The Sham of Parliamentary Debate: Stage-managing the Overseas Aid Concerns

In response to a petition (e-petition 125692) signed by more than 100,000 British voters, the House of Commons held a debate on 13 June 2016. Speaker after speaker expressed “great pride” in Britain’s policy to spend 0.7% of GDP (more than any other OECD country and a higher percentage than any country in the world) on overseas aid. The few references to voter concerns, such as the increasing number of food parcels issued in the UK, were brushed over quickly, while MPs immediately returned to the self-congratulation of agreeing to spend more than £12 billion on spurious projects in overseas countries. No mention was made of the fact that the same MPs conveniently overlooked the fact that half-a-million British pensioners were denied the pensions they paid for all their working lives.

Below is a selection of the most pertinent (from our point of view) of the comments made by MPs, along with some reflection on the frozen pensioners’ perspective:

Parliamentary Debate Statements:

The Frozen Pensions Perspective:

Steve Double MP (St Austell and Newquay) (Con) : “I am proud that this great country has a ​strong record of helping those most in need. I believe that as a human race, helping others is something we are designed and created to do. These are real people living in the same world as us who deserve to have their basic human needs met. What kind of world would we be living in if we reduced or stopped this spending and did nothing or little, or if we idly sat by and watched while the most vulnerable in our world suffered?”

“Let us not forget the history of how Britain made its wealth. We took resources from countries across the world, especially those in the empire, and then left them as independent nations, giving very little back. Some of the issues that those countries face today have been compounded by the historical actions of this nation, so I feel strongly that we have a moral obligation to help these countries now, in their time of need.”

“On a global scale, there are very few poor people in the UK. I strongly believe that those of us who have had the luck to be born British have already won life’s lottery. Nearly half the world’s population—2.8 billion people—survive on less than $2 a day … moral obligation to the world’s poorest”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The choice is simple: we tackle the issues at their roots or we wait for them to arrive on our doorstep.”

 

 

 

Unfortunately, Mr Double and his fellow MPs do stand idly by and watch some of the most vulnerable in the world suffer. These are the British pensioners whose pensions are frozen because they have retired to “non-government-preferred” country; many are trying to survive on subsistence-level pensions.

 

 

 

Yet the British government denies economic income to these very nations, including ones specifically mentioned in the debate. The frozen pensions’ policy denies the income to the local economies of the countries where British pensioners retire. Had there been parity of pension payments from the start, perhaps these nations would not have needed the hand-outs of which MPs are so proud?

 

But there are very poor British pensioners denied the pensions they worked for! A British pensioner died recently in Australia; her pension at the time of her death was £7 a week – less than $2 a day! What about the moral obligation to some of the British poor created by the very Parliament that “has great pride in its allocation and spending which is more than any other country in the world”? Should not that same Parliament and its MPs be expressing “great shame” at the way it is treating its pensioners who have retired to Commonwealth countries? Should they also remember that many of those pensioners fought in WW2 and then returned to help rebuild a shattered Britain, paying into the NI Fund all their working lives (in years when there was little access to private pensions for most) in order to get the pension they are now denied? Do MPs have “great pride” in the way they are treating British veterans and pensioners?

As Tony Benn once said, “when no-one will listen to and address a just complaint, it is time to make mischief”. As suggested, if the injustice of frozen pensions is not tackled, perhaps it is time to arrange for it to arrive on Britain’s doorstep?

Mrs Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con) :

“ … one of the problems is that the public have difficulty conceiving what 0.7% of GNI really means? It is a fact that the value of the food we throw away is more than 0.7% of GNI. The amount we spend on takeaways every year in this country is more than we spend on overseas aid. A few of those comparisons can be quite illuminating.”

Steve Double : “I agree with my right hon. Friend. A stat that I read today said that in the UK we spend more on ice cream than we give away in international aid.”.

 

Perhaps this MP is talking about the food which she and her fellow MPs throw away, or spend on takeaway foods? Is she aware that she probably spends more on a bottle of wine in the Commons dining room than many frozen British pensioners get in a week?

 

What a totally facetious remark from an MP (a representative of the people) who is supposed to be dealing with voters concerns about the vast amount of money spent on overseas aid while many British public exist on food parcels!

Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con) : “I am proud that this country is stepping up to the mark, because nobody in this country did anything to deserve being born in the relative luxury that we live in. It is pure luck, and the least we can do is help those people.”

 

 

The frozen pensioners did nothing to deserve the poverty to which many of them have been reduced by not getting the pension they worked for all their working lives. Should Parliament not be standing out to also right this injustice which was none of the making of any pensioner?

Stephen Doughty Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op) : It is important that there is both a moral argument and a practical and national security argument for why we should spend 0.7% on aid. The moral argument should shame us all. As a Christian, I think it is appalling that 800 women die every day in childbirth and 20,000 children die every day due to preventable diseases. We can list the statistics, which should shame us all. It is irresponsible for us to ignore those in a world where poverty, insecurity and instability have consequences for our streets and our cities.”

