Joanna Lumley urges Govt to meet with 'brave and loyal' Gurkha veterans

15 August 2021, 09:05 | Updated: 15 August 2021, 09:14

The Gurkha hunger strike has entered its ninth day
The Gurkha hunger strike has entered its ninth day. Picture: Alamy
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Joanna Lumley has urged the government to meet with the "brave and loyal" Gurkha veterans who are on hunger strike outside Downing Street.

The actress and campaigner once again threw her support behind the group, which is calling for equal pensions for Gurkhas who retired before 1997 and are not eligible for a full UK armed forces pension.

Sunday marks the ninth day of the Support Our Gurkhas protesters' demonstration.

In a statement on Saturday, the Absolutely Fabulous star said ministers "cannot praise our veterans to the high heavens when it suits them, but ignore them and condemn them to poverty when it doesn't".

The 75-year-old, who led a campaign in 2009 to allow Gurkhas settlement rights in Britain, was born in India and moved to England as a child.

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She said: "Seeing such brave and loyal Gurkha British Army veterans feeling they have no option but to take the drastic step of entering a hunger strike will be deeply upsetting to the vast majority of the public who understand the special place that all veterans have in our hearts, in our thoughts and the life of the nation.

"Only a deep sense of injustice could drive these brave and respectful souls to this point. At the heart of this matter is how we value those who have offered, and sometimes given, the ultimate sacrifice to protect our way of life and to keep us safe.

"I urge the government to meet these veterans and to cut through the morass of detail surrounding the complexity of the various pension schemes and find some way to address the injustices highlighted."

Lumley's father was a major in the Gurkha Rifles.

On Friday, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said he was happy to meet with the veterans, but warned that no government has ever made retrospective changes to pensions similar to the ones the Gurkhas are calling for.

Speaking with LBC's Nick Ferrari, Mr Wallace said: "I will happily go and meet them", although he acknowledged that this may not happen.

He added: "They are incredibly brave, we do support them."

Around 200,000 Gurkhas, recruited from Nepal, fought in both world wars, and they have also served in places such as Hong Kong, Malaysia, Borneo, Cyprus, the Falklands, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Those who served from 1948 to 2007 were members of the Gurkha Pension Scheme until the Labour government of the time removed the differences between Gurkhas' terms and conditions of service and those of their British counterparts.

Serving Gurkhas, and those with service on or after 1 July 1997, could then opt to transfer into the Armed Forces Pension Scheme.

The change was brought in after an amendment to immigration rules in 2007, backdated to July 1997, meant more retired Gurkhas were likely to settle in the UK on discharge, whereas the previous pension scheme had lower rates as it had assumed they would return to Nepal where the cost of living was significantly lower.