Pat James’ story is one of crushing blows dealt by forces over which she had no control – now, like millions of others, she struggles to pay for a banking crisis she did nothing to cause
Ten years ago this Wednesday, Pat James was celebrating her 16th wedding anniversary with her husband Ivor.
Like millions of people across the globe, they were completely unaware that the world stood on the brink of a global financial crisis .
Unknown to them, some 200 miles away in Paris in an ornate building on the Boulevard des Italiens, the French bank BNP Paribas was in the process of freezing three funds exposed to sub-prime mortgage lending in the United States.
Pat and Ivor had their own worries. Ivor, a motor racing logistics expert, had recently been medically retired after being diagnosed with a form of bone marrow cancer.
Pat, then 53, had a job as a social worker with a children’s charity and was studying for a degree.
Ten years on, it is business as usual at BNP Paribas – ranked number seven among global financial institutions with an estimated value of $20.2billion.
Nearly £128bn has been paid out in bonuses across the banking sector since the credit crunch .
Pat James’ fortunes, however, have changed beyond all recognition. In 10 years, she has gone from a happy secure life to barely surviving on just £100 a month – squeezed like millions of ordinary people to pay for a banking crisis she did nothing to cause.
Then, in 2011, the Government announced they were hastening changes to the pension age of women born in the 1950s, to force Budget savings – leaving Pat among the group known as ‘WASPI women’ (from the campaign Women Against State Pension Inequality).
She estimates the changes have cost her around £20,000 at a time when she desperately needs financial support.
When Ivor died, 10 weeks ago, Pat faced yet another austerity cut to add final insult to injury. The Widow’s Allowance – which until last April would once have paid out £113 a week – has been replaced with a new benefit that pays only £100 a month – “plus a lump sum that didn’t even pay for Ivor’s funeral”.
A small social work pension barely covers her mortgage, leaving her with just that £100 a month to live on.
This punishment by the state has left Pat bewildered. “I feel very hurt by it,” she says. “I didn’t cause the financial crisis. I feel I’ve always done my bit. I have worked since I was a teenager with a Saturday job. After school I did clerical work, then trained as a nurse. I was a probation officer in Chelmsford Prison for 12 years.