My Lords, this scheme is an attempt to compensate a generation of people who found themselves with a genuine and terrible injustice. It is a real stain on this country’s recent history, highlighted by that moving speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin. I draw to the attention of the Government another injustice that will not be addressed by this measure yet affects many of the Windrush generation and many others, too, throughout the world.
Monica Philip was one of the Windrush generation who accepted the invitation from the British Government to emigrate from the Caribbean to help fill the employment gap in the UK. She arrived in the UK shortly before her 21st birthday in 1959 and worked tirelessly in a variety of jobs, including as a courier for 15 years in the Ministry of Defence. Her mother’s illness and failing eyesight forced Monica to leave the UK and return to Antigua in 1996, two years before her due retirement age.
In 1998, Monica was advised that she was entitled to a UK state pension, payment of which commenced in October 1998 at a rate of £74.11 per week; but it has remained at that level ever since. It is extremely unfair that this hard-working lady, who is now of course elderly, accepted the UK Government’s call to work here and, after paying for 37 years the same contributions as everybody else and then accepting the responsibility of returning to Antigua to look after her ailing mother, was effectively cheated out of her rightful pension. Her younger sister, who also emigrated to the UK but remains here, received a full pension which, with annual increases, is roughly double that of her elder sister.
I should like to highlight another Antiguan, Harold Williams, who left the island in 1955 aged 20. He worked hard and was always employed; he did his National Service here in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers regiment. For 40 years, Harold contributed diligently to the national insurance scheme. When he returned to Antigua, he was at no time informed that his pension would be frozen on his return. These frozen pensioners never have an increase in the basic pension, and this iniquity exists for the majority of Commonwealth countries. Strangely, in the Caribbean only Barbados and Jamaica do not have frozen pensions.
In my years in the other place, I consistently heard Ministers of all Governments give their excuses for this state of affairs. It can be resolved without a huge cost to the Treasury. I know that the measure we are discussing cannot address this; indeed, the Minister is not from the relevant department. However, this is indeed another stain on our country’s much vaunted sense of fairness and equality. I urge the Government to think again and I will return to this until we right this wrong. I thank noble Lords for their indulgence in letting me raise this issue today.