Jonathan Fryer, Chair of the Lib Dems International Relations Committee wrote this article on his blog www.jonathanfryer.wordpress.com on Sunday, 22nd March as part of the Lib Dems Overseas campaign to unfreeze pensions.
The British government has rightly asked people to be aware of the vulnerability of older people to COVID19, especially those with underlying health conditions. But I wonder if their concern stretches to British OAPs who live abroad and who have the added challenge that their state pension is frozen at the level it was when they emigrated. This is the situation for those British OAPS who do not live in a country in the European Economic Area (EEA) or with a social security agreement with the United Kingdom.
The basic British state pension is only a fraction of that of many EU Member States, as it is. It is due to rise in April, from £168.50 to £175.20 per week, though that is barely enough to live on. But imagine what things are like for overseas pensioners whose pension has shrunk way below that, despite the fact that they paid in their National Insurance contributions during their working life.
The Guardian recently highlighted the case of former Royal Navy serviceman, Robert Haley, who retired to Australia. His pension has remained frozen at £46.90. And his case is just one among many thousands. An estimated half a million British pensioners live abroad, some in countries where medical treatment is not free, making the fear of Coronavirus even more daunting.
The cost of unfreezing pensions for the men and women affected has been estimated at £600 million, which sounds a lot until one compares that with the figures that Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been brandishing this week. Moreover, the humanitarian imperative cannot be over-stressed.
Liberal Democrats Abroad, which brings together several thousand Party members around the world, is adopting this issue as a major campaign and is asking co-Leader Ed Davey to take the matter up urgently with the government in London.