By Reena Kumar
The government’s frozen pension scheme is “not only unjust, but clearly discriminatory,” Liberal Democrat MP Greg Mulholland has claimed.
The Leeds North West MP was speaking during a debate in parliament last Thursday (20), where politicians condemned the longstanding policy.
Over half of British state pensioners who retire outside of the UK, currently do not receive the annual up–rating of their UK state pension.
Campaigners have long criticised the practice for the disproportionate impact on those in black and Asian communities, as many retain ties to “frozen” countries, including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Mulholland spoke at length about his pride in representing a diverse constituency which is home to a mosque, and Hindu and Sikh temples, but expressed his dismay that “members of any of those communities are discriminated against… if they choose to go back to their country of origin, perhaps to live with family or to support family members.”
Margaret Ferrier, the SNP MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West, agreed that pension freezing was leading to discrimination.
“The frozen pension policy has a particularly significant impact on the life choices of those in British black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, who retain close cultural links to many Commonwealth countries where pensions are frozen,” she explained.
John Markham, chair of the International Consortium of British Pensioners, the main campaign group calling for an end to frozen pensions argued: that it was “morally wrong” to withhold up-rating from pensioners who decide to move abroad, and “grossly unfair” to treat recipients in some countries – primarily those in the EU – differently to those in the Commonwealth.
He added: “Frozen pensions are the dirty secret of successive governments, who have been content to ignore pensioners they felt were out of sight out of mind, regardless of the implications.
“Many expat pensioners are just as reliant on their state pensions as those living in the UK. Freezing their pensions leaves recipients with dwindling incomes, deprives them of their prized independence and leaves many in dire poverty towards the end of their lives.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has recently thrown his weight behind the long-running campaign. His move represents the first time the official opposition has ever supported unfreezing state pensions.
The debate in the House of Commons was secured by Sir Roger Gale MP who urged his Conservative colleague and minister for pensions, Richard Harrington, to consider proposals from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Frozen British Pensions to include all overseas pensioners in future uprating, at a cost of just £30million extra a year.
However Harrington said that there would be no change to the government’s position which has remained in place for the past 70 years. He cited cost as the main barrier to change, and said that the government did not believe this could be justified.