A long-running controversy over the winter fuel allowance provided by the British government to expats, reached something of a fever pitch this week.
Many British citizens living in France and indeed elsewhere in Europe were already furious with UK Pensions Secretary Ian Duncan-Smith’s recently-announced plan to cut payments to pensioners living abroad.
Then on Friday, the Daily Mail published this cartoon mocking the lifestyle of British expats living in France and Spain, suggesting they spend all their time toppng up the tan and filling up the wine glass.
"Oh goody! Here comes our winter fuel." Photo: Screengrab/
For 81-year-old Englishman Brian Cave, who lives in southwestern France, it was “the final straw.”
Cave tells The Local why this is only the latest and nastiest in a “campaign” of slurs against elderly British expats, how the UK government is scapegoating its own citizens, and what Brits abroad can do to fight back.
Photo: Courtesy of Brian Cave
France – "a hot country"?
“This Daily Mail cartoon is so damaging because it plays into a common misconception of British expats in Europe,” says Cave, who moved to the southwestern department of The Lot with his wife Helen, in 1998.
“But the idea that we spend all day sipping gin by a warm poolside is a ludicrous distortion of the truth,” he adds.
“It wouldn’t be as bad if it were isolated, but since the start of this year alone, the Daily Mail have run six or seven articles targeting British citizens abroad.
“What it shows is that there is a campaign against elderly expats among certain parts of the British press and from certain elements in the current government, and this is the final straw,” says Cave, originally from the suburbs of London.
“Let’s deal with the facts. Our arch-nemesis, Ian Duncan-Smith, says those of us in France should have our winter fuel allowance cut off, because France is a ‘hot country’,” he says, referring to a plan to cut the payments to anyone living in a country whose average winter temperature is higher than the average temperature of Britain’s warmest region.
“But we know for a fact that the study the government used to determine that, was deeply flawed.”
“In calculating the average winter temperature, they included the overseas French territories,” Cave points out, referring to far-flung places like Réunion island and Martinique, which have average winter temperatures of between 24 and 25 degrees Celsius.
“In any case, parts of France can have much more extreme cold than the UK,” he says, adding: “And a friend of mine in Alicante in Spain, recently sent me photos of four inches of snow on the ground there.”
Brian and Helen Cave in a very snowy corner of France. Photo: B. Cave
'Elderly British expats are an easy target for government cuts'
“The winter fuel allowance isn’t as important as other issues we’re faced with – like voting rights – but what this shows clearly is that the Daily Mail and Ian Duncan Smith don’t believe we ought to be treated equally as British citizens.”
“Elderly British people who happen to live outside the UK are being treated as easy targets for saving money in a time of austerity, and I get the distinct feeling that we are considered less than worthy as Britons.
“Or that we have ‘abandoned our home’, because we live in a different country,” says Cave, who moved from Gloucestershire to France to find quieter surroundings and a higher quality of life.
“Before my wife and I moved to France, we tried to find a new home in several nice, quiet parts of Britain, including Norfolk and Wales,” he says.
“But the fact is we couldn’t find one we could afford. Here in Gourdon, we have 12 hectares of land and a good home that cost much less than a tiny apartment in London would have.
“Why should we be treated differently as British citizens, just because of that?”
Either way, elderly Britons abroad are fighting back. Activists like Brian Cave, Graham Richards, and well-known WWII veteran Harry Shindler, an expat in Italy, have led the charge in filing formal complaints about the Daily Mail cartoon to the UK’s Press Complaints Commission.
“It seems to be quite effective. I’ve been inundated with responses,” says Cave, who writes about issues affecting British expats at his blog Pensioners Debout.
“So far, no one has received any meaningful reply from the Daily Mail itself,” he adds, recommending that expats in France, Spain or anywhere else who were upset by the cartoon, join in filing a complaint with the PCC.
By time of writing, the Daily Mail had not responded to The Local’s request for comment.