When Jack Jones retired as general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union in March 1978 he was well aware that there was no single organisation which represented and campaigned on behalf of pensioners. Although some trade unions had retired members’ sections, and there were various pensioner organisations and charities in existence, there was no umbrella body that could co-ordinate and lead the campaign.
At the TUC conference in June 1978, a Campaign for Pensioners was agreed and on later that year Jack Jones proposed that a one day National Pensioners’ Convention be arranged by a small steering committee. The object of the Convention would be carry forward the TUC’s Campaign for Pensioners and the issues to be discussed would include the need for travel concessions, help with telephone and TV charges, rising heating costs, the Christmas bonus and the provision of social care. The primary aim of the campaign would centre around the demand that pensioner couples should receive a state pension of not less than half the average gross earnings and a single pensioner one third of average gross earnings.
On the 14 June 1979 the first National Pensioners’ Convention was held at the Central Hall, Westminster; attended by 2500 older people, who discussed and then adopted a Declaration of Intent. It stated: “This Convention declares that every pensioner has the right to choice, dignity, independence and security as an integral and valued member of society”.
In 1981, the first ever National Pensioners’ Day was organised for 4 March – taking the form of a mass lobby of Parliament. It was followed by meetings between members of the steering committee and the then leaders of the two main parties. Later that year on 12 November, a Pensioners’ Action Day was arranged; where the focus was on local groups organising events in their own areas.
Between the 3rd National Pensioners Convention in 1982 and the 8th in 1987 all staged in the Central Hall, Westminster, the steering committee also organised a regular Pensioners’ Action Day in September every year and a march at the beginning of the TUC conference. During this time, a petition with over 1 million signatures calling for Justice for Pensioners was also presented to Parliament.
On 17 January 1986, the steering committee agreed to encourage the development of regional and local pensioners’ groups, including minority elders’ groups and trade union retired members’ sections. It also agreed to develop links with outside bodies and continue with an annual Convention and lobby of MPs.
Around late 1988, the TUC decided it was no longer able to provide any financial, secretarial or other assistance to the steering committee, and the time had come to turn the NPC into an independent and separate entity – run by pensioners for pensioners.
In January 1991 a new umbrella organisation was discussed, with a governing council, an executive committee and officers. Constituent organisations were to finance a federation of independent pensioner organisations. In April 1992, representatives of 357 organisations attended a two-day Congress in Birmingham at which an amended version of the Declaration of Intent was adopted. This marked both the start of the annual Pensioners’ Parliament and the birth of the NPC in the way it is known today.
This account is taken from archives at the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick and from information supplied by Roland Worth (first secretary of the NPC), Cyril Marshall (NPC treasurer Dec 1991 to Dec 2008) and Edith Pocock MBE (Norfolk and Norwich Pensioners Association).