Retired Members Section Report to Hampshire UNISON AGM 2021

In March last year most of the Retired Members Section Committee attended the Hampshire Branch AGM held at the Discovery Centre in Winchester.  Little did we know the devastating year that lay ahead of us, caused by a combination of the Corona virus pandemic and the ongoing effects of ten years austerity. 

The RMS committee has probably experienced one of its most demanding years, challenging those who are intent to diminish pensioner rights, additionally, seeking to find and hold accountable those responsible for the failures and incompetencies which led to the untimely death of tens of thousands of pensioners during the last year. 

We opposed imposition by the BBC of charging for TV licences for the majority of pensioners aged 75 years plus.  We engaged with Hampshire media and some of our elected representatives, signed petitions and attended street demonstrations outside Parliament and Downing Street, sadly to no effect.  It is an issue we continue to campaign about. 

It was ironic that in the period 2019-20 the county council boasted that Hampshire Libraries were the most visited with the most books loaned in England.  Despite this, opening hours were reduced, libraries were closed, and some staff made redundant, a sad blow to a service particularly appreciated by pensioners and often their grandchildren too.  We campaigned unsuccessfully against these actions by the county council. 

From early in the pandemic we sought to challenge the inadequate manner in which it was being dealt with, particularly in care homes.  We wrote letters to Hampshire media which were published, and on related issues we corresponded with the general secretaries of both Unison and the TUC and Baroness Harding.  We strongly supported the Amnesty International report on the first three months of the pandemic entitled ’As if Expendable’.  The report claims that the human rights of staff and residents in English care homes were ignored and violated.  Retitling the report ‘Slaughter of the Innocents’ we have engaged with Hampshire media to stress our dismay at the Amnesty findings and support their conclusion that a detailed independent investigation should be commenced in the near future, hopefully to expose what was happening in care homes. 

Elements of the media and some of those in Parliament continue their efforts to diminish pensioner rights.  The triple lock protection on the state pension comes under particular attack.  Its opponents were recently joined by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, a strange addition given that this organisation’s own statistics show that the state pension in the UK is the lowest amongst all developed nations. 

During the year rumours appeared in the media that our Winchester-educated Chancellor was intent on attacking the triple lock protection.  Subsequently it seemed that the Prime Minister was not in favour of this action.  After gaining confirmation of this from my local MP I wrote to Mr Johnson congratulating him on his decision and took the opportunity to mention a few other things!  To date I have not received a reply. 

We struggle to understand why Unison’s National Committee does not consider protection of the state pension as an essential and high priority issue, given that with good fortune all current working members will live to draw the state pension. 

With difficult years ahead, more than ever the whole trades union organisation needs to combine and cooperate to meet attacks on both workers and pensioners’ rights.  We were delighted, after some gentle encouragement from our committee that the branch has re-joined Southampton Trades Council, thereby returning to the wider trade union movement. 

Our committee has been disappointed that in such a difficult year, particularly for pensioners, Unison has offered little leadership and few initiatives to address our problems.  Fortunately, the National Pensioners Convention, (NPC to which we are affiliated), together with the TUC, have been extremely proactive and we have engaged with their activities and campaigns.  This disappointment with Unison stems from the fact that no communication has been received about campaigns and urgent issues, such as the devastating care homes deaths due to the pandemic from either the Unison National Retired Members Committee or the Unison South-East Region Retired Members Committee.  This is a problem which should be addressed urgently in order to involve retired members more.  Obviously, this disappointment does not extend to our own branch, and particularly Callum Williamson, who takes an active interest in the Retired Members Section’s activities and encourages and promotes participation in the branch. 

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, joins with us in advocating in ending austerity. 

Public services, rather than limping and in some cases failing, need to be robust and properly financed.  They represent the strong foundations of a caring, competent and content society and we believe should be a funding priority for the government. 

During the year members of the committee have attended a number of webinars, talks and conferences, accounts of which, together with other relevant issues, are regularly published on the Branch internet site.  Overall, the Retired Members Committee’s proactive efforts on behalf of pensioners have been commendable. 

Unison membership has elected a new General Secretary, Christina McAnea.  We hope she will not be content with the union in its present form and will come to be celebrated as the reformer some of us believe Unison requires. 

Sadly, Mike Perkins, who was something of a legend in Hampshire trade union history, died during the year.  Over many years Mike worked actively with Southampton Trades Council, the Hampshire Branch and the Retired Members Committee.  Many members had reason to thank this determined man for his active support. 

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic we have not been able to organise any social activity, a situation we hope to correct in the coming months. 

In past years the branch has faced some difficult problems.  With a fast-growing membership, demands on its services are likely to increase.  Despite this, with its current planning and leadership the branch seems in good position to meet future demands.  We congratulate you.   

We send you our Best Wishes and, of course Stay Safe. 

Chris O’Neill 

Chair, Hampshire Unison Retired Members’ Section