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Retired members stirred for action against government's cuts

28th January 2013

The Coalition government's onslaught against pensions and benefits formed the focus of the retired member's conference in Birmingham on Thursday 24th January.

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General secretary Billy Hayes attacked the White Paper on pensions headlining a £144 a week state pension, as being a misrepresentation: "The government's own analysis shows that if the existing schemes were left in place they would pay out more. This is buried in the statistic that by 2060 the new scheme will cost 0.4% of GDP less than if the existing schemes remained.

"There is no new money going into this scheme," he said, "but the Institute of Fiscal Studies predicts that the Treasury is going to get a windfall of £9.2bn in extra National Insurance contribution from employers.

"If implemented, this reform will produce a shock when employees have to pay an extra 1.4%, and their employers an extra 3.4% in National Insurance from 2017," added Billy who pledged that the CWU would join the campaign against this "dog's dinner of a reform."

Billy also highlighted the injustice of raising the retirement age of state pensions. The figures speak against this. Quoting statistics from the TUC, Billy claimed "disability and poor health are preventing nearly half a million people approaching retirement age from working. That's nearly 2 in 5 of those approaching the state retirement age."

Also attacking the present talk of means testing benefits like the winter fuel allowance, Billy said: "The figures are clear - three million pensioners are in fuel poverty. Last year 24,000 older people died from cold related illnesses. Yet the government wants to reduce fuel payments." Billy pledged his support for the National Pensioners Convention's three point plan which seeks a fuel allowance of £500 for every pensioner household; an expanded programme of insulation and energy efficiency installation in houses and prevention of the big six energy companies from making excessive profits.

Read what else Billy had to say on Billy's Blog.

Government inspired attempts to means test benefits, whether they be winter fuel allowance, bus passes or TV licenses, caused heated debate.

Motions passed variously calling for the RMAC to work with the TUC and the Labour Party to ensure means testing was not introduced for any of these benefits.

Mike Creak from Western Counties highlighted the benefits as "rights not handouts."

Ken Ward of Plymouth and East Cornwall branch told how the free bus pass helps people to do voluntary work, meet others and not become lonely, saying: "Means testing is degrading and there are a lot of people out there suffering."

Rod Downing for the RMAC said that the rich don't get bus passes because they don't use the buses and the passes need to be applied for. He claimed that 60% of those on the buses were pensioners using passes. "If you take away the bus pass, pensioners won't be able to afford it," said Rod, who also highlighted how there would be loss of jobs among drivers due to bus usage reducing.

Rod then suggested the MPs are living in a different world, as highlighted by their granting themselves another pay rise: "If we could get the pensioners on the street and bring London to a standstill, the government might take notice."

Phil Duffy of Merseyside Amal identified an effort to divide and rule by suggesting that younger generations were suffering due to the payment of universal benefits to older people. "The current economic crisis is being used to attack public services, the NHS and education," said Phil, "our fight is for the pensioners of today and tomorrow."

Phil also called for a guarantee from Labour supported MPs that benefits won't be cut or means tested.

There was strong support for a motion calling on the RMAC to work with the NEC to "outlaw the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP)." The LCP was created in the 1990s by the Royal Liverpool University Hospital working together with Marie Curie Palliative Care Institute to help with the dying. It was seen as transferring the best elements of palliative care in hospices to hospitals and care homes. It is intended to help terminally-ill patients into a calm, comfortable death in the place of their choosing. There have though been claims that elderly patients have been refused food and water to speed up death and that neither they, nor relatives have been told doctors consider their case to be terminal.

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The government has announced a review. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has declared that the individual and his or her family must be consulted about the LCP. Cathy Leech (pictured) for the RMAC highlighted how the LCP was being seen by some as "back door euthanasia."

Cathy also told of the payments being made to hospitals to put people on the LCP. She claimed that some of the publicity over the LCP had worried some elderly people so much that they were refusing to go into hospital.

Cathy also pointed to the danger of the tick box mentality that has developed in the NHS.

Brian Hudson of West London branch introduced a motion criticising the performance of the Care Quality Commission. He questioned the make-up of the CQC, with members drawn from the private sector care homes having a financial interest to protect. Brian claimed that this bias led to the CQC focusing much attention on the NHS thereby deflecting from the inadequacies of the privately run care sector.

The motion called for the CQC to be given powers to issue improvement notices that have to be complied with in 30 days. The next stage would be closure of the home, with all costs incurred for movement of the patients being born by the provider. There was also a call for anonymity for whistleblowers.

Supporting the motion for the RMAC, Brian Lee called for an additional power to be added for the CQC to be able to inspect without prior notice.

Another motion passed calling for a protest to be organised at BT headquarters about the switch from linking pensions to CPI rather than RPI.

Other motions addressed concerns about social care provision and tax dodging by business and individuals.

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Senior deputy general secretary Tony Kearns attacked the way in which the government has tried to turn people against each other. This has included simplifying and misrepresenting the argument via terms like scroungers (those out of work) versus strivers (those in work) when many of those on benefits are in low paid work.

"The narrative of the government is workers versus scroungers, it's divide and rule," said Tony who went on to highlight how the media misrepresented the picture over benefits, so that 41% of people now believe that a large amount of the welfare budget goes to the unemployed, when it is 3%. Similarly people believe 20% of the welfare budget is fraudulently claimed when the real figure is 0.7%.

Tony also referred to how over the past 30 years the amount of GDP going in wages has gone down from 59% to 53%. At the same time profits have expanded from 25% to 29%. During the same period the amount of profit going to the financial services sector has risen from 1 to 15%.

Tony called for the CWU to work together with other unions, campaign groups defending the right to protest, those fighting hospital closures and beyond to oppose the government's unjust policies. He declared it a disgrace that there are children going to school hungry in the sixth biggest economy on the planet and warned that "you haven't seen anything yet" in terms of the cuts with just 6% so far implemented.

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Guest speaker Dave Chivers, vice chair of CWUYouth, warned that 13 years of betrayal of core values from the Labour Party had led the way to the present government's ideologically based assault.

Dave outlined many of the CWU youth's activities, including taking part in the TUC demos, anti-fascist protests and the Keep the Post Public campaign. Also mentioned was the housing and homelessness initiatives the youth constituency has undertaken with Crisis and Young Labour. "We punch above our weight but need to do much, much more," said Dave, who appealed for retired members to come and share their experiences with the youth via the likes of the website and social media.