My Full, Unabridged Speech On WASPI Women
Thank you (Speaker), I would first like to thank the Backbench business committee for granting this debate and the sponsors who have supported me in this application.
WASPI is an issue which I, like many members, have been working very hard on and if this new session of Parliament has taught us anything it is that the Government are on occasions prepared to cover their eyes and ears to pretend that injustice and suffering are not happening.
We’ve seen it with Universal Credit, with the public sector pay cap, with tuition fees and now with WASPI.
It is simple what we are asking for: A non-means tested bridging pension so some 3.8 million women do not have to live in poverty, paid as a percentage of the full State Pension and compensation to cover the period between age 60 and the new State Pension Age.
(Speaker), over the past few months I have tabled EDM 63 (195 signatures), submitted a parliament e-petition (109,000 signatures) and led on an over-subscribed Westminster Hall Debate all on WASPI.
They have been supported and signed by members from every party, from every region and nation of the UK.
Daily, I receive completely heart-breaking letters and emails from women who are suffering extreme hardship.
Many of them have worked since they were 16 and have found the deal they signed up to has been cast aside with little or no regard for their financial circumstances.
It has created an unnecessary generation of women many now relying on foodbanks, selling their homes and being forced to rely on the benefit system. It is degrading, Mr Speaker, and completely unfair.
It is often the things we don’t think about that these women raise with me, such as the fact that they cannot apply for a free bus pass if they live outside London and Wales. Many are non-drivers, so face the difficulty of paying ever increasing bus fares or spend their time alone.
They are also unfairly excluded from the winter fuel allowance that can be worth up to £300. So a decent start would be for the government to give the WASPI women this payment each year to enable them to have some level of comfort during the cold winter weather that we are now experiencing.
Many women tell me that it is hugely frustrating to hear from other ‘pensioners’ receiving this payment and feeling relieved that they can afford to heat their homes when WASPI ladies may not be able to.
These women have been failed by Government. Failings which have led to women, many of whom I have known for many years because I was born and bred in the constituency, into poverty. I am totally convinced of their sincerity and that they knew nothing about the changes to their pension because of the lack of notification.
But don’t just take it from me, the former Pensions minister Steve Webb said:
“The 2011 Act, which I (he) was responsible for, did not add any more than 18 months to people’s pension age, typically 12 months. But when we did write to people – and we did write to them to tell them what changes we have made – this was the first time they had heard about the first changes. So instead of me writing to them to tell them there was an extra year on the pension age, we were effectively telling them they had six extra years added to their pension age, which is of course why they were outraged.”
The Government have had multiple chances to acknowledge their error, provide all those affected with some level of compensation, and provide those worst affected—those who are waiting six years longer than they had planned before they receive their pension—with some support to bridge the gap between 60 and 66.
So for the 29th time in this house since the 2015 general election, I am begging the Minister- on behalf of 3.8 million women, to find a solution and fix the problem.
This is a time sensitive issue and the Government must understand this. We need to work cross party and find a solution as soon as possible otherwise we stand to let down a generation of women that have paid in and deserve a fair deal on their state pension.
I know many members who sit on the Government benches seem to complain about this topic being debated yet again. But back in July I led on a Westminster Hall debate on WASPI, and despite passionate and moving contributions from members from all across the house, the Government did not budge.
This is not a party political issue- it is not one at which we should play political football and heckle across the chamber. It is a serious and fast paced one.
WASPI Women are in every member’s constituency, they deserve justice, they deserve attention and they deserve a financially secure retirement.
I would like to thank WASPI—Women Against State Pension Inequality—campaign, whose tenacity and hard work we should pay tribute to right across this House, because they speak for hundreds of thousands of women who did not know that they were under attack- some 4542 in my constituency.
The campaign group are looking for justice not just warm words.
Early access to pension credit is a good start and can be done immediately but as a standalone option does not take into account that all 1950s women have suffered maladministration and a loss of income, and all deserve some recompense.
The ‘cost-neutral’ suggestion of actuarially reduced pension for life asks the women who have been discriminated against to bear the costs of putting the mistake right. It also condemns women to a retirement in pensioner poverty with its attendant greater reliance on benefits.
