Monday, 4 July 2011

Cap care costs at £35,000 report says

Source - Press Association

An independent report has called for care costs for older people to be capped at £35,000.

The Commission on Funding of Care and Support - chaired by economist Andrew Dilnot - said the move would prevent circumstances where people requiring personal care are forced to sell their home to meet the costs involved.

The report's recommendations, which would cost the Government about £1.7 billion a year, would ensure that no one requiring residential care in retirement would have to spend more than 30% of their assets paying for it.

The commission also called for the means-tested assets threshold to be increased from £23,250 to £100,000.

The Government is yet to respond to the report, but Health Secretary Andrew Lansley earlier indicated its support for a cap on care costs.

Mr Dilnot said: 'The current system is confusing, unfair and unsustainable. People can't protect themselves against the risk of very high care costs and risk losing all their assets, including their house.

'This problem will only get worse if left as it is, with the most vulnerable in our society being the ones to suffer.

'Under our proposed system, everybody who gets free support from the state now will continue to do so and everybody else would be better off.'

The opens link in new window Dilnot Commission recommended that the cap on lifetime contributions to social care costs should be set between £25,000 and £50,000. However it went on to add that £35,000 was 'the most appropriate and fair figure'.

Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director at Age UK, commented: 'Age UK welcomes the Dilnot Commission recommendations, which set out a clear blueprint for long term sustainable reform of social care.

'The Government now needs to act on Andrew Dilnot’s proposals and follow the Commission’s ambitious but achievable timetable of a White Paper by the spring. Delay beyond Easter would be indefensible.

'By setting a clear cap on contributions towards the cost of care, the Government would lift the fear and uncertainty for many.

'The social care system has been neglected for too long and allowed to reach the brink of collapse. The time to act boldly is now to reassure today and tomorrow’s older people.'

opens link in new window View the entire Dilnot Commission 'Fairer Care Funding' report

Copyright Press Association 2011 (updated at 12.30pm from earlier pre-announcement story)

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Pensions: Unfair attacks on an already unfair system

The ongoing attack on ordinary older working age women and men is gaining pace and ferocity, which we must be prepared to stand up to.

All 3 main parties are committed to raising the retirement age for men and women to 66 and then soon after to 67, the difference being the coalition wants to do it even sooner, now by 2016 for men and 2020 for women.

The impact on older working age women (50+) is horrific, and the poorer they are the worse it will be. Firstly the retirement age is to go up from 60 to 65 within 6 years in 2018 – a rise of 5 years of forced extra work. This is unfair on so many levels, but one of them being that women who started work between 30 and 40 years ago have been given n time to prepare for this especially as saving for a pension was not a task required earlier in their life. The contract they started with which presumed that they could retire on their pension has been broken. As a result, 500,000 women aged 56 and 57 will endure a delay in their state pension of over a year; 33,000 will face a delay of two years.

On top of this women tend to get smaller state pensions and second pensions as they have often been out of the labour market while bringing up children and are more likely to be in part time employment. Employer pensions have also tended to be lower for women – with women receiving on average 15.7 % lower of the average male wage and again many have only been offered part time work. Many service industry and health and social care jobs are low paid and have been given predominantly to women and have little or no pension entitlements attached. In addition lower paid public sector jobs (including the NHS) are more likely to be carried out by women generating low pensions which are at present under attack by the government forcing people to work longer and pay in more. Finally the private pension sector has seen its own profits and that of its senior employees rise enormously but that has not translated for the majority of small pension holders into adequate pension benefits ( remember Equitable Life).

This has left us in the UK with one of the lowest levels of pensions in the EU for the majority of workers, especially women. Even the Netherlands, which has the second-lowest level, provides a state pension nearly double the UK figure. the value of Britain's state pension for a single person is 30.8% of the average wage. This figure is 32.5% in Ireland, 39.9% in Germany and 51.2% in France.

The result is that for many of us when we retire we move immediately into poverty – even with pension credits the total individual state pension payment is around £125 per week.
This is the situation today and now the government wants to make it worse forcing us to work longer to get minimal pension payments. Meanwhile our own research and drawing on figures from the Office of National Statistics has shown that the number of workless aged between 50 – 65 has grown to over 3.5 million, with the present public sector redundancies and cuts overwhelmingly targeting the over 50s ( over 66% of local authorities redundancies have been forced on the over 50s) this will get even worse. ONS figures show that for the over 50s at present, there is only a 16% chance of getting re-employed over the next year, that’s the lowest figure in a decade.

So while we are being forced to work longer and be denied our pension we are also being forced out of work so are having to rely on minimal state benefits that are even less than a pension.

In the face of all this Wise Owls supports the campaigns to stop this raising of the pension age, to halt the current timetable to force women to work 5,6 and then 7 years longer and to demand a basic living pension for all women and men.

