Dear Anthony

This is my response to the Slog's takedown of my Forbes post on the UK state pension system. I am addressing it directly to Anthony Ward, the author of the Slog blog. For obvious reasons, I have not provided a link to Anthony's post. 

I can't begin to tell you how upset and horrified I was by the post you wrote today. It was factually incorrect (I shall explain the factual errors below). But more importantly, it was an unfair and brutal attack on me, for no reason that I can see other than you wanted to find an "opponent" to knock down and I was an easy target. Given that you know there have been sustained and very unpleasant attacks on me from WASPI supporters in the last few weeks, what you wrote could hardly have been more hurtful or damaging to me. It amounted to pouring a large amount of petrol on an already raging fire.
 
As I pointed out on Twitter, you misrepresented my Forbes post in order to justify your support of the WASPI cause. When I explained that it was not about WASPI, and asked you to change the post to make this clear, you failed to do this.  

But there is worse. You said that my Forbes piece asserts the following:
First, that the problem can only be solved by a retreat by the government from the benefits offered: second, that the "losers" referred to in her Forbes piece - not the word I would have chosen - had plenty of notice about retreats: and thirdly, that future benefits must come largely or solely from private/Bourse owned companies.
I made NONE of these assertions in the Forbes piece. Not one.

Firstly, I said nothing about "retreating from benefits offered". What I said was that the post-WWII NI-funded pension system is no longer fit for purpose and a radical rethink is needed.

Secondly, I said nothing about notice of changes to pensions or benefits: What I said was that in the transition to whatever pension scheme we have in the future, some people will inevitably lose out. That is not a reason not to change the scheme. It is a reason to give far more thought to transitional arrangements than has hitherto been the case.

And finally, I said nothing about future benefits having to come largely or solely from private sources. I said that is the direction in which we seem to be travelling at the moment, but I did NOT say I agreed with this. Indeed, given my long-standing and widely known support for a Universal Basic Income, and my extensive writing about the responsibility of government to provide safe assets at low stable yields for citizens to save for their futures, it would be extraordinary if I did agree with it. And it is even more extraordinary of you to present this as my view, when it so clearly is not.

I turn now to the factual errors in your post. There are two, of which the first is by far the most serious as far as your argument is concerned. 


1. Discussion of pension age changes.  

You said:
Those who today call themselves WASPIs were unforgivably encouraged, by almost every politician in the country, towards a belief in cast-iron guaranteed pensions for men at 65, and for women at 60. That undiluted encouragement extended way past even Margaret Thatcher....none of whose administrations even hinted at changing the pension age.
This is not true.

I grew up in the 1960s & 70s. Like all women of my generation, when I started work in 1978 my state retirement age was 60. But already by then there was extensive discussion about the need to equalise men's and women's pension ages. This was not for cost reasons, but to end sex discrimination against women while retirement at the pension age was compulsory, and against men after compulsory retirement was abolished.

The discussion continued throughout Mrs. Thatcher's time in office and led eventually to Ken Clarke's decision in the Major government of 1993 to increase women's retirement age to 65 - a decision he still supported when I heard him speak recently. This is the relevant excerpt from his 1993 Budget statement:
After careful consideration, the Government have decided that the state pension age should eventually be equalised at the age of 65. The change will be phased in over ten years, starting in the year 2010, so it will not affect anyone currently aged 44 or older. By the year 2020, the state pension age in Britain will be broadly in line with that of most of our industrial competitors, although we will still have more generous arrangements than in the United States, where the pension age is to be equalised at the age of 67. All developed countries are making similar changes for similar reasons. Women nowadays tend to spend more of their lives in paid employment. They also live longer than men. Pension schemes need to recognise this, and end the current discrimination between the sexes.
In the next century, the ratio of working people to retired people will fall sharply, and the burdens on taxpayers will rise. The Government's decision will moderate those burdens, eventually by some £5 billion a year, and so help to ensure that they are sustainable. The basic pension is, and will remain, a cornerstone of the welfare state. The Government are committed to it and to retaining its value. 
Clarke's decision eventually came into force in the Pensions Act of 1995.

It would be fair to say, however, that the discussion was not always about changing women's pension age. During the high unemployment of the late 1970s and early 1980s, discussion centred on reducing MEN's retirement age to 60, not on increasing women's to 65. Indeed, because of high youth unemployment, the government at that time introduced a form of early retirement for men in the Job Release Schemes, in the belief that this would free up jobs for young people. Sadly, research by the IFS in 2008 showed that the Job Release Schemes created no more jobs for young people. Earlier retirement does not "free up" jobs for the young.

