Read Kate’s latest column for the Shields Gazette:
Recently, the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) campaign scored a major victory in their long-running fight for justice.
Women who were born in the 1950s were found to have been the victims of “maladministration” by a Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) report, which concluded that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) failed to communicate State Pension Age changes to the women affected.
These hugely significant findings fully justify the many years of campaigning by the Waspi group who have fought tirelessly against this gross injustice.
Back in 2011, the then Conservative-led Coalition government accelerated the timetable for increasing Women’s State Pension Age to equalise it with that of men. However, the way in which these changes were implemented has left many women facing financial turmoil and severe hardship.
Many women had never received a letter from the DWP about the acceleration in the rise of State Pension Age, with some women only finding out through reports in the media or by word of mouth.
Many of those who received a letter from the DWP were only sent it within 12 months of turning 60 years old. This is wholly unfair and unreasonable as the lack of notice about the rise in State Pension Age left many, who had already taken early retirement, without a pension.
The appalling consequence of this is that many women were left with no time to make alternative plans to see them through. Many simply did not have the money to enable them to make other arrangements and have been left in huge financial difficulty, which has caused some women to struggle mentally.
Throughout the campaign and despite mass support across Parliament, the WASPI campaign has been continually dismissed by the Government, with Ministers consistently insisting in Parliament that sufficient notice was given, when this turned out not to be the case.
The latest findings reaffirm what the WASPI campaigners, which represents many of the 3.8 million affected – including 5,600 women across the Jarrow constituency – have been calling for since the campaign was founded in 2015.
It is so disappointing that these women were not adequately informed about the change in good time, because the more time you have to plan for retirement, the better.
That is why it’s so frustrating that the PHSO has found that the DWP should have contacted the affected women at least 28 months earlier than they were.
Some women have been forced to claim benefits and navigate a complex welfare system as they are too ill to continue work or have been made redundant from their jobs.
Others have had to take part time employment to subsidise their occupational pensions, which they receive due to having retired early from work and some women have had to use savings, draw down on private pensions or investments and even sell or downsize their property.
I stood on a Labour Party manifesto in the 2019 general election that recognised this injustice and committed to right this wrong by working with those women affected to design a system of recompense for the losses and insecurity they have suffered. The Prime Minister also promised to look into this issue but, not for the first time under Boris Johnson’s leadership, he has failed to do so.
It really is appalling that those women born in the 1950s who have been affected by the acceleration of the rise of state pension age have been completely let down by this government, even though they have continued to provide vital community and family support during this pandemic.
I have written to the DWP Minister this week, urging him to look into this situation as a matter of urgency. These are women who have waited for many years to be compensated and cannot wait any longer.
The Government must agree to a fair and adequate compensation package for the Waspi women at the earliest opportunity and right this dreadful wrong.