Below you will find reports from Retired Members Conference 2023, from our Branch’s delegation.
UNISON Retired Members National Conference took place in Edinburgh this year, on 3 – 4 October. Around 500 delegates attended, with 30 branch delegates from the West Midlands branches, and five other West Midlands members there in different capacity. So our region was well represented. Our Birmingham Branch delegates were myself, Steve, Liz and Jennifer.
I also had to be a substitute for the West Midlands Regional Committee to the National Committee meeting, prior to conference (so no sight-seeing for me!) Delegates attended Self Organised Group
(SOG) meetings that took place on the first day.
We attended as follows:
• Maureen and Liz – Women’s SOG
• Jennifer – Black Members SOG
• Liz – Disabled Members SOG
• Steve, who looks after our website,
went to the Communications
• Bob Deacon, from our Regional Committee,
attended the LGBT SOG, and
reported back to us that two West
Mids delegates were elected to the
UNISON National LGBT Conference.
At the Conference itself, 24 motions were debated, from declining bus services to bank closures, Triple Lock, digital exclusion, and public ownership of utilities. Our two motions – on opposition to the
rise in the State Pension eligibility age, which the government has said they will bring in after the next election; and a motion calling for both the National UNISON Retired Members and the national union
to support the ‘Pain Free’ Hysteroscopy campaign.
There were areas of contention – a composite about a National Care Service saw disagreement around Motion 23 which called for ‘Lets make Care work’, which was supported by our National Committee,
and talked about services being ‘affordable to all’.
Conference defeated this because it didn’t adequately reflect existing UNISON policy on care ‘being free at point of delivery’.
Similar concerns were expressed about Motion 7, to scrap tax on pension withdrawals to pay for care – conference felt we shouldn’t campaign for that, we want properly funded and free care services.
The motion was defeated. Each year, two of those motions passed
are selected by vote of the conference to go forward to UNISON’s National Conference.
The two selected were:
One on a rule change, for increased representation from the Retired Members section on UNISON’s National Executive – we want this raised from the current one seat, to two.
And Motion 6 – maximising support retired members can give working members, and remove the barriers to do this: retired members have a wealth of trade union skills who could assist inexperienced younger working members.
We were annoyed that our motion on the ‘Pain Free’ Hysteroscopy campaign, despite being passed by conference, was not included on motions put up for forwarding to National UNISON conference.
This all happened at the tail end of our conference leaving little time to challenge this. When we did ask a full time official for their reasoning, they said it would be ‘more appropriate for UNISON Women’s conference’. We will be taking this further. Watch this space.
Generally speaking, it was a good conference. And the
Birmingham Branch fully participated, in SOGs and panels. It was
really good to have new people come to conference – so start thinking about next year’s conference in Llandudno.
– Maureen Wade
Communications Discussion Group
‘Delegates liked the Birmingham model’
Steve reports: I went to the Branch Communication Discussion Group. The aim was to discuss among 20 or so delegates how to best communicate with existing retired Members and find newly retired Members. Our Branch is using almost all the means suggested, such as email, newsletter, website, telephone and face to face gatherings and events. We don’t use Social Media, but that is our choice.
Our arrangement where, in addition to the life-time Retired Member fee of £15, Members pay £10 per year for our activities such as coffee mornings, newsletter and outings, was an eye-opener for many other branches present. As one delegate pointed out, our system means you then know who your active Members are, instead of having to canvas 1,500 or so for every event.
The on-going issue of ‘Data Protection’ preventing us contacting or learning contact details of newly-retired Members was also discussed at length with no firm conclusion.
What I did learn was that Birmingham branch is lucky, in that most Members live only a bus or train ride away from our events, as some other Branches covered huge geographical areas and distances.
Winter Crisis Fuel Poverty Discussion Group
‘The winter heating crisis will
see a rise in deaths’
Jennifer reports: The speakers were Verena Beane, of Fuel Poverty Action, and Maggie Newell from UNISON’s ‘There for You’ scheme.
The Panel gave an overview on how fuel poverty impacts low income households through high energy costs, and lack of energy efficiency.
The information, resources, signposting and discussions, given by the panel included tackling and eliminating fuel poverty as a priority; the impact of fuel poverty on the cost of living crisis; how the winter heating crisis will see a rise in excess winter deaths; and how prepayment meters could impact on people’s health and lifestyle.
I felt the workshop and discussions were very informative with good contributions from the attendees. I raised my personal concern regarding getting financial support to purchase a new boiler (if you do not receive any benefits). Delegates gave their personal experiences and support, i.e. groups like Octopus energy and 24/7 online providers.
Black Members SOG
Jennifer reports: The meeting was chaired by Norma Thompson of the Wiltshire and Avon Health Branch – 23 delegates were in attendance, which it was reported was an improvement to previous years.