We would also urge people to support our campaign against public sector redundancies especially the targeting of older workers and to support our Promoting Age Diversity campaign, which is geared to getting employers from all sectors to employ an age diverse workforce of older, younger and middle aged workers encouraging greater numbers of employees.

Given the level of opposition and resistance across the UK and now even more so across the EU to the government driven attacks on the standard of living of ordinary working people as a result of the tax avoidance and lack of taxation or regulation speculation by banks, large financial and global institutions and their millionaire owners and senior staff we would urge our fellow baby boomers to remember the lessons of the past.

Unless we take action then nothing will change, and we should support the youth, the social activists and working people who are now actively campaigning to force a new socially and economically just approach towards solving this crisis of capital
Wise owls

Friday, 17 June 2011

Education: The age of uncertainty

Later learning enriches the lives of thousands of elderly people. But widespread library closures could spell an end to many of these study groups.

The mass closure of public libraries is hitting older people and retired people who want to learn and keep their minds active. The sort of learning that goes on in the University of the Third Age (U3A) – the learning that retired people do because they want to do it, not because they need it for their careers – will be worst hit.

We know how serious it is because our 250,000 members are telling us. U3A study groups rely on public libraries for source materials. Some older people rely on a nearby library, or a mobile library, that will not be there next year. Many U3A interest groups depend on local libraries for research materials, and more than 30 U3As have told U3A News they are involved in campaigns to save their local libraries. Some 800 public libraries are expected to close around the country, about a fifth of the total.

The Government ought to be encouraging the U3A – it fits all the criteria the Prime Minister outlined earlier in the year. It requires no state funding; it is self-created and self-directed. It is a real example of people taking their learning into their own hands – we have no teachers, only group leaders who co-ordinate a group's efforts to learn. Our members fund it themselves, teach it themselves, and take all their own decisions.

One of many U3A members who have been in touch with us about libraries is Karen Jonason of Lewisham in south London, who began her retirement last summer by starting a campaign to save her local library from closure. The borough has 12 libraries and councillors want to close the five smallest.

Karen says: "Judging by the comments in the online petition I set up, they are particularly valued by older people, who fear they will become increasingly socially isolated as their neighbourhood libraries are closed." Karen and her fellow campaigners presented petitions with 20,000 signatures to the council before Christmas, backed up by street stalls and demonstrations at the town hall.

Haddenham U3A's 240 members are trying to save the well used local library, which serves their 5,000 inhabitants and surrounding villages in Buckinghamshire. Secretary Peter Wenham says: "Haddenham U3A, as a learning organisation, is determined to maintain a visible library service. From the U3A perspective, apart from the general use by many members, our book and play-reading groups rely on the library." The county council is advocating the replacement of librarians by volunteers. Some local U3A members would be prepared to volunteer but only if there is professional help, and they are not prepared to put librarians out of a job. Also, they cannot raise the £76,000 projected expenditure for 2010-11.

Sometimes reductions that seem quite small can have a devastating effect on our study groups. The Music Appreciation Group of Pembrokeshire U3A borrows CDs from local libraries. Its leader, Brian Harvey, says: "These have now been withdrawn and are only available online. However, there is no catalogue available, which makes locating what we need well nigh impossible. Additionally, ordering CDs is like negotiating a minefield."

Some of our older members are especially concerned. Alan Orme and his wife are nearly 80 and facing the loss of the mobile library service to Liss Forest. The library only visits on alternate Fridays from 11.55am to 12.20pm, but it's a lifeline – Alan and his wife partly arrange their diaries around its arrival. Alan says: "It will be difficult going the 1.2 miles to the occasional mobile in Liss [if that continues], let alone the six miles to Petersfield, or 10 miles to Alton, to the main libraries. We know that once lost, it will never return."

Ninety-year-old Nora Dunn, a U3A member in Oxfordshire, reports that her local library, situated in the local school and used by the children as well as the villagers, is threatened with closure. She tells me: "It will particularly affect my husband and myself because we are both housebound. I'm not looking forward to a bookless future."

Jeremy Senneck is chairman of Southwater U3A, where they waited 35 years for a promised library following a lot of new development. When it opened, five years ago, they were horrified at the short time that it was going to be open. Now a further cut in hours means that a village of 10,000 people gets three mornings and three afternoons per week.

U3A members Jackie and Colin Aylott tell me that Surrey Heath Borough Council is proposing to cut their weekly mobile library service in Windlesham from August. This means either a two-mile journey to Bagshot or a five-mile journey to Camberley for the nearest library service. Many of the villagers cannot drive, there are only two buses a day, and those are under threat too.