Arrangements that address only the additional SPA increases imposed by the 2011 Act. The maladministration suffered by WASPI women began in 1995, when the government failed to notify them of the changes to their pension age. Recompense needs to take this into account by offering a solution for all women affected.
Finally that the Government have repeatedly stated that it is committed to supporting people aged 50 years and over to remain in and return to work.
Several policies and initiatives have been put forward to support people to work for longer, such as older people’s champions in Jobcentre Plus districts, lifelong learning, and apprenticeship opportunities for people of all ages.
These suggestions completely disregard the matters which are the heart of the WASPI campaign. In reality, they are completely unworkable for the majority of WASPI women.
In addition, many women face difficulties in returning to the workplace through a combination of age discrimination in recruitment, a lack of age-friendly policies in the workplace and long-term health problems; so Minister, apprenticeships are not really an option– at all.
May I also add that I was not only surprised- but ashamed that the Budget did not offer any form of help to the WASPI women.
Despite knowing some members opposite made representations to the Chancellor.
It is shameful for a female Prime Minister to undermine other women born in the 1950’s despite continuously attacking the Labour Party for being weak on women’s issues. –Who by the way is also a WASPI and I would be curious to know if she received notification from the DWP.
It is quite simple, women born in the 1950s were not given sufficient notice by the Government that their SPA would be increasing.
Freedom of Information requests have revealed that the Government waited until April 2009, fourteen years after the 1995 Pensions Act, before it began writing individually to the women affected and only a small tranche of women received these letters sent out in the first batch.
In March 2011 the Government stopped writing to women affected because the coalition Government was considering speeding up the equalisation of the SPA. These changes, in the 2011 Pensions Act, were finally passed by Parliament in November 2011. The Government began writing to women again in January 2012.
A large percentage of WASPI women only received a letter advising them of significant increases to their SPA when they were 59, within 1 year of their expected SPA of 60.
Very many others received only 2, 3, 4 and 5 years’ notice, whilst still others received no letter at all from the Department for Work and Pensions.
For a further mailing, sent using information from HMRC, the Department for Work and Pensions failed to record how many letters were returned undelivered, and no further action was taken to trace women who had not received letters.
I mean, can we just imagine the outcry if a private pension provider behaved in such an unprofessional way? –I imagine many members of all sides of this house would be up in arms!
A series of well-known organisations and reviews have made recommendations on fair notice for changes to the SPA.
The Turner Commission recommended 15 years notice, and Saga recommended 10 years notice.
John Cridland’s Independent Review of the SPa recommended that the Government should communicate changes directly to those affected.
A recent development is that Bindmans Solicitors, acting on behalf of WASPI has asked repeatedly for the Independent Case Examiner to streamline its complaints investigation process and offered to assist it in doing so.
Amongst the concerns raised, there were extensive discussions about the ICE accepting Bindmans’ suggestion of investigating a representative sample of WASPI complaints, rather than examining each complaint individually.
Those requests have previously been refused. However, Bindmans has also engaged with the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman regarding the issue, and following intervention by the Ombudsman, the ICE has now agreed to investigate a representative sample of complaints with view to establishing whether there was maladministration and how any such maladministration should be addressed.
Should the Ombudsman find in WASPI women’s favour, he can ask the Government to restore women to the financial position they would have been in, had the maladministration not occurred. This would include not only lost pension payments, but loss of earnings and assets incurred because of the maladministration.
If all those cases of maladministration were found against the Government, we could be looking at a huge settlement. –So to find a solution is in the Government’s financial interests
Seeking a Parliamentary resolution remains the quickest potential solution for WASPI women and the most cost-effective option for the Government and the tax-payer.
I urge the Government to consider the various options that the campaign is pursuing, and in particular the merits of offering a solution via Parliamentary means.
Speaker, I am forever the optimist and am hoping that pressure from all sides will build momentum and bring this campaign to a successful conclusion.
Because whilst the Government dither about, ordinary women are having to choose between heating and eating. It is simply not on.
These women (many of whom are in the gallery) need an answer, they need a solution, and they need it now.
I urge the whole house to speak with one voice and support the motion on the order paper.