 

Does not the moral argument for pension parity, for all British pensioners who worked and paid in the same way to the NI Fund all the working lives, bring shame on a Parliament that has refused continually to deal with the injustice?

Would not a genuine Christian be ashamed of the lies and obfuscations repeatedly published by DWP to hide the frozen pension injustice? This Christian is apparently happy to ignore the poverty, insecurity and instability of British pensioners!

Amanda Solloway (Derby North) (Con) : “To me, a part of being British is ​having compassion and helping those who are less fortunate than we are. We are often blind to the daily challenges so that many people face around the world—the humanitarian crisis that might not be reported in the news. Economic growth is undoubtedly the best way of driving people’s incomes and reducing poverty in the developing world. I said earlier that I am proud to be British, and I am. I am proud that we lead the way in providing aid to those who need it most, and proud that we enrich people’s lives and save people’s lives. I cannot support anything that detracts from that. A life is to be valued wherever we live in the world and I fully support the fact that we help and develop those who are unable to do that for themselves.”

 

Apparently, compassion for the less-fortunate frozen pensioners is somehow overlooked by MPs. Here is an MP who is clearly blind to the daily challenges faced every day by frozen pensioners – humanitarian crises that do not get reported in the news because many of them are true Brits, brought up to deal with the deprivations of post-war Britain without complaining.

Does this MP not realise that economic growth is denied in many Commonwealth countries which are deprive of the income that would arise from pension parity being paid to British pensioners resident there?

Apparently, British pensioners’ lives are not valued by MPs; does that make this MP proud to be British?

Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con) : “Britain is of course a humanitarian nation, and it is right that we do our duty by the world’s most vulnerable.”

Britain is a humanitarian nation except when it comes to its own pensioners, whose vulnerability is ignored by British MPs.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab) : “…charity begins at home, but it does not end at home. We as internationalists have an obligation and people understand that in this country.”

What internationalists? When people retire to a Commonwealth country, they are discriminated against by the British government. So much for internationalism! So much for charity!

Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP) :“Aid from the UK does not just save lives. It helps to tackle social inequalities and to encourage prosperity. It supports those suffering from poverty to overcome hardships. Thanks to significant progress in international development, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty declined by 60% between 1990 and 2011. This means almost 1 billion people have been lifted from poverty

As a Christian, I believe we have a moral duty to fulfil our commitment to achieving the sustainable development goals around the world. As humans, we share one planet and we must contribute to making it fair, healthy and safe for all.”​

 

Yet the British government creates poverty and inequality in a small pensioner group; many face hardships every day as a result of the frozen pensions’ policy. While almost 1 billion have been lifted from poverty by the overseas aid programme, 500,000 Brits are being forced into poverty by the frozen pensions’ policy.

Here is another Christian who apparently selects her favourites onto which to impose her moral duties and human contributions towards fairness, health and security. Let’s ignore the frozen pensioners who cannot afford the healthcare they desperately need! How Christian is that?

Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab) : “Let us remember that this debate is not isolated. A long history ties us to these countries, which we now stand beside. We must remember our position in the Commonwealth, but also a history that carved up Africa with arbitrary borders.”

The position of MPs with the Commonwealth is that they condone the frozen pensions policy which denies economic income to many Commonwealth countries. Britain continues to rob Commonwealth countries of its due economic resources!

Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP).“Ultimately, we live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world and there is no excuse for us MPs not to deliver on international aid and end the need for food banks here in the UK.​ When things go wrong in the national health service, we fix it. We do not use it as a reason for cutting the NHS budget or shutting down the NHS. In the same way, when things go wrong with the international aid budget, we should fix it. We should not stop all the other fantastic work that is going on.”

 

One of the wealthiest countries of the world which (so the Chancellor says) cannot afford to pay to frozen pensioners the pensions they paid for all their working lives. If there is no excuse for spending £12 billion on overseas aid, there is definitely no excuse for failing to find £500 million to pay British pensioners the pensions they worked for.

Is this the one issue that the government and MPs are not willing to “fix”.

Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP) : “… the choice between austerity at home and aid abroad is a false one, and we should have no truck with it. We can gradually turn our backs and come around to the view that the people we are discussing live far away from us, and that it is not our problem, or we can continue to open our hands and hearts and recognise that such suffering in the world diminishes us all. It diminishes us even further if it is within our power to do more to prevent or mitigate it, and we do less.

I do not think that that is who we are. That is not who the people of Scotland are, and it is not who the people of the UK are. It is about time that we were prouder of and more vocal about the support that we give.”

 

If MPs have no truck with the balance between austerity at home and overseas aid, they should certainly have no truck with a continuation of the frozen pensions’ policy which is immoral, unethical, unjust and discriminatory. MPs should not be saying “it is not our problem” and should recognise the suffering of the people affected by frozen pensions. Otherwise, the omission diminishes the entire Houses of Parliament since it is within MPs’ power to put it right immediately.

