Q: What’s purple and doesn’t go away?
A: Women Against State Pension Injustice (WASPI).
Across the country, women who were born in the 1950s are celebrating a moral victory.
In July the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) ruled that it was maladministration when they were not given adequate notice that their State Pension Age had changed and they would have to wait several more years before getting their pensions.
All these women (the national total is 3.8 million) and of course their families as well, were affected. Lack of notice threw their retirement plans into chaos, causing significant financial hardship in many cases.
Changes to womens’ pension age
In fact, the initial change (to align the pension age for women to that of men) were a minor part of the 1995 Pensions Act and had received so little publicity that very few people were aware of them at all. It was only when a second change was made in 2011, raising the State Pension Age for both men and women by 18 months, that people started to learn about the changes. At this point, the changes began to be publicised and women who had thought they were on the verge of retiring suddenly received a devastating shock: their State Pension Age had increased by up to six years! Women began to protest, to write to their MPs, and to form themselves into support groups … and the WASPI Campaign was born.
The persistence of the WASPI women has been rewarded now that the Ombudsman has upheld their complaint against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The Ombudsman’s report highlighted the DWP’s own research in 2004, which revealed that most women did not know about the change to their State Pension Age. The DWP took no action to address this until 2009, and even then letters were only sent to the first cohort of women, those who had been expecting to retire in 2010. This was maladministration: the DWP had failed to follow its own guidelines.
Next steps in womens’ pensions campaign
Whilst it’s satisfying to be able to say, “We’ve been proved right!”, the WASPIs will not be cracking open the champagne just yet. There are three stages to the process and this is just the first. The second will be for the Ombudsman to decide whether anyone suffered injustice as a result of this maladministration. The third stage would be whether there should be any compensation for this injustice.
At this point, if you are one of those 3.8 million women directly affected, you may well be throwing something at the wall and shouting: “Of course there was injustice! Ye gods!”. I’m the WASPI Campaign 2018 Coordinator for Stroud (Gloucestershire). I have heard hundreds of heartbreaking stories of women who had to sell their homes and of divorced women suddenly finding their settlements had been calculated on inaccurate information. It seems the 1995 changes were such a well-kept secret that even the divorce lawyers didn’t know about them! And then there were many women who’d already handed in their notice and left their jobs before finding out their pension age had been increased by five or six years. Even women who had contacted the DWP for pension forecasts and had news of the first rise were caught out by the second. When you’ve already had to tighten your belt to cope with a four and a half year rise to your State Pension Age, another eighteen months delay can be just too much to cope with.
Back in 2018, Stroud District WASPI held a meeting in our Parish Church which was attended by 600 people. Seasoned press photographers spoke of their amazement as the women and their husbands queued down the street to get in, saying they’d never seen anything like it in Stroud before. But there were similar gatherings happening all over the country as women mobilised to voice their anger over the lack of notice, and to write to the DWP with their complaints.
Now at last, it seems they are being heard.
WASPI are calling on the Government to provide fair and fast compensation for these women, most of whom lost six years’ worth of pension (about £48,000). It’s been a long wait for the WASPI women, but one thing’s for sure: we’re not going away.