Shameful inequalities continue between what Contaminated Blood widows/widowers are paid in England and others parts of the UK compared to the much higher payments in Scotland
(Image, Dhaka Tribune)
Why do Scotland and Westminster governments have such shameful double standards on pensions?
Pensions are NOT devolved in Scotland yet Scotland is paying out a highly divisive “pension” to some widows/widowers of victims of the Contaminated Blood scandal where haemophiliacs with an inherited clotting disorder were given contaminated blood during the 1970s and 80s. Some of this blood was imported from the US and was sourced from “high-risk” prisoners, skid-row and from gay men targeted for their exposure to hepatitis B whose paid donations were used to top up the factor concentrate plasma pools used to manufacture haemophilia treatment.
Definition of pension is as follows,
“a regular payment made by the state to people of or above the official retirement age and to some widows and disabled people” (Lexico)
Although the paying of a pension to contaminated blood widows/widowers by the state is welcome the divisions are not. As Scottish campaigner, Bill Wright said in 2016,
“introducing pensions for widows and widowers is an important recognition that they suffered losses in their own right and that they should have a secure future.”
I asked campaigners in Scotland some time back why they did not throw the pension payments back to the responsibility of Westminster given that all were infected under a Westminster government. The answer I received was that they “just wanted to get something for Scotland” and “hadn’t realized that pensions were not devolved”. However this same level of pension is denied to other bereaved widows/widowers in exactly the same position across the rest of UK. This includes some victims that signed up to a UK wide legal agreement following HIV infection through contaminated blood in 1991. When infected persons signed that agreement, nowhere in the terms and conditions agreed by both sets of lawyers for government and victims did it say that some widows/widowers would receive different levels of payment depending on the country of location within the UK… so this was NOT “informed consent”. Haemophiliacs signed believing all widows/widowers would be treated equally under this agreement.
It is important to note that often widows/widowers were the MAIN wage earner in haemophilia families and gave up their own careers to become full-time carers to their loved ones. Not only did they lose years of wages but could not save adequately for their retirement pension. Some of the widows are part of the WASPI group (Women Against State Pension Inequality) or Back To 60 movement badly affected by changes in the retirement age in relation to the state pension, losing on average another £46,000. Many widows/widowers are now in poor health themselves after years of caring and fighting for justice and unable to return to work.
The double standard is that Scotland is not allowed to interfere in the WASPI pension issue yet pays out a state Contaminated Blood pension. To reiterate this is not about an affected person in Scotland receiving a Contaminated Blood pension which is a positive move but is about who pays this pension and the inequalities around the UK. The word “pension” is used throughout official Scottish documentation as confirmed to me by Dan Farthing (Haemophilia Scotland) who highlighted the terminology agreed in government meetings with campaigners in an e-mail and sent me the following,
Payments to be, start with the new scheme in April 2017 (not backdated)
- Widow(er)s’ pensions
- The new Scottish discretionary grants. This will replace the Caxton Foundation and the discretionary element of the MacFarlane Trust (MFT). It will honour existing commitments from these successor organisations.
Westminster and Scottish civil servants are dividing victims within the UK, grieving families that may have infected relatives either side of borders, causing huge distress amongst those left behind!
PLEASE NOTE THE FOLLOWING as to why Scotland cannot pay pensions which was looked at in terms of women born in the 1950s whose state pension was changed from age 60 to 66. Surely all pensions should be the responsibility of Westminster? Its not pick n mix, or are rules, wordings and categories simply changed when it suits? The Scottish National Party (SNP) state,
Pensions are fully reserved to Westminster. Even with the limited social security powers devolved to Scotland, the Scottish Parliament does not have the power to create new pension benefits. This is explicitly set out in the Scotland Act 2016.
The report from the Smith Commission, released in November 2014, says: “All aspects of the state pension will remain shared across the United Kingdom and reserved to the UK Parliament. This includes the new single-tier pension, any entitlements to legacy state pensions whether in payment or deferred, pension credit and the rules on state pension age.”
So it appears that the Scottish Government does not have the ability to directly affect pensions.
If this applies to the state pension then this must equally apply to a pension paid by the state.
To further add to the divisions within the haemophilia community, the Infected Blood Inquiry set up to investigate Contaminated Blood was asked to submit campaigners’ names to meet with government ministers earlier this year to discuss ongoing financial issues and hardships. This followed a letter from Sir Brian Langstaff, Inquiry Chairperson to government on financial concerns for sick and dying haemophiliacs and their bereaved families. Catherine Nalty (formerly in the government role of Head of the Office for Disability Issues, 2014 to 2017, now Deputy Secretary to the Inquiry) took it upon herself to decide who should be contacted to attend. By doing so she ensured that there was no representation from some of the longest standing campaign groups and independent campaigners thus denying them a voice nor was there representation for individuals that were “misdiagnosed”. Those with the most background history and knowledge on financial issues affecting communities were ignored thus creating a 2 tier Inquiry where some campaigners were givcn more rights than others.
Stuart Maclean who was infected with hepatitis C after being misdiagnosed with haemophilia and given contaminated blood has raised his concerns over the treatment of widows/widowers. Maclean is married and wants to ensure his wife and others have adequate financial provision. He complained to his lawyers Milners in writing, stating that the establishment of this select group is,
1} damaging to our community
2} they DO NOT represent me in anyway
3} I believe that this group is undermining the inquiry
4} they are not pulling in the same direction as the Inquiry or our legal teams.
The group included a known misogynist who has stated publicly on social media sites that he does not believe widows/widowers deserved financial recognition of their losses. Therefore this group is viewed by some campaigners as colluding with the government in denying fair payments to widows/widowers (highlighted in an April 2019 announcement where widows/widowers were denied an uplift to Scottish levels).
Also from what came out of the group it appeared they were working against a 1991 HIV legal agreement by suggesting monthly uplift payments were only there for the duration of the Inquiry. The 1991 agreement ensured monthly payments for the life of the infected and affected person and can’t be removed even if proper compensation were granted. The 1991 litigation also recognized in writing that had cases gone to court, bereaved partners would have a claim in their own right. Any future compensation from government will have to be paid IN ADDITION to current monthly “ex-gratia” payments. This group does not have a mandate to negotiate for all victims especially given the ignorance surrounding original legal agreements.
What is also disturbing is that the finances of entirely separate groups haemophilia and whole blood cases that were under different litigation proceedings and awards are now being discussed in the same group set up to meet ministers thus breaching confidentiality commitments given to victims particularly in the case of the 1991 HIV litigation. This has resulted in unfair attacks against campaigners from those with a completely different legal case where the circumstances and payments are nothing whatsover to do with their own situation.
In Scotland, widow/widowers receive 75% of what the infected person would have received, the contaminated blood “pension” is not means tested and does not affect state or private pension. In England and other parts of the UK, these monthly payments are thousands of pounds a year less and continue to be means tested. Widows/widowers outside of Scotland are fast losing hope that equality of payments across the UK will ever be awarded and that justice will ever be served!
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights/WOT and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She was a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.