Blog

Lions lead by donkeys

Happy to have helped the Sunday Times’ Ian Cowie in this ongoing injustice.  If you feel as strongly about it as I do, you can sign the petition here.  It’s a disgraceful situation made worse by the fact that remedy is simple and cheap.

The longer this is allowed to continue unabated, the greater the injustice. Not ‘sense’ of injustice, but actual injustice. If anyone is interested, this is my slightly redacted briefing note, outlining the case. To date, no one who has looked into the matter hasn’t declared themselves amazed it a) happened, b) was allowed to happen.

It’s easy to overlook this particular profile/tranche of serviceman/woman, they aren’t that many in number and they’re generally of a personal and professional disposition and circumstance which precludes them from making a fuss. They’re middle ranking officers looking for good jobs in civvy street, too, so they don’t make particularly good media.

This doesn’t excuse the actions of the MoD. And if you tolerate this, then your children will be next.  This is Ian’s piece..

image

<<“Nothing in the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War will do much to help those brave men and women who died there or suffered serious injuries while serving in Britain’s armed forces. But financial compensation could be given to some survivors, if there was the political will to do so.

The awful truth is that this government seems determined to deny service men and women the financial protection they were led to expect. In particular, members of the armed forces can be made redundant just a few weeks or months before they become entitled to immediate pensions.

The ‘p’ word may be a bit misleading, here, as this income can be received decades before retirement. These are regular payments to people with at least 16 years’ service, designed to help them cope with an involuntary return to civilian life. While this is less dramatic than questions about what Tony Blair did – or did not – know when he committed Britain to war, some of those who served in Iraq and must now rebuild their lives claim they have been short-changed by £250,000.

For example, former major Chris Braithwaite, 41, served in the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment in Afghanistan, the Balkans and Iraq. He told me: “When we were in Basra, we were subjected to rocket and mortar attacks on a daily basis for seven months. This was a great worry for my wife, Laura, but we believed the financial security provided by the Army would recognise that family sacrifice – until the rug was pulled from under us.

“We had sold our home and were preparing to move with the regiment to Germany. On the same day that I went on parade to receive the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal I was told there was bad news and I would be made redundant just 87 days short of the 16 years’ service I needed to receive an immediate pension.

“My family has been disadvantaged to the tune of £250,000. I wrote to the Armed Forces Committee and got a couple of letters back, saying nothing could be done.”

When I asked the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to comment, a spokesman said: “All personnel will receive an Armed Forces pension. The very small minority who were made redundant shortly before they became eligible for an immediate pension were given a significant lump sum payment to compensate.”

Braithwaite received £122,000. That may sound like a fortune but Al Rush, a former RAF Regiment gunner who is now a specialist independent financial adviser at Echelon Wealthcare in Rutland, East Midlands, said: “Yes, a good sized lump sum payment was made. However, it goes nowhere near replacing the value of what was withheld.

“Total payments to one of my military clients were £95,281 including all redundancy and terminal payments. However, under the pre March 2010 rules – which were surreptitiously changed just before the redundancies were announced – he would have received an annual pension of around £10,906 which he will not receive under the current rules until he is in his sixties – in effect, losing over 22 years’ of income – or more than £245,385.”

Rush added that many ex-servicemen and women struggle to adjust to civilian life and told me: “I know from personal experience – I was awarded a war disability pension and found the transition very hard. As a former volunteer in a shelter for the destitute in Peterborough, I know only too well how disadvantaged former service personnel are and how disproportionate their homeless numbers are, compared to civilian counterparts.”

When I reported how Braithwaite’s hopes had been dashed in 2013, Ros Altmann – then an independent pensions adviser to the Treasury – told me: “The MoD has reneged on its written commitment to these people, who feel betrayed and powerless.”

Since then, this governor of the London School of Economics’ expertise on pensions has earned her a place in the House of Lords. But so many politicians have flipped their opinions through 180 degrees recently, ditching their friends and their principles, that cynics might not have been surprised if such lofty elevation had changed her point of view.

Not a bit of it. Last week Baroness Altmann told me: “Our armed forces are not permitted trade union representation, which means they must rely on the military covenant to be treated decently by the nation they have fought for.

“I have met some of the brave people affected and was so upset to hear how badly let down they feel after putting their lives on the line for us all. Their families planned their lives around promises about immediate pensions and this is the first time a UK government has refused to compensate service personnel for losses caused by redundancy just before qualifying for immediate pensions.”

It may be worth pointing out that Ros – as she was then – campaigned tirelessly for a statutory safety net to protect savers in private sector company pensions after many went bust in the late 1990s and early 2000s. For several years, her calls were ignored by a series of ministers before the Pension Protection Fund was set up and tens of thousands of people’s life savings were restored.

So her continued support for servicemen and women, despite government indifference, offers hope for the future. Rush and others who prefer not to be named at the pressure group Pension Justice for Troops have posted a petition at change.org which more than 56,000 people have signed. In a week when the Chilcot Report focussed many minds on how our Armed Forces have sometimes seemed to be lions led by donkeys, can The Sunday Times readers help?”>>