My name is Joe Lewis, I’m 90 years old and living in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
In my early adult days I worked in Birmingham until I joined the Royal Air Force to train as aircrew.
After my training I was posted to India and Burma for the duration of the Second World War eventually being demobbed on March 15th 1946.
I married my Canadian wife Marj and we worked as newsagents in Birmingham until we moved to Tenby in North Wales in 1971. We bought a hotel and ran it until retirement – Marj wanted to return to Canada. This was either 1989 or 1990 – I can’t quite remember when.
I spent most of my working life self-employed and therefore didn’t have any occupational pensions. This was at a time when nobody from the British government said anything about saving for retirement, and we believed that the state pension would be enough for us to live on.
Sadly, Marj died in 1997 and I thought I was going to have to return to the UK – I have a son who lives in Bristol. He was married later in life and has a young son now, my grandson, who suffers from serious autism.
Then I met a widowed lady, Bep, in the hospice walking group and we got on so well that we got married. Bep is Dutch but now, sadly, has serious dementia and is in a long-term care facility, which is some 100 miles away. She is there because she has a nephew and his wife who can visit see her regularly. Fortunately for me I can still drive so I do go to see her quite often even though the drive is difficult with all the twisty roads.
I was visiting her in May 2015 and fell and broke my upper leg bone very badly. I went into rehabilitation and without realising it signed some forms that said I wanted private rehabilitation, which I really couldn’t afford, but that is another matter. When I got the bill it was huge. As a result, I have an expensive care person who comes in and attends to me now that I am back home. I have to use a walker and cane to get around.
It looks like I will now have to sell “the farm” as the income that I am getting from my investments is dwindling fast and I can no longer afford to live an independent life. The real dilemma I have is this – should I abandon my wife, return to the UK and get a full state pension (plus benefits) which I would be able to live decently on, or do I stay here and sell my house and find something smaller? Half of what I get when I sell the house, quite rightly, will go to Bep. Finding something I can afford could be difficult given the spiralling property prices here and I might not be able to find anything given the miserly “frozen” state pension that I have been receiving since I arrived in Canada.
With recent exchange rates I get $382.63 state pension every four weeks from the UK government. [Editors note: What this means is that since Joe emigrated to Canada he has received around $90,000 CAD less than his peers in the UK and he has effectively lost 3/4 of his pension]. I also get a fixed amount of $141.22 from the Canadian government. So, effectively, I am getting the equivalent of £250 a month and the only way I can make ends meet is to use up my savings. If I were being paid the full state pension from the UK government it would make all the difference to me.
I don’t really want to go back to the UK, but it may come to that. If I do move I would want to take Bep with me, but she is wheelchair bound and, at 91, she doesn’t have a clue what is going on, and I don’t know how we could handle the disruption or even the flight home. I have all of our furnishings so what would happen to those? I am not even sure if any of the airlines would even sell us tickets, given our age.
“It has turned my life upside down. If my pension was brought up to date I would be laughing”.
– Joe Lewis, Victoria, Canada
Photo: Courtesy of The Guardian
Story: Joe gave this interview to Sheila Telford, who is a Director of the ICBP. She had this to say after the interview:
“Joe is a lovely, articulate and independent man and deserves so much more than the way he has been treated by the British government”.
In addition, Sheila drafted letters on Joe’s behalf to Simon Hart (Con), MP for Tenby, and also Karin Smith (Lab), MP for the Bristol area where Joe’s son lives, asking them for information on pension/social services, etc., which might be available to him, and also care facilities for his wife as they will have to return to the UK because of his ‘frozen’ pension.
After this interview, The Guardian also spoke with Joe, and the journalist Rupert Jones wrote this article: Frozen Pension: The RAF veteran facing a chilling choice in Canada.