The U3A is resolutely non-political. It gets no direct help from central or local government, and asks for none. It's not for us to enter into arguments about how best to deal with the economic crisis, or what scale of cuts is needed, or whether central or local government is to blame. But it's been proved that continuing to learn into retirement keeps older people healthy, mentally and physically, which benefits both them and the health service.

It requires nothing from the public sector except a level of infrastructure, and in particular, good public libraries everywhere. Taking that away is appallingly short-sighted and, even in economic terms, it will cost more in the long term.

Ian Searle is chairman of the University of the Third Age

Learning at leisure

The University of the Third Age (U3A) was founded in 1982 to provide learning opportunities for people in their third age – people who no longer need to work full time or look after young children. The three founders were Michael Young (who also helped found the Open University), Peter Laslett and Eric Midwinter, and it took off after an avalanche of letters followed an interview with Eric Midwinter on the radio programme You and Yours.

The founders' principle was that groups of people would get together to learn what interested them, and would have, not a teacher, but a group leader, who might not know any more than the others, but could co-ordinate their efforts.

The U3A has grown every year since it was founded, and there are now more than a quarter of a million members in 798 local U3As. Each local U3A is autonomous, and sets up whatever study groups it wishes.

There are no examinations, no qualifications, and no set curricula. There is a national office that provides help, advice and learning materials to U3As, but does not tell them what to do, and a national magazine, U3A News.

For more information visit, email, or telephone 020 8466 6139

Article from the Independent

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

MPs's and their connections to Private Health Care

Wise Owls have compiled a selection of MP's who have connections to Private Health Care companies. The coalition government have now conducted their 'listening' exercise, and we at Wise Owls felt it important to see why they are so keen to open up the NHS to competition, which remains in the new idealogue despite this being one of the major concerns of the public.

The argument for increased efficiancy has not been won as a massive survey for the Commonwealth fund showed. The survey, which looked at 20,000 patients in eleven industrialised countries found that the NHS was almost the least costly healthcare system, of them all and gave one of the best levels of access to care. Other countries not only spent more per head, but also charged patients directly. Only Switzerland reported faster access to care. In addition utlities privatisation, such as water, railways and gas have proven to be a financial disaster for the customer as well as the taxpayer through subsidy increase. Should public services remain pubic?

We feel that any MP who has a direct financial gain or donation from a company should not be able to vote on a bill that is a conflict of interest regardless of whether they have registered it in the members of interest register.

The connections:

1. Andrew Lansley - John Nash, the chairman of Care UK, gave £21,000 to fund Andrew Lansley’s personal office in November 2009. In a recent interview, a senior director of the firm said that 96 per cent of Care UK’s business, which amounted to more than £400 million last year, came from the NHS. - Hedge fund boss John Nash is one of the major Conservative donors with close ties to the healthcare industry.

He and wife Caroline gave £203,500 to the party over the past five years.

The “hedgie” is also a founder of City firm Sovereign Capital, which runs a string of private healthcare firms. Fellow founder Ryan Robson is another major Tory donor who has given the party £252,429.45.

His donations included £50,000 to be a member of the party’s “Leader’s Group”, a secretive cash-for-access club. The would-be MP, who tried but failed to get selected as the election candidate in Bracknell, is managing partner at Sovereign Capital. - Daily Mirror

2. Andrew Lansley's wife, Sally Low, is founder and managing director of Low Associates ("We make the link between the public and private sectors"). A Daily Telegraph report in February records that the Low Associates website lists pharmaceuticals companies SmithKline Beecham, Unilever and P&G among its clients. It also records Ms Low's assertion that the company "does not work with any client who has interests in the health sector". The website currently contains no reference to the drug firms listed above. Channel4 news

3. Circle, the ambitious private healthcare firm run and owned by clinicians, has recruited a former aide to health secretary Andrew Lansley as head of communications. Christina Lineen spent two years working for Lansley, who became health secretary after the general election. The company’s income is derived from private patients, either on insurance schemes or paying for themselves, but it also treats NHS patients. - public affairs news

4. Nick de Bois, MP for Enfield North - De Bois is the majority shareholder in Rapier Design Group, an events management company heavily involved with the private medical and pharmaceutical industries, and whose clients include leading names such as AstraZeneca. The company was established by the Tory MP in 1998. Last year it had a turnover of £13m. Last April, Rapier Design purchased Hampton Medical Conferences to "strengthen the company's position in the medical sector". It is involved in running conferences and other events for private-sector clients, and for NHS hospitals. A number of the company's clients are "partners" of the National Association of Primary Care (NAPC), a lobby group supporting the health secretary's plans. Rapier Design Group's biggest clients stand to profit when the NHS is opened up to wider private-sector involvement. The GP commissioning consortium for south-west Kent, covering 49 GP practices and known as Salveo, has already signed a contract with the pharmaceuticals giant AstraZeneca aimed at improving diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Guardian