2. Post-war women's participation and fertility rates

You said:
The average level of all female employment outside the home during the 1930s was 10%, let alone full time jobs.
This is incorrect. Female participation in the 1930s was about 30%. Only one-tenth of MARRIED women worked outside the home, but these were concentrated in the mill towns of the industrial North, where the participation rate of women was far higher than anywhere else. My comments about lack of maternity provision and unfair distribution of domestic and childcare responsibilities apply to them.

That said, the participation rates from the 1940s onwards were very different from those in the 1930s. Women entered the workforce in WWII, and many of them remained in it after the end of the war. In 1945 the participation rate was 46%: by 1965 it was 55%. There was extensive discussion of the "double burden" of married women at that time, and it is the principal reason why women's earlier pension age was retained in the 1946 National Insurance Act and subsequent legislative changes.

Regarding women's fertility rates: women's fertility was considerably higher in the 1930s than it is now, but infant and neonatal mortality was also much higher. Your statement that if working class women had a child every year there would have been a baby boom in the 1930s is based on a wrong assumption about child mortality rates.

And finally. You made false, and very damaging, allegations about me in the final section of the post. I asked you to correct the worst of them - your unfounded statement that "Frances chooses to blame the women". I note that you have changed the wording, but the substance of the allegation remains.
You said:
On the issue of State pensions, Frances chooses to accuse the betrayed recipients of "not helping".
This is once again a misrepresentation of my Forbes post. I repeat, my Forbes post IS NOT ABOUT WASPI. Nor, indeed about any "betrayed recipients", of whom WASPI are only a small proportion. "Older people" includes, among others, me. My point was that a radical rethink of pension provision is needed because older people have a responsibility to future generations. I have said this before, most recently in my WASPI position paper on Coppola Comment:
What is the responsibility of older people towards future generations? This needs serious discussion. The unborn, and the young children of today, have not agreed to the "entitlements" and "promises" claimed by older people. They have no voice. Who will speak for them? 
While older people forget about responsibilities, and speak only of entitlements and claims, we will not get the focus on radical reform that you and I both want to see.

And this leads me to the most hurtful feature of your piece. You portray me as representing the forces that want to tinker rather than reform:
Frances I feel wants to justify how we got to here and then find a pragmatic solution. I want to condemn how we got to here, and then show how we can make a long-term difference with a more radical realism.
This is a colossal misrepresentation of my position. It puts me in a reactionary establishment camp of which I have NEVER been part. I described "how we got to here" for the purposes of explaining why we are at a turning point and there must be radical reform. In my WASPI position paper, I even said what I thought that radical reform should be. I called for fundamental change not only to state pensions, but to the entire toxic benefits system, and invited WASPI to join me in campaigning for a Universal Basic Income and a progressive tax system:
This problem would be entirely solved by a universal basic income coupled with a sensible progressive tax system. Can't we stop fighting over scraps, and campaign together for a really radical reform that would benefit everyone?
Is this not radical enough for you, Anthony? How radical do I have to be to satisfy you, and those with whom you have thrown in your lot?

I am bitterly, bitterly disappointed by your attitude. The sheer pettiness of your commentary added to the head of the post after I asked you to revise it is beyond belief. Yes, I publicly told you on Twitter to revise your post. That is because you had released your post on Twitter for all the world to see - including the WASPI women, with whom I had delicately been trying to repair relations. You completely undermined my efforts and exposed me once again to inaccurate and insulting comments from them, both on Twitter and now also on your post. I had to set the record straight, publicly and immediately. However, I did not make "accusations": I simply explained in what respects your post was wrong and damaging to me. And I am in no way responsible for the comments made by others on Twitter.

You conclude:
I do not propose to make any further revisions to the content below. The only thing revised in my mind is the previously very high opinion I had of Frances Coppola.
I'm afraid I have also revised my previously high opinion of you. You released a post containing factual errors, false allegations and damaging assertions, then when I asked you to revise it you responded by attacking me. So much for honesty, fair dealing and caring about others. You don't give a damn.

Goodbye, Anthony.


Comments

  1. Blimey! Don't cross Frances.

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  3. It is iniquitous for you to be referenced throughout the slog piece misleadingly and irrelevantly. Your articles are clear and focused - more than can be said for your detractor.

