Denise Chesson is fighting for pension reform. G.P
British Pensioners Abroad (BPA) is a newly-established, Costa del Sol-based lobby group which aims to “lift British pensioners out of poverty” by campaigning for a non-means tested state pension of £175 per week by the next UK general election. The long-term mission is “to bring British pensions in line with other European ones.”
“So many British pensioners are living in pure poverty. The problem is exacerbated for those living in Spain, where they cannot ‘top up’ their income with Pension Credits,” says Denise Chesson, who founded the association after reading the article, ‘Plight of Pensioners’ in this newspaper (SUR in English May 27th – June 2nd). “I’m in a fortunate position that I don’t need my pension to survive, but I might in the future,” she explains.
Since a letter written by Denise containing her telephone was published in SUR in English, she says has been inundated with calls from pensioners who are unable to manage on their state pension. She says: “For example, the other day I spoke with one British pensioner on the coast who has to take food handouts from the local church. And sadly, this situation is not uncommon.
“We’ve all heard rumours of people claiming benefits illegally by saying they’re living in the UK, but the people who’ve been contacting me are honest, decent people. Therefore we’ve set-up a group which is dedicated to improving the financial lot of UK pensioners in Spain,” confirms Denise.
BPA is now affiliated with the Pensions Campaign UK action group. Together they have other 2.8 million members and are campaigning for “eventual parity with the much higher pensions paid to other pensioners in other EU member states, i.e. 11.2 per cent of GDP. It is currently 6.5 per cent in the UK.” This would translate into £300 to £350 per week for the UK pensioner.
So how aware is the Government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of the current situation for many British pensioners in Spain who have to live on a UK state pension? SUR in English requested an interview with Secretary of State, Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP, and Minister for Pensions, Steve Webb MP, but both were “unavailable for comment as Parliament is still in recess.”
However, a DWP spokeswoman told this newspaper: “We recognise that many people decide to live permanently overseas for very good reasons but by doing so they put themselves beyond the scope of certain entitlements normally available to those who decide to stay in the UK.
“Every member state of the European Union is responsible for organising its own national social protection schemes and for setting out who is entitled to them. We work within European Law to make sure that conditions of entitlement are being met, as does Spain.
“EU law means that someone who is entitled to a UK State Pension and living in Spain or any other Member State gets their State Pension uprated every year so that it continues to be paid at the same rate as in the UK.
She added: “We have a network of six International Pensions Support Officers (IPSOs) located in Spain and based in Alicante, Madrid and Malaga.”
Denise Chesson praises the “hard-working and helpful” team dedicated to pensions at the British Consulate in Malaga, but vows to fight for reform at the heart of Government. “We must unite together to speak directly to the policy-makers in Number 10, so that UK pensions are comparable to our European neighbours. It’s not our fault that successive governments have failed in their responsibilities to fund pensions. Pensioners have paid their dues. It’s a numbers game and we urge everyone to register their support for the campaign.