Patricia Coulthard was present at the Battle of Kohima, which helped halt the Japanese invasion of India, and today she is fighting for veterans who retired abroad and have had their state pensions frozen. Ms Coulthard, who moved to Australia to be near her two children, told the Prime Minister she receives just £46 a week. The payment contrasts with the full state pension in the UK today of £175.20 per week.
This veteran of Burma and India claims that more than 60,000 veterans also suffer from frozen pensions. The Government does not increase pension payments in line with inflation if people move to a country outside the European Economic Area that does not have a reciprocal arrangement with the UK.
Ms Coulthard cared for soldiers who were injured at Dunkirk before being sent to India, where she served in a jungle field hospital during the Battle of Kohima, in which around 4,000 of the British and Indian forces lost their lives. She suffered malaria, dysentery, fever and pleurisy but remembers her comrades and experiences with pride.
She warned Mr Johnson that it is not “morally justifiable” for veterans to be left to struggle financially.
Patricia Coulthard has penned a letter to Boris Johnson over pension poverty
“At 99 years old, I am one of a dwindling number of surviving veterans who served during World War Two,” the resident of Woollahra, New South Wales, writes. “I was there and feel we deserve our rightful pension.”
A spokesman for the Campaign to End Frozen Pensions said: “Patricia’s story and experiences are deeply moving and exemplify the gross injustice of the UK Government’s frozen pensions policy. Every pensioner is more than a number on a spreadsheet in Westminster and it is high time that the Government held up their end of the bargain and gave all pensioners the pension they are entitled to.
“That we have pensioners and military veterans like Patricia living on as little as £46 per week is utterly shameful and must serve as a wake up call to end this callous, cruel and immoral policy without delay.”
Patricia Coulthard on her 99th birthday
The campaign claims that more than “90 percent of frozen pensioners live in Commonwealth nations”.
Jack Dromey, Labour’s shadow pensions minister, said: “It is absolutely wrong that those who fought for their country should be denied the pension they have earned. Some moved abroad simply to be with their families in the twilight of their years.
“Ministers should put right what is an undoubted wrong.”
Patricia Coulthard in 1946
The National Pensioners Convention (NPC) claims there are 550,000 British people living abroad affected by frozen pensions, stating: “This system leaves many British citizens living in poverty and without independence in later life.”
The NPC argues that when a person moves abroad the UK makes a saving of around £4,300 because of lower demand on services such as the NHS. It says that these savings should be used to offset the cost of boosting overseas pensions.
There is deep concern that members of the Windrush generation who spent their working lives in the UK but retired abroad are also losing out through frozen pensions.
North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale, who chairs the all-party group on frozen pensions, described the situation as “iniquitous” and an “absolute disgrace”.
He suspects that a deal has not been struck to increase up-rate pensions because “Treasury lawyers” fear they could face billions of pounds in claims for back-payments.
Caroline Abrahams of the charity Age UK said she was saddened that veterans were “caught out by the international ‘post code lottery’ of pensions up-rating”.
She said: “It’s so unfair that people who have made their National Insurance contributions all their lives in the UK should miss out because they have retired abroad… [We believe] state pension increases should be paid to all UK pensioners, wherever they live.”
A UK Government spokeswoman said: “We understand that people move abroad for many reasons and that this can impact on their finances. There is information on GOV.UK about what the effect of going abroad will be on entitlement to the UK State Pension.
“The Government continues to uprate state pensions overseas where there is a legal requirement to do so – for example in countries where there is a reciprocal agreement that allows for uprating.”