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 www.u3a.org.uk, email national.office@u3a.org.uk, 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