On Thursday 13th June, Emma travelled to Blackpool to address the National Pensioner’s Convention’s Annual “Pensioners’ Parliament.”
At this event she gave a speech addressing some of the issues facing Pensioner’s under years of Tory austerity.
Here is her speech in full:
Good morning everyone, for those of you who don’t know me my name is Emma Lewell-Buck and I am the MP for South Shields. Prior to coming into Parliament I was a Child Protection Social Worker and the Lead Member on our local council for Adult Services.
I would like to start by thanking Jan, my friend and your formidable General Secretary for asking me to be here today, it is an incredible honour, I am humbled to have been asked to speak at your Pensioners Parliament and from what I have seen you are putting the Parliament I sit in to shame.
Just last week we celebrated the immeasurable sacrifice and service of our brave Normandy Veterans, people to whom all of us owe so much. I know that I was not the only one who shed a tear and felt enormous gratitude knowing I will never be able to repay the debt we owe them. And for a brief moment, for the first time ever I found myself agreeing with Theresa May when she faced those veterans and said, “Thank you”.
However, less than one week later though and it was back to business as usual for this Government, when the result of outsourcing their social policy duties to the BBC resulted in up to 3.7 million pensioners over the age of 75 at risk of losing their television licences. When over two million of these pensioners live alone and many say their television is their only respite from the agony of loneliness, how much lower can this Government get.
But this should come as no surprise when you look at what the Tories have done to you since 2010, pensioners have been under attack by the Tories from every angle. People such as yourselves here today have seen the Government slowly take bit by bit what little you are afforded by the state whilst dismantling wider support, community and social care services.
Let’s start with your pensions, under the Tories the annual rise in the State Pension has actually fallen in real terms than under every year of the last Labour Government. Only last month they sneaked in a policy change which would mean pensioners with a partner below the retirement age of 65 would now need to apply for Universal Credit instead of Pension Credit which could see them lose up to £7,000 per year.
When the Coalition government sped up plans to equalise the state pension age, millions of women born in the 1950s were not given any notice.
As a result, those women affected were forced to either work well beyond their retirement age or lose out financially. In short the Chancellor at the time and the Government broke the contract these woman had with the State and stole their pensions. At the time I warned the Government that the matter would end up in the Courts and they would lose, so it is no surprise that we are now awaiting a High Court judgement.
Far from equalisation of State Pensions, this generation of women had paid less into the pot because of the gender pay gap and, had spent time looking after their families and home, but also legally weren’t even allowed to join company pension schemes until Labour changed the law in the 1990’s.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development analysed pension data from its 35-member countries, which include vastly different economies such as the UK, Greece, Mexico, Poland and Chile amongst others, we hold last place on that list, one of the richest economies in the World has the lowest State Pension of any OECD country with our pensioners receiving a paltry 29% of a working wage for their years of contributing to our country’s wealth.
Pensioner poverty now stands at over three hundred thousand, I know from my own experiences in social services that when children and families are struggling, in poverty, or at risk of harm that because of children having regular contact with school teachers and health services or if their neighbours don’t see them out and about alarm bells ring.
But for the elderly those sat alone in their homes there can at times be literally no one who knows they are struggling, when myself and others in Parliament undertook a study of UK hunger we found that there could be up to an estimated 1 million elderly persons withering away from hunger in their homes making the painful choice of whether to eat or put their heating on and who don’t know who to contact for help or are too ashamed to ask for it. My Gran, if she hadn’t had family around her would have been one of those people.
My Gran, Eleanor Lewell, was one of the strongest and bravest people I ever knew, she was and always will be my heroine and every day in everything I do I hope I make her proud.
Gran always said politics wasn’t for the likes of her, yet she was one of the most political people I have ever known, she once staged a sit in when I was a new born at our Town Hall to demand my mam and dad and got a new home. They did and they still live there to this day.
This strong woman as she got older, lost the use of her legs, her sight and hearing. As her physical health waned so did her mind, Gran had dementia and after many stays in hospital and some painful discussions our family made the decision that she needed to be admitted into a care home.
The first home my Gran was in she escaped from and was found shivering alone in a field, the second home she was in she seemed happy enough but even then she suffered an injury through carelessness of staff.
If my Gran had had carers at home she would’ve probably only had one or two visits a day, where her getting up, dressed, meal times and bed time would be dictated by the times her care company could come and visit, not when was best for her.
Thing is Gran’s story is not unusual, it is now the norm, in an age of ideologically led savage cuts to health, social care and local Government there is now a predicted funding gap in adult social care of 3.6 billion by 2025. With a staggering seven billion being cut from the budget since 2010.
Age UK are reporting that more than one million people now have at least one unmet social care need, and 400,000 older people as thresholds have tightened are no longer able to access publicly funded social care.
The decimation of public health services has led to 130,000 preventable deaths since 2012 and now for the first time in almost forty years we are actually seeing life expectancy fall.
Residential and care home providers and those organisations that provide home care are openly saying they do not know how much longer they will manage, because they have realised what many of us have known for a long time, that there is no profit, nor should there be in good social care, that is why it should be ran and funded properly by the state.
All Governments have choices, the Tories have, true to form chosen ideologically driven cuts, under the guise of austerity, unfettered privatisation, outsourcing and a rolling back of the state that has impacted on those who need it the most.
The legacy of this Government will be one of deep inequality, they will be remembered for the harm they inflicted on the millions of pensioners whose only crime was to work hard, want a decent retirement and a better world for the generations that follow.
I am proud to stand with you today and join you in that fight, after all I am going to be a pensioner one day myself but besides that obvious vested interest Gran Lewell would never forgive me.