Life – Terror. Ecstasy. Fight. Denial. Flight. Failure. PAIN. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Hope. Love. Peace – Death.
Hundreds of thousands of ordinary French people are expected to take part, again, in street protests and strikes across France today, Tuesday 28th March 2023 amid fears of violent clashes with police, as demonstrations continue to protest over Emmanuel Macron’s use of constitutional executive powers to push through an unpopular raise of the pension age.
The protest movement against raising the age from 62 to 64 is the biggest domestic crisis of Macron’s second term, with the strikes on Tuesday expected to affect refineries, bin collections, rail transport, air travel and schools. Authorities in Paris and several cities are braced for clashes between police and protesters.
Meanwhile, in the UK ….
The Pensions Act 1995 provided for the State Pension age (SPA) for women increased from 60 to 65 over the period April 2010 to 2020. The Coalition Government legislated in the Pensions Act 2011 to accelerate the latter part of this timetable, starting in April 2016 when women’s SPA was 63 so that it reached 65 in November 2018, at which point it started to rise to 66 by October 2020.
The Government’s initial intention was that the equalised SPA would then rise to 66 by April 2020 (Cm 7956, Nov 2010, Foreword). However, because of concerns expressed at the short notice of significant increases for some women (as much as two years compared to the timetable in existing legislation) it made a concession when the legislation was in its final stages. This limited the maximum increase under the Act at 18 months, at a cost to the Exchequer of £1.1 bn – see Library Briefing Paper, SN 06082 Pensions Bill 2011 – final stages (Nov 2011).
These changes have given rise to a long-standing campaign, with some women born in the 1950s arguing they have been hit particularly hard, with significant changes to their SPA imposed with a lack of appropriate notification. The issue has been debated in Parliament on a number of occasions.
The Government’s consistent response has been that the issues were debated when the 2011 Act was before Parliament, a concession made at that time, and that it will “make no further changes to the pension age or pay financial redress in lieu of a pension.” (PQ 49721, 27 October 2016). It also says that any further change would create inequality between men and women and cause “younger people to bear a greater share of the cost of the pensions system”, which “would be unfair and undermine the principle of inter-generational fairness that is integral to our state pension reforms.” (HC Deb 8 February 2018 c1693).
On 3 October 2019, the High Court gave judgment on a claim for judicial review brought by the backto60 campaign. The high court has ruled that women are not entitled to compensation for state pension age changes
The claimants’ grounds were that the mechanisms chosen to implement the increases in the pension age discriminated on grounds of age and/or sex. They also sought judicial review of the government’s “alleged failure to inform them of the changes.” However, the court dismissed the claim on all grounds (Delve and Glynn v SSWP – media summary). In response to questions on 9 March 2020, Pensions Minister, Guy Opperman said “full restitution would cost something in the region of £215 billion […] a case was before the courts last year: on all grounds, these ladies lost their case. Clearly, that matter is subject to appeal, but the case was lost in respect of every ground, including notice.”
An appeal to the Court of Appeal was dismissed on 15 September 2020:
The Court of Appeal having denied leave to appeal, Lawyers for Backto60 and the two complainants decided to apply directly to the Supreme Court. However, on 30 March 2021, the Supreme Court denied leave to appeal because the claim had not been made within the time periods.
The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) is investigating six sample complaints about the DWP’s communication of changes to women’s State Pension age. In July 2021 it published a report on the first stage of its investigation which found that maladministration had taken place in 2005 and 2006 in terms of providing information to women affected by these changes. It has now moved onto the second stage of its investigation, which is to decide whether maladministration led to injustice.
Where it finds an injustice was suffered as result of maladministration, it can move on to a third stage and make recommendations which might include payment of compensation in line with its guidance on financial remedy.
This includes its ‘severity of injustice’ scale, which contains six different levels of injustice, each with a range of amounts of compensation, which the PHSO would usually recommend in those circumstances. The PHSO has said, however, the “2019 High Court decision has made clear that we are not able to recommend DWP reimburse ‘lost’ pensions. We also cannot recommend that anyone receive their state pension any earlier than the law allows. To do so would reverse or try to reverse primary legislation.” (Complaints about communication of changes to women’s State Pension age PHSO).
The Government has declined to comment on the PHSO’s report, noting that it would be inappropriate while the Ombudsman’s investigation is ongoing (PQ 48128, 13 September 2021).
Meanwhile back in France….
There have been pockets of unrest in many cities and towns after dark, with fires lit on streets and property vandalised. Attacks on politicians’ constituency offices have increased since Macron’s decision to push through the pensions changes, bypassing the lower-house of parliament.
A preparatory note by French intelligence services ahead of Tuesday’s (todays) trade union-led day of strike and protests said there was likely to be many more young people taking part, perhaps twice or three times as many as on the last big day of strike action last Thursday, French media reported. According to the daily Le Parisien, the note said “the topic of repression and police violence … could focus young people’s anger”.
Many young people at first “didn’t feel affected” by the pensions changes, but then decided to join the movement last week, “indignant” at the use of executive powers contained in article 49.3 of the constitution to bypass parliament, after the government feared it would not get enough votes.
Authorities are expecting clashes and violence similar to last Thursday’s coordinated strike day, when Paris saw bus stops, newspaper kiosks and traffic lights smashed and hundreds of fires lit on pavements amid running clashes with police.
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