Issues raised as follows:
- Difficulties when registering for conference – unable to get information to make corrections to mistakes made at head office. Several delegates were not pleased as they had to attend as ‘guests’ rather than delegates, and could not participate in the conference. It was agreed members were to address their concerns/issues in writing to their UNISON Regional Secretary.
- Points were raised in reference to Motion 11 on the ‘Year Of Black Workers’: there was no time to open the floor for discussion or questions. My personal observation is that the 30 minutes allowed for the SOG meetings does not seem enough timeto address what is on the agenda.
This was my first UNISON Conference and attending as a Delegate. My experience was very positive. It gave me information about UNISON’s lay structure and rules. I enjoyed getting to know other membership groups and my local branch delegates. I would recommend that everyone should try to attend Conference. I am
happy that I did.
- Jennifer Delisser
Pensions Discussion Panel
‘Defend the Triple Lock’
Liz reports: I attended a session on Pensions with Glen Jenkins, UNISON’s expert. He covered a lot of ground and I will share here a few of the points he made.
- As a country we encourage Occupational Pensions whereas in Europe they have larger State Pensions so it is difficult for us to compare levels of State Pension between us and the EU directly.
- The new State Pension started in April 2016 and was then 24% of national average earnings. The new State Pension is potentially higher than the old State Pension but you need more years of National Insurance contributions than you needed to receive the old State Pension. Due to our work Superannuation Pensions, we did not pay the full amount into National Insurance for the new State Pension. That means that those of us who are young enough to qualify for the new State Pension get less than those pensioners who didn’t have a Superannuation Pension scheme. The only exception is if we paid in extra NI.
- If we lose the Triple Lock, it is young people in their 20s and 30s who will lose the most, as the new State Pension loses its’ value over the coming years.
The Government attacked the Triple Lock by moving from using the Retail Prices Index to using the lower Consumer Prices Index. Whilst the new State Pension rose by 10.1% this year, the rise would have been 12.6% if the RPI figure had been used. The increase next March
will again be less than August 2023’s RPI. I’m sure you get the picture. Glen believes that the Government is likely to honour the Triple Lock in 2024, however. Another difficulty is that the September inflation figure is used to identify the following March’s rise. If inflation continues to increase after the September, then the pension does not keep pace with the inflation.
The Government has decided to review raising the State Pension age after the next General Election, so they know it is a vote loser! They have tried to use the concept of ‘Intergenerational fairness’ to muddy the issue. However, it will be the younger people who have to work even longer if the qualifying age is raised yet again.
Someone did ask Glen his view about the DWP’s calling for people to delay claiming their State Pension. Glen explained that he could not comment as individuals need to seek financial advice in the light of their own particular circumstances.
Glen did talk about the ‘Goodwin case’ which he said is a complicated issue to do with pensions for same sex partnerships and heterosexual couples ( I’m afraid I got a bit lost on this issue!).
Linda Carmichael from WASPI Scotland spoke about how women born in the 1950s not only had their state pension age raised twice but the vast majority were not informed, so had no chance to prepare for those changes. WASPI are pressing for compensation to the women. Currently they are challenging the outcome of Stage 2 of the Ombudsman process. Linda highlighted how if compensation is won, the women will spend this money in their local economies so communities will benefit – it will not be put into offshore funds!
Delegates were urged to write to their MPs in support of the WASPI campaign.
I would like to highlight how UNISON were excellent in providing speech to text for me in the meetings I attended and in the Conference Hall, where text was displayed above the stage. As
someone with hearing loss, it can be very frustrating to be unable to hear what is being said.
This was my second Retired Members’ Conference. I hope the reports from your delegates this year, inspire you to consider coming forward to next years’ conference in Llandudno.
I’d like express thanks to Jennifer, Maureen and Steve for their company over the three days – we worked well together and this helped to make the Conference an enjoyable experience. Steve helpfully organised our flights and the hotel booking, as well as doing some research about Edinburgh, so well done, Steve.
Also a special thanks to Bob Wade who, with Maureen, picked me up around 5am on the Monday to get us to Birmingham airport and for who collecting us on our return Wednesday evening.
- Liz Hobbs
Cost of living and Pension poverty Panel:
‘A choice between heating or eating’
Maureen reports: Speakers included Adam Stachura from Age Scotland, Anna Burley, UNISON Policy officer, and Chea Harrington from Fuel Poverty Action.
The disgrace of pensioner poverty can be seen by the large percentage of pensioners now dependent on food banks – 18 percent of pensioners are living in poverty, many having to choose between ‘heating or eating’.
A 2023 UNISON cost of living survey of members found that:
- 77 per cent are finding it harder to pay bills
- 73 per cent said they didn’t put heating on
- 25 per cent said they skipped meals.
Conference was a very good experience and I would definitely recommend it. All expenses were paid, except the bus tour. We got on very well as a group and all enjoyed each other’s company.
