Gales view (April 15th 2009)
I have, during the Easter break, met with a group of retired ex-patriate UK citizens. They include some of my own constituents and although they are far too proud to ever admit it some of them are clearly suffering, as a result of our disastrous economic situation, the same financial embarrassment that faces many of those living on restricted retirement incomes at home in North Thanet.
The situation facing those living in France and Spain, for example, is exacerbated by the fact that our Government has been denying to them the "exportable" UK benefits to which the European Court of Justice has determined that they are entitled.
Before we proceed further I am aware that there are those who are sufficiently mean-spirited to suggest that "it's their fault that they are living abroad and we should not be bothering with them or paying for them". The implication, of course, is that this community is rich, living in Chateaux or Villas and spending its days playing bridge and drinking gin and tonic or champagne. Those who hold to this view will no doubt wish to consider that it is also their "fault" that the majority of UK ex-pats have spent most or all of their working lives in the UK, have paid their taxes and insurance contributions in full throughout their working lives and in some cases are still paying UK taxes on state and occupational pensions. Many have, additionally, served their country in our armed forces.
They have seen the value of their incomes diminish, as have those of others with UK investments, and as the pound has fallen by a third against the Euro so has the buying power of their sterling state pensions fallen also. Some of these good people now need the support of disability living allowances, carers allowances and other benefits that ought to be theirs by right. There are also a hard-pressed few who, because of domestic circumstances, should rightfully be in receipt of Child Tax Credit.
Do we look after our own? It appears that we do not. In spite of the best efforts of Members on both sides of the House of Commons to secure, for our constituents, the help that they need the government has to date sought to wriggle free of the European Court finding that the relevant benefits are exportable and should be paid to UK citizens living elsewhere within the European Union or in Switzerland.
I mention this now because in a couple of months time we shall be required to elect our representatives to the European Parliament. I think that it is therefore not unreasonable ask why it is that while those who have paid their dues in England are being denied benefits because they are living in France or Spain or Greece, it is perfectly in order for EU citizens from the "new Europe" outside the United Kingdom, who have not paid a lifetimes taxes in Britain, to come to work here, claim family tax benefits and send that money back to support families that are not living in the UK but in another EU state. It is an equation that the ex-pat community, which has the right to vote in June and will most assuredly be casting those votes to elect UK MEPs, does not comprehend. And neither do I!