Prime Minister's Questions, factchecked

Published: 9th Feb 2017

The UK, the USA, and Syrian refugees

“Surely it is the responsibility of all of us to defend the 1951 refugee convention which commits this country, the United States and 142 other states to accept refugees without regard to their race, religion or country of origin. President Trump has breached that convention. Why didn’t she speak out?”

Jeremy Corbyn, 1 February 2017

“This government, and this country, has a proud record of how it welcomes refugees. We've introduced the very particular scheme to ensure particularly vulnerable refugees in Syria can be brought to this country. Something like 10,000 Syrian refugees have come to this country since the conflict began. We're also the second-biggest bilateral donor helping and supporting refugees in the region”.

Theresa May, 1 February 2017

The main international agreement when it comes to refugees is the 1951 Refugee Convention, or Geneva Convention. It does indeed say that countries signed up to it “shall apply the provisions of this Convention to refugees without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin”.

142 countries, including the UK, have signed up to both this Convention and the 1967 extension that took its scope beyond refugees from World War II. The USA is one of a handful that only signed up to the 1967 version (which is the same in most respects).

Professor Rhona Smith of Newcastle University Law School wrote on Monday that the executive order issued by the new US administration this week is “very clearly disregarding the Geneva Convention in a number of ways”.

It’s true that the UK has accepted over 10,000 Syrian refugees since the conflict began in 2011. But less than half (4,400) have been deliberately brought over from the region under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme mentioned by the Prime Minister. Another 6,000 travelled to the UK themselves and were subsequently granted asylum (or a similar form of international protection).

The United Nations says that there are 4.9 million Syrian refugees around the world.

As to the UK being the second biggest donor in helping Syrian refugees: this is a bit tricky, but the short answer is that we’re there or thereabouts.

When we looked at this in November 2015, the UK was definitely second on the list of biggest donors when it comes to the Syrian crisis, according to UN figures. By October 2016, the UK had fallen behind Germany into third.

Using the UN’s latest data: the UK has given around $1.5 billion to two separate Syrian appeals since 2012, with Germany contributed $1.9 billion and the United States $3.4 billion.

The Department for International Development says that the UK is still the second largest bilateral donor of humanitarian aid specifically, and that Germany provides much of its aid for longer term development. We’ll look into this further.

Increasing the state pension age

“This injustice [changes to the state pension retirement age] has short changed 2.6 million WASPI women and brings shame to this government.”

Chris Elmore MP, 1 February 2017

“We did commit over £1 billion to lessen the impact on those worst affected so no-one will see their pension age change by more than 18 months. But there is a wider point here, we do have to be realistic in looking at pension ages about the fact that people are living longer...”

Theresa May, 1 February 2017

The move to make the state pension age equal for men and women, and increase it to 66 by 2020, means women born in the 1950s onwards are retiring later than they expected.

A law in 2011 brought forward the year when the state pension would increase to 66, from 2026 to 2020. Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) are a group campaigning for a ‘bridging’ pension for women born in the 1950s affected by the changes and the 2011 timetable.

2.6 million women are affected by the 2011 changes. The government did slow down its proposed timetable so no-one would face new changes of more than 18 months, reducing proposed savings by £1.1 billion.

The state pension age was originally set at 65 years old for men, and 60 years for women. In 1995 a new law increased women’s state pension age from 60 to 65 between 2010 and 2020. This meant that women born in the 1950s (and after) would reach retirement age later than they had planned. Research has shown many women weren’t aware they were affected.

A 2007 law then added an increase to the equal state pension age from 66 to 68, to be brought in between 2024 and 2046.

In 2011 the timetable was sped up, so state pension ages would be equal at 65 by 2018, and rise to 66 for everyone by 2020. The new changes affect around 5 million people born between 1953 and 1960 in Great Britain, 2.6 million women and 2.3 million men. Women born between 1950 and 1953 were affected by the 1995 law and reached retirement age by March last year.

Together the changes delay women’s state pension age between three and six years compared to retiring at 60.

Further changes made in 2014 have now brought forward when the equal pension age will increase to 67, from 2034-2036 to 2026-2028. The first version of the 2011 law would have delayed some women's pension by two more years. The government shortened that to a maximum of 18 months, reducing the savings from the changes by £1.1 billion.

Some people, such as the WASPI campaigners, don’t think that went far enough.

The UK does have an aging population, and despite these changes the number of working-age people per pensioner is expected to fall.

You can check your state pension age online.


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