Gurkhas on eleventh day of hunger strike outside Downing Street over pension equality

  • Video report by ITV News Meridian's Mike Pearse

Gurkha soldiers from the Meridian region say the Government must act now over the issues behind a hunger strike. A group of veterans gathered outside 10 Downing Street and have not eaten for eleven days now in protest as they call for equal pensions for those who retired before 1997 and are not eligible for a full UK armed forces pension.

They include Gyanraj Rai from Reading and Dhan Gurung from Basingstoke.

Gyanraj Rai is among a group of campaigners calling for Gurkhas, who retired before 1997, to be eligible for a full UK Armed Forces Pension.

  • ITV Meridian's Mike Pearse speaks to the veterans at Downing Street

Dhan Gurung, 59, from Basingstoke, who has been protesting from his wheelchair in Whitehall near the gates to Downing Street, told the PA news agency: "When I retired from the British Army, my pension was £20 a month, whereas my British counterpart received £400 or more.

"What a trick by the Government; it makes me hurt still."

Gurkha veterans protest with a hunger strike opposite Downing Street in London. Credit: Hollie Adams/PA Wire/PA Images

The Gurkha men, recruited from the rugged Himalayan country of Nepal, have a reputation as hard and loyal fighters, and are known for the trademark curved kukri blades they carry sheathed on their belts.

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

  • Maj Tikendra Dal Dewan, Chair of British Gurkha Welfare Trust

Maj Tikendra Dal Dewan, Chair of British Gurkha Welfare Trust, says: "I've served for 31 years and I've lost 19 years of pension for my service which means I only get 11 years of pension".

"How can you be happy when you're not getting equal pensions? And you will see if you ask the Minister for Defence: their reply will be that pensions were designed for people to live in Nepal".

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

The change was brought in after a change in immigration rules in 2007, backdated to July 1997, meant that 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.

  • Gurkha community in Aldershot in favour of hunger strike

An MOD spokesperson said: “The UK Government is committed to providing Gurkhas a fair pension, including uplifts determined by formal review processes. This includes extensive consultation with Gurkha veteran groups and the government of Nepal, with more meetings scheduled next month.”

“Gurkhas in service from 1997 receive exactly the same pension arrangements as other personnel. The Gurkha Pension Scheme (GPS), for those in service between 1948 and 1997, provides a competitive pension that is at least as good as those given to others with identical periods of service.”

“The GPS differs from other pension schemes but provides a positive standard of living in Nepal and is objectively fair and justified, as upheld by three Judicial Reviews since 2003, including a case that went to the European Court of Human Rights.”

“We greatly value the contribution that Gurkhas make and do not wish to see veterans undertaking such protests unnecessarily.”