5. Patricia Hewitt, is a former director of Andersen Consulting (now Accenture - which has gained from PFI contracts - Former Labour Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has been an advisor to Cinven. Corporate Watch

6. Alan Milburn, then Health Secretary, was a consultant for Alliance Medical’s parent company. Alliance Medical runs diagnostic services for the NHS, including in Birmingham[15] and Falkirk.[16] UNISON reported that services were giving patients sub-optimal care, losing the NHS money because of below-capacity uptake, and pressurising hospitals into using private sector treatments - Corporate Watch

7. Lord Carter, the head of the increasingly influential Competition and Cooperation Panel, is an adviser to Warburg Pincus International Ltd, a private equity firm with significant investments in the healthcare industry. Chairman Patrick Carter, or Lord Carter of Coles to give him his full title, was the founder of Westminster Health Care, a leading private nursing home company. He is also the Chair of McKesson Information Solutions Ltd, which delivers IT to “virtually every NHS organisation”, the chair of Primary Group Ltd, a Bermudan based private equity company, and a substantial shareholder in, among other companies, B-Plan Information Systems Ltd, which has also benefited from the increased need for large scale IT systems that the introduction of an internal market to the NHS has brought with it (see the interview with Frank Wood, of King’s foundation trust, where B-Plan has worked, in the last news update). Carter’s register of interests in the House of Lords also lists him as an adviser to Warburg Pincus International Ltd, a private equity firm, which has significant investments in the healthcare industry. It even rescued United Healthcare from financial ruin in 1987 and helped it to become one of the largest healthcare companies in the world. He can now help it to become one of the biggest beneficiaries of the government’s reforms. - Corporate Watch

8. David Heathcoat-Amory - MP for Wells and a former Treasury minister, registered a payment of "£1,671.08 and health benefit to the value of £86.17" in July from Western Provident Association, which provides private medical insurance policies.

The MP defended his work as a non-executive director for the firm, which pays him around £20,000 a year, saying: "The insight I receive from that helps me during health-related debates in Parliament and being part of the world of work and commerce helps me in scrutinising other parliamentary bills." - Daily Telegraph.

9. Mark Simmonds, a shadow health minister, accepted a trip to the United States to look at hospitals there from Bupa UK. Mr Simmonds missed out on a ministerial job in the government.

10. David Cameron - Nursing and care home tycoon Dolar Popat has given the Conservatives £209,000.

The Ugandan-born dad-of-three has amassed an estimated £42million fortune as founder and chief of TLC Group, which provides services for the elderly.

Mr Cameron made the businessman a peer shortly after entering No10 last May, and Lord Popat’s donations include a £25,000 gift registered a week after the Tories’ health reforms were unveiled last July. Daily Mirror.

10. Rob Wilson, MP for Reading East, registered shares in Vital Imaging, a private screening company. Daily Mirror.

12. Stephen O’Brien Eddisbury MP - Stephen O’Brien’s office received three payments totalling £40,000 from Julian Schild. Mr Schild’s family made £184million in 2006 by selling hospital bed-makers Huntleigh Technology.

Mr O’Brien was moved to International Development after the election. Daily Mirror.

13. Lord McColl, is a paid consultant to a new private healthcare company that provides a fee-paying rival to the National Health Service’s family doctor service.

Endeavour Health, which was set up by two hedge fund advisers, claims to be Britain’s first comprehensive GP network, offering access to the best doctors and the opportunity to beat NHS queues and have appointments at any time they want. Endeavour Health was founded last year by two financial advisers, Briton Yadin Shemmer and American Jonathan Weiss, to compete with the NHS. Times online.

14. Mark Lloyd Davies - a French pharmaceutical company gave a job to this prospective Bristol South Tory - News of the World.

15. Simon Burns attended an oncology conference paid for by Aventis Pharma - a five-day trip to the US funded by a leading drug firm. Daily Mirror

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

New London Employer Survey Reveals Lack of Preparation to Deal with Abolition of the Default Retirement Age

A new survey by the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) and Penningtons Solicitors LLP reveals that London employers are ill-prepared to deal with the implications that the abolition of the default retirement age (DRA) may have on managing their workforce. Entitled Tackling the age-old problem of retirement, the findings show that 57 per cent are not prepared for and 26 per cent do not know about the biggest change to 2011 employment law.

