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Stop confiscating the State Pension from elderly prisoners

Comment 5th July 2010

Few people are aware that elderly prisoners are deprived of the state pension to which most will have contributed for many years. Prison is not the life of luxury the newspapers would have you believe: the cost of extra food to supplement the very basic prison diet comes at highly inflated prices, as does the cost of phone calls to keep in touch with family. I have to fund my husband’s “living costs” from my own pension, as well as maintaining the family home and paying the cost of travel to prison visits, all on half our usual income. 

My husband paid into the state pension scheme for 50 years and had already been receiving his state pension for over 4 years at the time he was (wrongly) convicted. When any person is sent to prison the punishment is loss of freedom, but if that person is a pensioner he loses his freedom and his income.

The Department of Works & Pensions (DWP) say: “The Government considers that payment of benefit to prisoners is unnecessary. They are already maintained at considerable public expense and to pay benefit would amount to double provision”  and   “ Forfeiting benefit to which they may have contributed is commonly regarded as being a legitimate aspect of the punishment.”

The DWP do not explain (a) why a pension to which the recipient has contributed for many years is classed as a “benefit”, nor (b) why the elderly are the only group of prisoners forced to pay a huge fine imposed by the government in addition to the sentence imposed by the Court

This is not a minor problem. Men aged 60 and over is the fastest growing age group coming to prison, an increase of 145% between 1998 and 2008. For many it is for the first time, and they have already paid full contributions for the pension now denied to them. This is not “double provision”, it is “double punishment” and blatant discrimination against the old and vulnerable.

Why does this matter?

It is victimising the elderly in prison, and punishing their families by witholding income necessary to maintaining the home until release.  This group of people is being "fined" by the government, in addition to losing their liberty.  What is the point in witholding the pension, then paying out social benefits because the wife/partner can't pay the bills?  and if you've got even a small amount of savings, you don't get any help until the savings have been used up.

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