Being optimistic by nature, it comes hard to report on some of the matters concerning pensioners’ experiences over the past year.
We were contemptuous of the government when they transferred responsibility for financing free TV licences for those 75 + years to the BBC. The inevitable result of the BBC enquiry led by ‘a creature of the establishment’ was withdrawal of this right from most pensioners, causing for some genuine financial hardship.
When rumours first circulated that the Winchester-educated Chancellor favoured interference with the triple lock pension, the Prime Minister made a statement that this would not happen and his government promise in the General Election manifesto would be honoured. I sought confirmation of this from my local MP and, once received, wrote to the Prime Minister congratulating him on his decision. He did not reply.
We now know that the triple lock protection has been cast aside, allegedly for one year. The result is that in the next financial year the pension increase will be substantially less than the current inflation rate. We bring to the attention of current working members that in the future we believe the state pension will represent a substantial part of their income. Any interference today will affect their retirement income.
Many pensioners have built up small pots of cash savings to subsidise their retirement. With inflation at 5.7%, together with pitiful interest rates, the spending power of their savings is diminishing at an alarming rate. With further inflation rises predicted, together with increases in the price of food and energy, indeed, increases in many other services and commodities, the future does not look bright for us.
Committee members attended street demonstrations about TV licensing, winter deaths, Hampshire County Council’s pension fund, £136m investment in fossil fuels. We also joined with our Unite colleagues at Western Hospital, Southampton to show solidarity against the 3% pay offer made to NHS staff.
The Retired Members Annual Conference in October 2021 was held in a remote format. Whilst lacking the excitement of a normal conference, it was well organised, with clearly many people working hard behind the scenes. Subsequently we sent a letter to our national full time official congratulating all those involved.
Hampshire submitted 6 motions to the conference, 4 of which were accepted on to the agenda. The two refused were that we should make a token award to retired members who give exceptional lifetime service to our union. The other sought support for RMs to be allowed to vote in the NEC elections and to allow RM representation on the NEC.
Members of our committee spoke on the other motions, asking that conference should in future always be available to watch by internet for members who were unable to travel. We opposed the rush to paperless correspondence and asked for a review of the inadequate 25 pence per week additional pension paid to those 80 years plus. Finally, we criticised the lack of leadership provided by Unison for pensioners during one of the most demanding periods of our lifetimes. All these motions received positive voting from conference. Our speaker on criticism of Unison inactivity made mention of our intention to campaign for RMs to serve on the NEC. This did not go unnoticed, and we have had messages of support nationally.
We are delighted that our Branch has submitted a motion to the National Delegates Conference requesting a rule change allowing RMs to be allowed to vote in the NEC elections and indeed to have two elected representatives serving on the Council. Our committee is actively campaigning on this issue.
We are saddened by the ongoing division between the newly elected NEC and our bureaucracy. This turmoil is causing deep division within our union. Perhaps some need reminding this isn’t just your union, more importantly it is our union.
Although my committee have become familiar with holding Zoom meetings, we were pleased that recently we were able to return to more conventional gatherings.
Use of Unison accommodation for meetings is still denied us but there are advantages to having access to locations such as the Scholars Arms in Southampton! Our committee is a friendly, boisterous group. If you would like to join us I can promise you a friendly reception.
Last month Pat Turner, 87 years, who many of you will know, was presented by us with an engraved silver framed photo of her and most of our committee, complete with banner, at the Tolpuddle Festival in 2019. This was to acknowledge a lifetime of active involvement in trade unionism. A more detailed account of this ceremony can be seen on the branch internet site, hampshireunison.org
Subject to confirmation of the booking, the RMs AGM will be held at the Arc, Winchester, in early April. Details will be circulated.
Due to the virus issue, other than a Christmas lunch when Callum joined us, we have not been able to hold any social events. However, Diana Barnes is actively working to again get things going on the social side.
A more detailed account of many of the activities mentioned in this report can be viewed on the branch internet site.
We have noticed with pleasure that our branch under Callum’s leadership, despite many demands on their time locally, continues to play an active and growing role in the wider Unison community.
We were disappointed that our General Secretary, Christina McAnea cancelled her attendance at our AGM. It is our intention to send her some of the questions we planned to ask her on matters largely concerning Retired Members, in the hope of a response.
Hampshire Unison Retired Members Section