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  4. Francis i have watched closely your problems with WASPI & i do think & have thought for sometime that,whilst you have been aware for sometime & kept abreast of what has been said & written over a few decades,governments have left lay people confused,but even if this wasn't the case a 30% drop in incomes has means many & this includes men when they get to 65 finding out,what the woman at WASPI are finding that it not just to late but impossible to fill that gap!whilst am sure you think you have been sympathetic & have empathy for them,i must admit i do think you have under-estimate how confused & lack of what was policy & what was hearsay & what would be needed to be done by individuals wasn't at any stage made clear to them & hence the angst now being shown,unfortunately towards you & not those responsible for this mess,Only to say that if it had been clear am sure some form of protest would have been made to parliament particularly with austerity long before now!that this wasn't a feasible way forward,although has we have seen i don't think government cares & are quite pleased your the focus of there angst. to waspi i say Francis could & i hope would be a great help to you,so please focus your angst where it should really be targeted.

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    1. Exactly the point.
      The UK gov made promises it is now breaking but those older have no time left to make up the difference.
      The other point is where did the money for this go. Oh I see misappropriated by the government for its own interests and stuff the population.

      So Ms Coppola you want to support the government on its morality then fine but I am no liar or thief,your call.

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    2. Anonymous the money went into tax cuts for those who could already afford not to miss this money,once more economic activity will be further muted by these moves,One point Francis can you proved a links to all the pieces you have written in all these years that warned these people of government policy to ordinary people.

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    3. Paul, I have only been writing since 2010. All the pieces I have written since 2010 are available on this blog, on Pieria.co.uk, on Forbes and on the FT. You are welcome to use the search facilities and word clouds here, to peruse the archives, and to read everything listed under my profile on Pieria, everything listed under my profile on Forbes and everything listed under my profile on the FT.

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    4. Anonymous,

      I do not "support the government on its morality". If you were at all familiar with my work you would know this. I am concerned about the population - ALL of it. Including the poor, sick, disabled and unemployed who would suffer if the WASPI demand were met in full. I have explained this in my WASPI position paper and I do not propose to discuss it further here.

      I have not described anyone as a liar or a thief. Nor would I - especially not an anonymous commenter who has not signed their post. I have no idea who you are.

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  5. I've read the Slog piece and cannot see any factual errors within it. Perhaps you are not interested in facts? Of course, opinions are valuable, although we're hardly likely to have similar ones. But mis-representing facts is never going to improve understanding, especially across the sex divide.

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    1. You may have read the Slog piece, but you clearly haven't read mine. I corrected two factual errors, one of them serious, and provided evidence to support the corrections. Perhaps you aren't interested in evidence? I completely agree that misrepresenting facts never going to improve understanding. That is, indeed, the whole point of this post.

      I have no idea who you are, and therefore cannot comment on whether we are likely to have similar opinions.

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  6. Bloke in North Dorset3 January 2016 at 18:08

    Frances,

    Thanks for those posts, my wife is just about to receive her State pension and we were discussing how the difference in ages started.

    One point you could have added is that the hated Thatcher made a lot of noise about the demographic time bomb in the '80s, but a lot of people chose to put their fingers i their ears and sing lalalalala.

    https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=_BzihfoTRGYC&pg=PA99&lpg=PA99&dq=margaret+thatcher+demographic+time+bomb&source=bl&ots=kF3S9j7MZV&sig=XtTVQ5HS-JilgMvfZ3qJ3uMlvB4&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjBve_Pm47KAhXKvxQKHfb2ARUQ6AEIIDAA#v=onepage&q=margaret%20thatcher%20demographic%20time%20bomb&f=false

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  7. Hi Frances, A quick look at the Slog site makes it abundantly clear that the guy is a fruitcake. One day the politicians will realise that the state pension system is way past it's use by date and that Universal Basic Income is the way to go, but I'm not holding my breath. All the best for 2016. Tim

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    1. And my best wishes for 2016 to you too, Tim. Thanks!

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  8. You are "upset and horrified"? Oh dear. Perhaps you should stop posting on the Internet then. There will be differences of opinion, and a post on Twitter is likely to attract opposing opinions. Others have a right to be wrong, or to have received a different interpretation of your views. It is definitely something that you are going to have to live with.

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    1. Others do not have a right to deliberately misrepresent my position in order to ingratiate themselves with a particular special interest group. Nor do they have the right to post false, malicious and damaging allegations about me. And they have a right to be wrong, but not to refuse to correct factual errors.

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  9. I have reluctantly decided to close comments on this post. I do not believe a debate about whether or not the Slog's allegations were factual is helpful. We should be discussing the underlying issues of inequality, low incomes, benefit cuts and harsh conditionality. That is the focus of my WASPI position paper and indeed of much of my writing over the last few years. If you wish to comment further, please do so on the WASPI position paper and limit yourself to the proposals I make in that post.

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