The key findings of the survey are:

  • More than half (57 per cent) of respondents have not yet taken any action to deal effectively with the April and October 2011 changes to the retirement age, although more than four out of ten (43 per cent) respondents consider themselves to be either quite well or very well prepared.
  • More than a quarter (26 per cent) of respondents are not well informed about the abolition of the DRA.
  • More than three quarters (78 per cent) of respondents think that workers should be retained on their ability rather than their age.
  • More than two thirds (68 per cent) of respondents agree that the UK’s employment legal framework needs to be modernised. Although over a third (38 per cent) agree or strongly agree that keeping people at work longer will NOT solve the pensions’ crisis.
  • More than half (56 per cent) are concerned that older employees may refuse to retire even when they cannot perform their job effectively, and 54 per cent are concerned about the lack of clarity about how to legitimately retire employees.
  • More than four out of ten (44 per cent) of respondents are concerned that there will be more age-related and Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) tribunal claims for unfair dismissal and that there will be fewer promotion opportunities for younger workers.
Third Age Employment Network

Friday, 27 May 2011

Brits 'facing poor retirement'

Britons are avoiding planning and saving for their retirement despite being fully aware of issues such as the UK's growing ageing population and less generous pension schemes, according to a report.

The report, by the HSBC, found just 39% of people have a financial plan in place for their future, despite many planning on going part-time in their 50s and giving up work at 62.

One in five said they do not know how they will fund their retirement, while 21% expected to be able to live off a state pension.

The report said that people seem to be avoiding the fact that people are living longer and that company pensions are likely to be less generous when they retire.

Around 49% of people expect to be worse off in their old age than their parents, with just 27% expecting to have a higher income.

A further 68% of people admit that they are worried that they are not financially prepared for when they stop work.

Even among those who do have a financial plan in place, only 26% have taken professional financial advice on what they should do.

David Wells, head of investments, pensions and savings at HSBC, said: 'The emergence of this ostrich generation is a real concern.

'Britons know that they need to plan and save more for their retirement, yet are not turning this knowledge into action.'

Monday, 23 May 2011

Over 50 And Out Of Work: 'My Wife Doesn't Love Me Anymore; My Kids Don't Love Me' (VIDEO)

Mike Risinger's 17-year career as a draftsman started falling apart in 2008. When the financial crisis hit, he spent a year working as a contractor, and then a few weeks working for a friend before a starting an endless stretch of unemployment. Now his wife is working two full-time jobs to pick up the slack.

"We see her very little, and usually when we do see her she's dead tired and doesn't want to do anything," Risinger says in a video posted online May 9. "It's miserable."

Risinger, who lives in Portland, Ore., says one of his two daughters wants to go to college next year. "I don't know how she's going to pay for it. The finger gets pointed at me," he says, his eyes weary. "I seem to have lost my edge. I can't get an interview anymore."

"My wife doesn't love me anymore," the 58-year-old says, smiling instead of crying. "My kids don't love me."

Risinger's video lives on Over 50 And Out Of Work, a site created by New York-based journalist Susan Sipprelle to document the jobs crisis among older workers. Sipprelle, 52, is looking out for people like herself.

"I could see the impact this is having on my peers," she says. "So many of our interviewees thought they were set for life."

The site has videos of jobless Americans from all over the country. Sipprelle and her team this week embarked on their final trip -- to Louisville, Ky. -- where they will film their 100th interview.

Story continues below

Workers older than 55 are much less likely to lose their jobs, but once they do, they're much more likely to be unemployed for a long time. The average jobless spell for older workers now lasts longer than a year. The anxiety and despair among people stuck in this situation has been well-documented in studies, particularly by Carl Van Horn at Rutgers University's John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development. (Van Horn is one of several experts Sipprelle has interviewed for the project.)

But statistics and expert witnesses can't convey the poignancy that Sipprelle's jobless interview subjects can.

Elizabeth Zima, of Calistoga, Calif., for one, has been out of work since she lost her job as a health care writer in 2008 and has already blown through her retirement savings.

"I can't pay my taxes," says Zima, 57, suppressing sobs in a March 15 video. "I can't pay my taxes. I've always filed. I always have felt it's been my responsibility. I can't pay 'em. Even an extension -- I'm not gonna be able to pay 'em."

Sipprelle says two or three of the people she's profiled have since found work with pay comparable to what they'd earned before being laid off. A few others have taken jobs with much worse pay, while some have struck out as entrepreneurs. "We have a handful in really, really bad shape," she says.

To view video - click here.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Prague Poll: 5 out of 6 confirm age discrimination at work

Prague, May 2 (CTK) - Five out of six persons (85 percent) believe that a group of people is discriminated against at work in the Czech Republic, according to a STEM institute's poll released yesterday.

The portion of those who say some employees are discriminated against has been the highest since 2004 when this kind of poll was conducted for the first time by STEM. It is 9 percentage points more than in the previous poll held last November.
Only 1 percent of the respondents said deliberate discrimination certainly did not occur at work. Nearly one third of Czechs hold the opposite opinion, or that deliberate discrimination certainly occurred at work.

About 87 percent said they believe employees or entrepreneurs were deliberately discriminated against because of their age. Three-fourths said a worsened health condition was a reason for discrimination at work.

