm sure the Scottish Government will soon insist on us all wearing diving-helmets on our way to the shops. Or perhaps we'll have to wave a Covid-flag while going to the pub. Do any of the people responsible for this asinine idea occasionally visit the real world? Or would that be too risky? Havers.
Steve Hayes, Leven, Fife
In 2019 UN Poverty Rapporteur Philip Alston issued a damning UK report. Then, a fifth of the population lived in poverty and 1.5 million were unable to afford basic essentials. Since then, the combined effects of Brexit and Covid have significantly worsened the picture. Rocketing energy bills, regressive tax increases and inflation have forced millions more into abject poverty.
Alston identified the UK government’s deliberate shift in underlying values shaping government policy since 2010 as the cause of the misery. Compassion for suffering, he said, has been replaced by punishment of those least capable of coping with today’s world.A prime example is provided by food writer and anti-poverty campaigner Jack Monroe. She demolished the government’s claim of a 5 per cent cost of living increase. For those who have long relied on the cheapest supermarket staples such as pasta, rice, baked beans, canned spaghetti and bread to survive, prices have risen by 141 per cent, 344 per cent, 45 per cent, 169 per cent and 29 per cent, respectively. Furthermore, many products are smaller but priced the same, a practice known as “shrinkflation”. Yet upmarket supermarket prices for a ready-meal haven’t changed since 2011. If subject to the same inflation rate as rice, instead of £7.50 one would cost £26.
Alston acknowledged Scotland’s frantic efforts to mitigate the worst aspects of UK austerity policy, but the Scottish Child Payment, free school meals and Best Start Foods cards can only scratch the surface. Creating a nation that cares for all its citizens will only happen once we reclaim our independence.
Leah Gunn Barrett, Edinburgh
In the run-up to Brexit the SNP continually warned us about the devastating consequences it would have on employment, quoting a Fraser of Allander Institute report which predicted the loss of 80,000 jobs (only in the event of a Doomsday scenario). Today, John Swinney is heralding strong employment in Scotland, with unemployment at a historic low. Should we not be receiving an apology for their pure scare tactics, bordering on lies, or is the Brexit reality now going to be used to boost the case for Independence?
Ken Currie, London
Arts of darkness
Now the restrictions which have effectively closed down performing arts in Scotland have been lifted, I looked to book tickets for Celtic Connections to find that all the concerts I had my eye on in November are cancelled. The vast majority of these are acts from outside Scotland who usually provide the diversity that sets this festival apart from the too often insular Scottish arts scene.
As it is clear that England followed the science and kept their arts, entertainment and hospitality sector open at a financially critical time of the year, while Nicola Sturgeon imposed restrictions with no justification, then I find it baffling that there has been no outcry from Scottish performers as there has been from those behind nightlife and sport. Is this because so many Scottish artists are vocally supportive of the SNP and their separatist cause? Do they still think “wheesht for indy” is a good idea? Or do they now realise they are merely players in the SNP's game and their interests do not matter when there is a grievance to be pursued? If so, it is time for them to speak out, especially as the local authorities who run many of the venues they rely on are facing further massive cuts to their budgets from the SNP/Green government which could see performers literally out on the streets.
SJ Clark, Edinburgh
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