Echoing the furore recently raised by work and pension’s secretary Iain Duncan Smith and his reminder to affluent pensioners that surrendering fairly-earned benefits such as winter fuel allowance is a viable, economy-boosting option, pensions minister Steve Webb has stirred quite the commotion amongst the British expat community.
He has stated that the pension system permitting British expats and their partners to claim an annual £3,500 married couples allowance has to change by 2016. With over 200,000 expats claiming the payment, it’s easy to appreciate his concerns, but his argument is far from one-sided. Now, Webb has to face the pension justice movement and their call for justification and clarity.
Webb commented during a recent radio programme, saying: “I think the fact the we do pay over 200,000 pensions outside the country, to many people who may not even have visited the country, would strike most people as unfair and we’re going to change it … We’re not saying we care who you marry, that’s your choice. What we are saying is don’t expect in the future, that when you marry somebody they acquire rights in the British system, even if they haven’t put in.”
Whilst some say it isn’t fair that those living abroad should strain the British economy; others say that they should be entitled to the payments after a professional lifetime spent contributing to the system, so as to provide for their partners in and beyond their golden years. Overseas pension parity is far from achievable however, especially for the British expats who are taking the brunt of inequality.
Almost 600k expats are currently surviving on frozen pension payments throughout 170 or so countries, so it’s easy to empathise with their negative reaction to Webb’s comments. The amount of money that’s paid to inland Brits who have made little contribution to the British economy is considerable, so perhaps concerns surrounding the British expat community should take a back seat.
Those whose retirement years firmly rest in the hands of the British Government could perhaps take a little consolation from the fact that there are numerous overseas pension options open to them, but expat or otherwise this multi-faceted debate will surely take precedence over other pension problems for the foreseeable future.
By Anthony Standring
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