Other frequent reasons for discrimination were maternity or pregnancy (69 percent) and race (59 percent).

On the other hand, only 7 percent of the respondents said employees were discriminated against because of their faith or religion, and according to 14 percent this happened because of one's sexual orientation or political views.

Respondents had similar opinions on discrimination irrespective of their age, education or political views or whether they were employees or entrepreneurs. There are certain differences between the opinions of men and women and of people from different social groups.
The poll was conducted on 1286 people over 18 in early April.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

It is 19 years since the British Medical Association last thought it necessary to call a crisis meeting of its members in response to upheaval in the NHS. On that occasion, 26 March 1992, representatives of doctors across Britain debated John Major's attempt to reform the NHS by separating the purchasers of healthcare from the providers. On Tuesday a special representative meeting will take place again – this time to consider its position in relation to Andrew Lansley's plan to take the internal market of that era several stages further and prepare the NHS for privatisation.

Lansley has a problem; few of the BMA's 140,000 members believe his plans are sensible or will deliver what he claims. The British Medical Journal has dubbed the reforms "Dr Lansley's Monster", the National Audit Office has warned that the quality of service offered by GPs could drop, and the King's Fund has pointed out the government runs the risk of replacing the bureaucracy of performance management with the red tape of economic regulation.

This mother of all reforms plans to further extend the healthcare market within the health service in England, fronted by GPs, herded en masse into commissioning consortiums. They will be given £80bn of public funds to buy healthcare from a system of competing providers under an "any willing provider" policy that will see private hospitals able to provide NHS care.

For professionals delivering care, the commercialisation of the health service will lead to a situation where clinical decision-making is increasingly influenced by financial considerations leading to the erosion of the social contract between doctors and patients. This is an affront to the public service ethos that glues the NHS together. The traditional role of doctors as the true advocates of patients will soon become history, just as it has in the US.

But the BMA has its own problem: many of its members believe its policy of "critical engagement" with the government over the NHS reform white paper that became the current health and social care bill has failed, and that it has to be more direct. Despite having more than 30,000 GPs in its ranks – the supposed winners from the shakeup – the BMA has been criticising the bill in increasingly strident tones. But the meeting will hear impassioned pleas for "critical engagement" to be replaced with outright opposition to the entire bill.

The BMA must grasp the nettle and unmask Lansley's reform agenda for what it is – the final step in the privatisation of the service. No amendments are going to turn this sow's ear into a silk purse, and the special representatives' meeting needs to vote in favour of rejecting the bill in its entirety. This would send out the strongest possible message that the grassroots of the medical profession have understood and rejected Lansley's ideologically driven plans.

The meeting should also recognise that a continuous evolution of the NHS is needed, with greater provider responsiveness and accountability. However, a high quality and efficient NHS will never be achieved using the market forces of "creative destruction". It is time to reject the market ideology that has plagued the NHS for more than 30 years and wasted billions of pounds, and move forward with a publicly funded, publicly provided, publicly accountable healthcare system based on co-operation, collaboration and the social contract between doctors and patients.

Tomorrow's meeting will be passionate and argumentative. There is a huge issue at stake: how doctors should respond to, and hopefully extinguish, plans that have little logic, support or justification. The BMA has world-class leaders. But at times such as these, when the core of the NHS is at risk, they can no longer simply wait and watch.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Government eyes reform of basic state pension

The basic state pension needs radical reform and cannot be immune from the Coalition Government's welfare shake-up, Iain Duncan Smith will declare today. The Work and Pensions Secretary wants to scrap the pension credit top-up scheme introduced by Labour for over-60s on low incomes and instead give people more incentive to save. The move could be signalled in the Budget on 23 March.

By simplifying the system and cutting administrative costs, Mr Duncan Smith believes the basic state pension – currently £97.65 a week for a single pensioner and £156.15 a week for a couple – could be raised to a flat-rate pension worth around £140 a week for all pensioners. This would benefit women and carers, who are disadvantaged by the current system because many do not clock up enough national insurance contributions (NICs) to qualify for the full state pension. The new "single tier" pension would be based on residency rather than NICs.

Critics may argue that people who cannot afford to save while they are of working age could be worse off and that the proposal would help better-off pensioners. Any reform potentially carries high risks because there is a high turnout among the 10.5 million pensioners at general elections. But Mr Duncan Smith is confident he can sell the proposed change as fairer and more generous than the present system.

He intends to sweep away means-tested state handouts which, he argues, penalise people who save while working. At present, the £6bn-a-year pension credit guarantees a minimum weekly income of £132.60 for a single person and £202.40 for a couple.

In a speech to the Age UK charity in London today, the Work and Pensions Secretary will say his plans mirror his proposal for a universal benefit for people of working age. "We have to send out a clear message across both the welfare and pension systems – you will be better off in work than on benefits, and you will be better off in retirement if you save," he will say.

