Bernard Jackson is 91, but the Second World War veteran brushes off the idea he may be running out of time to get a fair pension from the United Kingdom.
For 27 years, the Vancouver resident has been fighting the U.K. policy that freezes pension benefits for British citizens who retire in Canada. According to the Canadian Alliance of British Pensioners, the policy pinches the finances of 500,000 people around the world representing 4 to 5 per cent of British pensioners. The Canadian government does not similarly freeze the pensions of its citizens abroad.
“This is what keeps me going. I tell everybody that. I am not giving up until I have got my pension uprated,” the London-born Mr. Jackson said in an interview.
Mr. Jackson is used to a fight. He was a wireless operator during the D-Day landings of 70 years ago this week, conquering his fear to do his part when Allied forces invaded Europe – a historic moment in the fight against the Nazis.
While the policy affects thousands in varied fields, Mr. Jackson says there’s something particularly unfair about its impact on an estimated 2,000 veterans in Canada.
“We’re being treated with contempt by the British government,” he says. “They know very well what we did for the country. We fought for democracy.”
He says one day the government will come around. “I am very optimistic that nobody can be as stupid as these British governments that have kept this thing on for God knows how many years, that they have got to do the right thing. I just cannot believe they’re not going to wake up one morning and say, ‘We’ve got to put this thing right.’”
Dave Morris, chairman of the Canadian pensioners alliance, says the situation is absurd because it is so arbitrary. “If you live in Jamaica, [your pension] is indexed. In Barbados, it’s not,” he says. “It’s the basic unfairness of it that hurts.”
After unsuccessful court challenges in the U.K. and at the European Court for Human Rights, the focus is now on the public and politicians, especially with an election looming in Britain next year.
Meanwhile, Mr. Jackson’s situation has left him with a £48 ($88) weekly pension when he says he’s actually entitled to £107. “It’s humiliating when I have to think, ‘How am I going to scrape the money up this month?’” he said. “It’s terrible.”
The father of two grown sons says he receives a small sum under the Canada Pension Plan because he worked a few years in Canada, and also receives Old Age Security benefits because he resides here. He also said he receives some assistance with prescriptions from Veterans Affairs Canada given his military service in the United Kingdom.
He also has savings from his postwar career as an insurance salesman in Britain. His wife is now in a care home suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Mr. Jackson lives in a low-cost seniors residence. He spends $100 a week on food, and struggles to meet other costs. “Forty-eight pounds is a drop in the ocean. It doesn’t go anywhere.”
Unfreezing the pension, he said, would be a tremendous lift in his fortunes.
“I worked 50 years and paid all my dues all the way through,” says Mr. Jackson, who retired at age 64 after settling in Canada with his wife after enjoying a visit to British Columbia.
When the Allies gathered for the D-Day action, Mr. Jackson – then 21 – drove a transport onto the beaches of Normandy. From wireless stations on the transport, he and his team helped sustain communications with air forces.
“You were always scared in enemy country that the door was going to open and somebody was going to heave a grenade in at you,” he says.
Mr. Jackson was discharged in 1946 after five years in the service.
“One of the things I find disappointing is that us youngsters thought we were fighting the war to end all wars. Basically it’s never stopped. Ever since 1946, there’s been skirmishes and fighting going on and there still is, isn’t there? I tried to figure out what is there in the human psyche that makes people do this.
“In the same way, what makes the British government freeze my pension, in 1987 when I came to Canada, at £48 a week?”