As we reach the summer and more than 45 million people have had their first vaccines, the Government plans to end all Covid-19 restrictions on 19 July, despite continued rises in the number of cases. It is clear that we will continue to live with Covid-19 for the foreseeable future, and the Government will need to strike a balance between protecting the NHS and opening up the economy as we move into the autumn and winter.
We have continued to campaign against the consequences of the pandemic and focused much of our attention on the rising prevalence of online scams. Pension scams and online fraud have skyrocketed in the pandemic, and they have had a significant impact on older people, both on people’s finances and their mental health. We were delighted to meet with the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee Stephen Timms MP to discuss opportunities for collaboration on this issue. The Government has an excellent opportunity to protect people from online fraud and scams through its forthcoming Online Safety Bill. Following significant campaigning, the Government have now pledged to include user-generated fraud within the scope of the Bill. However, this would only include scams found on social media, which would only go part of the way to protecting those that need it. There is a major problem of search engines such as Google advertising pension scams, making them appear legitimate. We are looking forward to continuing our work with MPs in relation to the Online Safety Bill in order to provide greater protection for victims of scams and will be launching a survey of our members shortly to find out more about their experiences.
Our work on the Online Safety Bill is just one part of our campaigning efforts against the exclusion of older people from an increasingly digital world. In April, we learnt that Milk & More, a groceries delivery company, had decided to move all of its services online. Many people do not or cannot use the internet, whether it’s due to a disability, financial constraints or simply because they are not comfortable doing. This should not mean that they are excluded from essential services. Deliveries, such as those provided by Milk & More, are a lifeline for those who may find it more difficult to get to out and about or those who live in remote areas. This was often the case during the pandemic, when many older people were asked to stay at home and were unable to receive support from their friends and family. Removing this service, for those who are not online, will reduce many people’s independence. We wrote to Milk & More to highlight the impact of their decision and called for an offline option to be available for those who are not comfortable or not able to be online. Unfortunately, Milk & More have decided to proceed with planned changes, citing financial reasons as one of the driving factors. We will continue to campaign to ensure the voices of older people are heard in relation to these decisions, working with sector colleagues such as the National Pensioners Convention.
We also met with Tech UK, the trade association for the technology industry, with over 850 members, to discuss about what they are doing to ensure the digital inclusion of older people. Tech UK works with the Government and the tech industry to help them prepare for what comes next in this digital age and looks at what role technology can play in improving outcomes, particularly in the public sector. We highlighted the concerns of our members and we agreed that we would remain in contact as our work progresses.
In May, the Government outlined its priorities for the next year through the Queen’s Speech. The Speech included the Public Service Pensions and Judicial Offices Bill, which will legislate to implement the ruling of the McCloud and Sargeant cases to fix the discrimination against younger pension schemes members that stemmed from the pension reforms introduced in 2015. Whilst we wait for the Bill to be brought forward, we will continue to campaign on behalf of our members and their pensions, by raising concerns with policymakers and the Government. We recently submitted written evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee for their inquiry into the rights of cohabiting couples. In our response we highlighted the ongoing widows’ pensions campaigns that CSPA and NARPO are conducting, as well as a wider issue raised by NFOP about the differential treatment of cohabiting partners to married couples or those in a civil partnership regarding access to survivor’s pensions and other financial entitlements, such as inheritance or savings accounts.
The Houses of Parliament are due to rise for their summer recess shortly and so we will be focusing on a range of activities to prepare us for our campaigning work when MPs return on 6 September 2021. Our main focus will be drafting a survey for our members to complete around online scams and fraud, in order to inform our briefings to parliamentarians and Government on the issue, ahead of the Online Safety Bill’s introduction to Parliament. We will be launching the survey over the next quarter, so please keep your eyes out and use it to share your experiences with us!