I’m afraid that this is exactly who MPs are – a group which conveniently overlooks the injustice and discrimination foisted on its own pensioners. Unless this injustice is addressed it can only bring shame on Parliament!

Mrs Flick Drummond (Portsmouth South) (Con) :“It is our responsibility as one of the world’s largest and most prosperous economies to help those in need and those in danger of exploitation. We should feel a sense of pride and involvement in the amount of aid that we deliver and the benefits it brings.”

 

It should also be a responsibility to help Brits who are in need and are exploited by the British government which continually inflicts frozen pensions on those who worked all their lives for pension parity and do not deserve to have those benefits taken away.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con) : “… we spend much more time talking about the middle east than we do talking about a really important part of Africa, which, frankly, is part of our home, because we have a responsibility there.”

 

If Africa is part of “our” home, then why does the government discriminate against Commonwealth countries through the frozen pensions policy? Where is the responsibility to deal fairly with people who helped to rebuild Britain after the war?

Sir Desmond Swayne, Minister of State, Department for International Development :“… if all the rich countries of the world had met that commitment when they made it, we might be dealing with very different problems now?

We have to tackle the causes of poverty and injustice, because if we do not deal with those problems at source, we know where they are going: to our doorsteps and our shores.”

If pension parity had been paid from the beginning, the economic income into Commonwealth countries might well have meant that no aid whatsoever was necessary. Billions of pounds have been denied to African countries over the last 60 years!

The British government is actually condoning a cause of poverty and injustice through its frozen pensions’ policy. Do pensioners in wheelchairs have to bring their problems to your doorsteps and wave banners outside Westminster before the government will listen?

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab) : “It is worth reminding the House that Africa loses $58 billion more in flows out of Africa than it receives in aid. The value of remittances to some countries of the global south are even more important than aid. The value of those remittances is that they go directly to communities, with no top- slicing through bureaucracy. In the event of humanitarian disaster, it is often remittances that get to the affected communities faster than any aid.”

 

It is worth reminding the House that Africa has lost billions of pounds of economic income over the last 60 years because of the remittances denied through the frozen pensions’ policy! Direct income with no “top slicing” denied every month and every year for 60 years! Humanitarian disasters caused by the frozen pensions’ policy!

 

Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab): “This country has a proud tradition, but it also has a colonial past inextricably linked to that of many of the countries mentioned in this debate. As we move from empire to Commonwealth, we remain interconnected.”

Britain does not care about its connections with Commonwealth countries; if it did it would not condone the continuation of the frozen pensions’ policy which denies economic income to many of the Commonwealth countries. There is no connection other than Britain’s unfair discrimination against former colonies.

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con) :“when I went to Nepal as a member of the International Development Committee last year”

Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): “Just a few days ago I was in Ethiopia”

Steve Double : “I had the pleasure and humbling opportunity to travel to Nairobi. Although I had visited Kenya a number of times before in my previous charity work, my most recent visit was a chance to see Kenya with a different focus”

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab) : “In February—I am sure other hon. Members have had similar experiences—in Dhaka”

Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op) : “I visited Jordan last autumn … I saw that for myself when I went with Oxfam to Zaatari last year”

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con) : “I was very moved when we visited last year, particularly when we were meeting and talking with the young Gazan children”

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con) : “I have been a member of the International Development Committee for six years, and we visited Burundi”

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con) : “Just two or three months ago, the International Development Committee saw the tremendous work being done with children in the north of Nigeria to ensure that they have an education fit for the 20th century, and last year we saw forestry work done over more than 20 years in Nepal”

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con) : “I was in Zambia with the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) last summer. I will be going to Zambia and Zimbabwe, and hopefully Malawi too, during the course of the summer”

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab) : “I went to Ghana with ActionAid, where I saw how important women’s health projects were funded. I have also been to Somaliland”

 

Perhaps, in these admissions, we have the real reason why overseas aid must be protected; and why it is so popular with MPs. That is the expenses-paid (by British taxpayers, many of whom were concerned enough to sign the petition) trips enjoyed by clearly a number of MPs. This is possibly the tip of the iceberg – the real number of overseas expenses-paid trips could be a whole lot higher.

Perhaps if British frozen pensioners living in the more attractive parts of the world offered a spare bedroom to a visiting MP or three then the injustice of frozen pensions would be more positively addressed in the House of Commons?

 While Britain faces further austerity and increasing demand for food parcels, and half-a-million British pensioners are denied the pensions they paid for all their working lives by their payments into the National Insurance Fund, the government and MPs express their “great pride” in spending more than £12 billion of taxpayers’ money on overseas aid. They have ignored the concerns of voters and ordinary citizens.

It is not rocket science to realise that the government and MPs could pay pension parity to all British pensioners, and could address the disgrace of food parcels in “one of the wealthiest countries in the world” – and still be left with more money to spend on overseas aid than many other countries.

Overseas aid - when British pensioners and British poor and vulnerable are suffering - is an abomination. It is nothing to be proud of; it is another BRITISH SHAME!