Mr Duncan Smith's approach is backed by Steve Webb, the Liberal Democrat minister for Pensions. They are believed to have made progress in their negotiations with the Treasury, which was initially wary. However, such a fundamental reform would have to be phased in over several years.

Monday, 7 March 2011

London Mayor Refuses To Meet With Wise Owls To Discuss Shocking Age Audit Findings

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has refused to meet with Wise Owls to discuss the findings of our recent Age Audit and our wider Age Equality Impact Assessment Campaign.

The Audit, which used FOI data to examine employment opportunities and redundacy rates of older people within London Borough councils, found that over 50s are 3 times more likely to be fired than their younger counterparts. In addition, over 50s made up as little as 18% of new recruits.

Despite these shocking findings, our request to meet with the Mayor has been turned down.

For more information on our Age Equality Impact Assessment Campaign and the findings of the Audit, click here

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Friday, 25 February 2011

Local Elections: Independent Candidate Recruitment Drive

The Independent Network is recruiting ‘Independent Candidates for Local Government Elections’ by placing advertS on the popular listings site Guardian Jobs,, Gumtree,

The Independent Network is the only campaigning organisation that promotes and supports independent candidates and non-party politicians. Ahead of the Local Elections 2011 it has launched a recruitment drive to encourage those dissatisfied with party political representation to stand for local government positions. Applicants are requested to “run as candidates for local government positions to represent their communities and consciences [treating] political opponents with courtesy and respect whilst being free from the control of any political party, pressure group or whip”.

The adverts are targetting people in all 279 English local authorities excluding London: candidates are also sought to the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly. Applicants from London are receiving advice on how to organise a longer campaign for independent candidacy at the next London local elections in 2012.

Councillor Catherine Lewis, from Torfaen, Wales and recently short-listed for an ‘Online Councillor Award’, said:

“The Independent Network is encouraging people of all ages and all backgrounds to apply by posting adverts on, and as well as the high traffic Guardian Jobs site. Through targeting a variety of websites they are likely to capture the attention of a variety of possible candidates. It’s great to see such a widespread recruitment drive. Unlike national elections, it’s free to stand for government at a local level, so there really should be no barrier to getting involved with your local democracy.”


Independent candidates are being sent a new campaign manual, produced by the Independent Network for independent candidates standing in the May 2011 local government elections.

Jim Thornton, an Executive member of the Independent Network, and co-author of the booklet said:

“The manual, ‘Elections on a Shoe-string’, includes ideas from all round the country for getting maximum votes for minimum cost. Local press ideas, innovative canvassing tactics, cost efficient impact publicity, and the basic ‘need-to-know’ information is all included. Copies are being sent to independent groups of councillors and supporters of independently minded politics across the United Kingdom, and are available for free to all candidates endorsed by the Independent Network.”

Councillor Tom Bletsoe, St Ives, Cambridgeshire, 18 years old and the UK’s youngest councillor, said:

“I’m living proof that young people can get elected. The election campaign is a great experience where you have to learn a tool-kit of new skills, and if elected you’re given the opportunity to represent your communities and have a say in how your council is run. 2.5 million people are currently unemployed. 951,000 of those 2.5 million are aged between 16-25: that’s almost 1 million intelligent, energetic people who could get involved with local politics. Only 37 percent of 18-24 year-olds voted in the 2005 General Election – the lowest percentage turnout for any age group, but we are still interested in local issues and in political issues, we’re just fed up with party political tribes.”

Mayor Tony Egginton, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, the first independent elected Mayor, said:

“The recruitment drive offers solutions to disgruntled voters and those with some time to give – from new graduates to skilled labourers and retired businessmen. It could be an opportunity – in an employment vacuum – for young people and old to engage with a political system that does not appear to represent them. Over the last two decades membership of UK political parties has fallen drastically but most people remain interested in local issues. It’s so important that these people are encouraged to stand for election without having to sell-out to a political party.”

To receive endorsement from the Independent Network candidates’ commitment to the Bell Principles is assessed at a local level. The Bell Principles are the first code of conduct for elected representatives.

Martin Bell OBE, The inspiration for the Bell Principles, said:

“It is a time for the election of independents, without party baggage but with real world experience, to be a force for honest politics in local government. They will be answerable not to a political party but only to their constituents and their consciences.”


A training day will be held for independent candidates on Saturday 26th May in London, just six weeks ahead of the local elections 2011. The six weeks that follow are when the bulk of each candidates’ campaign is run. Representatives from the Electoral Commission, from the Independent Group at the Local Government Association, long-term councillors and new media campaigners will give workshops as the independent candidates gear up to the final make or break weeks of their electioneering.

