There aren’t many people left alive on this planet who can, like London-born Robert Haley, talk about how he joined the Royal Navy at 17 in 1942 and saw almost four years’ active service during the second world war. He was one of thousands of seamen who risked their lives in the Arctic convoys to Russia between 1941 and 1945.
Robert, who is now 94, earned a lapel full of medals – so why, say campaigners, has the UK government penalised him by freezing his state pension for almost 30 years? That has left him up to £4,200 out of pocket this year alone. All told, he has been deprived of as much as £62,000 since he turned 65 – money that could have transformed his retirement years.
Robert has effectively been “punished” for moving to Australia, a Commonwealth nation, rather than one of the countries where your state pension increases in line with inflation.
Last Monday was Commonwealth Day, and the press release talked about “delivering a common future”. But those words may feel hollow to some: the highest numbers of affected pensioners live in larger Commonwealth countries such as Australia and Canada.
Robert was born in Ealing, West London, and spent four-and-a-half years in the Royal Navy between 1942 and 1946. As a result of his service, he has eight British medals and three Russian medals.
But despite that he receives a UK state pension that has been frozen at £46.90 per week. If he had stayed in the UK or moved to one of a list of other countries, he would be receiving a lot more than that. The full UK basic state pension is £129.20 a week, and will in April 2020 rise by £5.05 to £134.25.
Robert, who lives in a retirement village in a suburb of Sydney, told Guardian Money that it was “crazy” that the UK was able to get away with paying “paltry” sums to people like him. He, his wife and daughter (who is now 64) went to live in Australia in 1965. He does receive a monthly payment from the Australian Department of Veterans’ Affairs in recognition of his service in Australian waters. But while the department has a “gold card” for its Australian veterans, with most of their health and welfare covered fully, Robert is not entitled to this.
Words: Rupert Jones, The Guardian, 14 March 2020
Picture: Jim Tilley, British Pensions in Australia, BPiA