- Steve Garnowski
Disabled Members SOG
‘Visitor problems with access to hotels’
Liz reports: A key issue for delegates was the issue of accessibility at their hotels. Some hotels described themselves as ‘disabled friendly’ but members’ experience was some hotels were not, despite staff trying their best. There were suggestions made by delegates about how we could achieve improvements. One idea was for the union to initiate a campaign for a ‘charter for hotels’ to subscribe to; another idea was for us to create a rating system for hotels or a directory of truly disabled friendly hotels. As unions organise many Conferences, they potentially form a band of customers which could bring influence to bear on hotels.
The problem was raised as to how the layout of disabled toilets can be very difficult to manage when your mobility is limited, though you are not in a wheelchair.
The importance of keeping ticket offices at railway stations was raised, and the difficulty that one has in getting a GP appointment, leading to a lot of elderly people not able to access medical help, so leaving them to suffer. Wheelchair users described how shop entrances are often too small for them and noted how parents with
pushchairs can also struggle with shop entrances.
‘Low paid women workers go to be even poorer pensioners’
Maureen & Liz report: The importance of fighting to keep the Triple Lock was made, especially as low paid women workers go onto be poorer pensioners, relying on the state pension.
For older pensioners their situation is more difficult as the old State Pension is set at a lower rate than the new State Pension. The fact that we have the lowest standards in Europe for home insulation, was noted. Frustration was expressed about the latest data legislation that means Retired Members branch secretaries can’t write to those UNISON members who’ve just retired but haven’t yet joined us. The suggestion was made that UNISON should link up with the Pension Fund providers to get them to pass on information about the Retired Members Section.
There is a need for a Branch to put forward a rule change allowing a retired member to continue in membership if they ever need to get a part-time job to cope e.g. with the current cost of living crisis.
Rosie McGregor (the Retired Members Section National Chair) raised awareness about the conference being organised by the National Pensioners Convention – ‘What can we do about pensioner poverty’ that was to be held on 19 October – in the North West region, urging everyone to attend who could.
This year the SOG was more organised with our National Committee allocating Chairs prior to meeting (as opposed to previous years, where a lot of the short time available for the SOGs was wasted electing a chair).
Ballot papers were distributed for election of delegates to UNISON’s National Women’s Conference (two allowed). Elected were Rosie McGregor and Shelia Wright.
Experiences of a ‘first timer’
OUR three-day UNISON Retired Members Conference trip started at 6am at Birmingham Airport. Maureen had cleverly realised way back in July that the rail strikes were going to continue for a while, so we opted to fly to Edinburgh via Easyjet. It was actually cheaper than the train and saved us about four hours travelling time each way. In fact the rail strike and overtime ban was on the week we travelled, and, sadly, disrupted the plans of quite a few of the other delegates. The full flight was about 1hr 10mins and we all sat together. Once at Edinburgh airport we took a very crowded 30 min tram ride to the city centre then walked five mins to our Premier Inn hotel. We found a lady outside, also looking for the hotel, and she turned out also to be one of the conference delegates.
Barbara had flown from Devon and Cornwall Police and Criminology Branch. She became a good friend over the next three days. We were able to leave our cases at the hotel for free (rather than pay £40 for us all to check in to our rooms early). We then had Monday free as Conference did not start till Tuesday. We sussed out the venue for the
next day, the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, which was only eight minutes down the road, then went on a bus tour around the City with an amazing commentary by a very knowledgeable guide. It is a fascinating City.
Our hotel offered free tea and coffee in the reception area, so that became our social point. Later on Barbara joined us for our evening
meal, at an Italian Restaurant. She said “I hate eating alone”. The meal and service were excellent.
After the Tuesday round of discussion panels and SOGs, Barbara
joined us again for our evening meal, this time at a Chinese restaurant. Everyone enjoyed their meal. It was interesting to see all the meals going out of the door with Deliveroo and Just Eaclists and cyclists.
The Wednesday brought the main conference. We had to be seated by 09.15 am so an early breakfast at the hotel, of porridge (delicious), fruit and croissants was had by all.
After introductions and welcomes, we all started working through the 24 motions with ‘movers’ and ‘speakers’ for most and sometimes an ‘against’ speaker. I ‘moved’ one of our motions, against the rise in pension age. Maureen and Liz moved and spoke for our second motion, for pain-free hysteroscopies.
Each motion was voted on. The vast majority, including ours, were passed. Jennifer and I had been to a Pre-Conference Training Session a few weeks before and Liz and Maureen had been to conference before, so we all knew how the system worked. Conference broke for lunch at 12.30. Food was provided in the conference building, but we had discovered a wonderful sandwich shop over the road and I
had a ‘Haggis Hot Roll’. Delicious.
After lunch more motions were worked through and conference ended at 15.45 with a speech from UNISON General Secretary,
Christina McAnea. We made our way back to what had become ‘our’ table in the hotel reception, joined by Barbara. She was stopping on for a second conference. We said a very friendly farewell to her, hugs and kisses, and made our way to the airport on the tram. Our
plane was again full, but at least on time.
– Steve Garnowski