Sunday 11 June 2017

Brexit Europe is no continent for old men from Britain living on their pensions

From the 1990s onwards cheap air travel, increased longevity, rising British house prices, inflation-proofed pensions, together with Spanish property speculation and the EU principle of free movement, added about 310,000 British citizens to Spain’s current population and over 106,610 of these are elderly old men and women claiming and in some cases, heavily dependent on their state pension from Britain. The southern regions of Costa del Sol and Alicante have been their most popular places to live.

Most of them make no effort to integrate at all. One-third rarely or never meet Spanish people, apart from in shops and restaurants and 60% do not speak Spanish well. Instead, they congregate together British restaurants and pubs, eating English breakfasts and drinking pints of bitter.

Other EU countries also have substantial numbers of British citizens : Ireland has 255,000 and France, 185,000 out of a total of 1.2 million British citizens living abroad in the EU and many of these are also pensioners.  At the moment. thanks to EU regulation, they receive the same annual pension rises as those back home in Britain, when such rises are denied to pensioners living in most non-EU countries.

Now there could be trouble ahead for these old Brits because the pound’s fall against the euro has already shrunk the pension’s value by 10% in one year and Britain’s withdrawal from the EU may also mean the ending of the index-linking that pensioners inside the EU presently enjoy.

Another concern for them is healthcare, where at the moment there’s a big imbalance between British pensioners using European health services and European pensioners in Britain using the National Health Service. In Spain, for example, 70,000 retired British citizens use Spain’s doctors and hospitals, while in Britain only 81 Spanish pensioners are registered for treatment by the NHS.

At the moment reciprocal agreements between the states inside the 'European Economic Area', which consists of the EU plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, mean that costs are covered by the migrant’s home nation. On this basis, Britain paid £674.4m in health bills to other EEA countries in 2014-15 and claimed back only £49.7m. However, if Britain leaves the EEA as well as the EU, this health provision, which is free at the point of delivery, would, unless it is renegotiated with individual countries, also come to an end.

In the words of Sir Roger Gale, the Conservative MP and pension campaigner, the victims include “a lot of very elderly, very frail people" who "have sunk all their disposable income into their properties.” 

These old Brits are trapped. They can't sell their homes at the price they paid for them and the inflated house prices or rents in Britain make their return impossible. What was once their idyll in the sun is starting to turn into the millstone around their necks.

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