What is WASPI?
The WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) campaign relates to changes to the women’s pension age that were introduced in 1995 and 2011. Although a non-devolved policy, Wales has been a hotbed of the campaign since its early days. Carolyn Harris, MP for Swansea East (when there is not an election on) was an early adopter of the campaign and is now co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on State Pension Inequality for Women. WASPI women have also held protests in Cardiff, including a march down Queen Street.
Specifically, the campaign seeks to address the impact that an expedited increase in the state pension age for women born between December 1953 and October 1954 will have for those affected. The Pensions Act 2014 brought the expected increase in the State Pension Age forward by eight years, although women have since claimed that they were not properly informed of these changes and could not prepare for their delayed retirement as a result – with some women only finding out about the change when they applied to draw down their pension.
The WASPI campaign was launched in 2015 but the issue garnered national attention more recently. In October, the High Court ruled that the State Pension Age change was not discriminatory and that the women affected would not be entitled to compensation for the money they lost when the pension age was raised, following a case brought by the BackTo60 campaign against the Department for Work and Pensions. Following the High Court judgement, Carolyn Harris and her co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on State Pension Inequality for Women, Tim Loughton, repeated the group’s commitment to fight the injustice faced by 1950s-born women and pursue solutions such as extended pension credit for women worst affected by the change.
With Parliament now dissolved, awaiting the result of the General Election, parties have put forward their proposals to address calls for action on the State Pension Age changes.
Labour announced that it would compensate some of the women who faced a delay to their pension, with a tiered level of compensation depending on their birth date. Labour has said the policy would cost around £58 billion, and be paid in installments over five years. However, the compensation payments weren’t costed in the party’s grey book, which was released alongside its manifesto, and as an unusually large payment will need to be funded either through borrowing or taxation.
Plaid Cymru reaffirmed its support for the WASPI campaign and pledged that it would provide compensation to women who have lost out as a result of the changes. Unlike Labour, the party has not set out details of how much, and to whom, compensation would be awarded. The Liberal Democrat Party has also pledged that it would compensate women affected by the age change, “in line with the recommendations of the parliamentary ombudsman.” The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has not yet delivered its recommendations and may decide not to pursue it further once it returns to the topic, following an appeal to the October 3 judgement.
The Conservatives have not offered anything in their manifesto, and during the BBC’s Question Time debate Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that although he sympathised with the women affected, he couldn’t “magic up the money”. This was met with anger on Twitter, and did nothing to warm relations between the campaign and the Conservative Party, under which the accelerated plans were passed without provision for those who may be hit hard financially. The WASPI campaign had previously hit out at the Conservative Party, when it responded to a Conservative Party briefing that appeared to discourage its candidates from signing the WASPI pledge.
Around 2.6 million women will be affected by the 2011 Pensions Act, with about 138,000 of those in Wales. It’s dangerous to simply assume that the women affected will place greater priority on the delay to their pension than they will to Brexit, for example. However, if these women choose to place their support with the party that has shown the most willing on the subject, it may help bring in sought-after votes, particularly for Labour but also for the smaller parties. Nevertheless, the issue of pensions will need to contend with the big-hitter policies on Brexit, the NHS and immigration to catch the attention of the mass electorate.
For a bird's eye view.
Am olwg oddi uchod.
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