Tamsin Omond, national coordinator of the Independent Network, said:

"Some people would like to run for local council positions but may not know that they can, particularly without selling out to a political party. We want to encourage them and show them that there is an alternative to party politics and that the Independent Network will support them. At a local level people want to be represented and many do not believe that party politicians will represent them.

"Independents are the only alternative to party politics. The Independent Network wants dedicated local people who are committed to the Bell Principles and to their constituents to stand for local government.”

The adverts can be viewed here:,, WISEOWLS AD,


Notes to Editors:

For more information please visit: Alternatively you can contact the press office at 020 7609 0777 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 020 7609 0777 end_of_the_skype_highlighting.

The Independent Network is a loose non- profit association that provides support to candidates who do not belong to a political party. The Independent Network was established to provide support for independent candidates, as no other organisation existed to support them.

Independent candidates do not have access to a large national party structure with its human and financial resources. The Independent Network was formed to attend to this inequality and continues to encourage the electorate to acknowledge the success and influence that independents are having in local Government and can have in Parliament.

The Independent Network does not impose any political views on the individuals and parties it supports or that support the Independent Network. However, endorsed candidates must be non-discriminatory and adhere to The Bell Principles.

The Bell Principles require that all endorsed independent candidates:

  • abide wholeheartedly by the spirit and letter of the Seven Principles of Public Life set out by Lord Nolan in 1995: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership
  • be guided by considered evidence, our real world experience and expertise, our constituencies and our consciences
  • be free from the control of any political party, pressure group or whip
  • be non-discriminatory, ethical and committed to pluralism
  • make decisions transparently and openly at every stage and level of the political process, enabling people to see how decisions are made and the evidence on which they are based
  • listen, consulting our communities constantly and innovatively
  • treat political opponents with courtesy and respect, challenging them when we believe they are wrong, and agreeing with them when we believe they are right
  • resist abuses of power and patronage and promote democracy at every level
  • claim expenses, salaries and compensation openly so the public can judge the value for money of our activities.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Pensioners £80bn 'out of pocket' from underestimated inflation rate

Pensioners have lost out on around £80 billion because the rate of inflation was underestimated for the past 12 years, experts have warned.

Millions of pensioners missed out on hundreds of pounds a year because their retirement benefits had not increased to reflect the full rise in inflation.

The Bank of England admitted in its monthly inflation report, published this week, that the Consumer Price Index, to which many pensions are pegged, was 0.3 points a year higher than figures had previously stated between 1997 and 2009.

It meant that prices ended that period almost 4 per cent higher than recorded in the official figures released by the Office of National Statistics.

Experts said this meant that pensioners on the average pension of £16,500 would have seen their payments cut about £650 a year.

Many final salary pension schemes link pension payments to inflation. If the rate rises so does the annual payout to pensioners.

But the Department for Work and Pensions dismissed suggestions that benefit rates to pensions would be changed. It said this would be done only “if the official inflation figures were recalculated and republished”.

The CPI error came from a misreporting of clothing and shoe prices which were affected by heavy sales discounting.

The ONS “picked up seasonal falls in prices during the winter and summer sales, but did not fully capture the recovery in prices after sales had finished”, the Bank said.

The ONS changed the way it recorded the prices of clothes and shoes in January last year. But according to the report, the miscalculation was “likely to have a larger impact on the retail price index inflation than on CPI inflation”.

John Broome Saunders, from BDO Investment Management, estimated the cost to pensioners could be as high as £80bn.

“Had the inflation calculation been done correctly, many final salary scheme members would now find themselves entitled to a pension around 4 per cent higher than their actual entitlement,” he said.

“And this doesn't just affect pensioners – deferred scheme members have also been denied a similar level of increase."

Mike Smedley, a pensions partner at KPMG, the global accounting firm, said: "While these sound like small amounts, they add up over the life of a pensioner.

“This just highlights that the small-print lottery of company pension scheme rules will have an even greater impact than we previously thought."

Richard McIndoe, head of pensions at Strathclyde Pension Fund, one of the largest pension funds in the country, described the disclosures as “messy” and “unfortunate".

“Pensioners will feel aggrieved when they see this, and they think they should have received four per cent more,” he said.

A DWP spokeswoman denied that the changes to the calculation affected benefit rates or pensions.

“Inflation figures are determined by the ONS who regularly do work to improve their methods of calculation,” she said.

“Any changes in methodology do not mean that previous inflation rates were incorrect."

An ONS spokesman said the inflation measurement “improvements” were part of a programme to ensure figures were kept up-to-date.

“(The) ONS agrees with the Bank of England that the improved collection practices for clothing better reflects current consumer behaviour and have improved the measurement of clothing prices,” he said.

“Implementation of such improvements do not, of course, mean that there were measurement errors in the past.”

He declined to comment further. The BoE said responsibility for inflation calculations remained with the ONS.

Daily Telegraph