Labour’s promise to compensate the three million women who were denied pensions as a result of the Tory Government’s failure to adequately communicate rises to the state pension age remains an unsettled “debt of honour”.
Labour was absolutely right at the last General Election to pledge a compensation package to right this historic injustice and fair and fast compensation is something we must continue fighting for until these women receive the justice they deserve.
Many women born in the 1950s retired at 60 in the belief that they would receive their full state pension only to realise that the Government had increased the retirement age without properly notifying them. Many were left destitute; some even lost their homes.
These women are the Made in Dagenham generation, who began work in an era when it was legal to pay female workers less than men. They are the ones who successfully fought against sexism and trailblazed careers in industries where few women had stepped before.
The role they played in our country’s history was significant, yet instead of applause and recognition, they have faced grinding poverty since the Tory-Lib Dem government lifted the state pension age from 60 to 65 more than a decade ago.
The contract the state had with these women who had worked all their lives, raised families, and paid into the state pension for years was disgracefully ripped up by the coalition government. Overnight, these changes were dumped on them. Many had already handed their in notice at work and in many cases these women were forced to exist on meagre welfare benefits that have left them living a hand-to-mouth existence.
There was no meaningful consultation with those affected by a policy driven by the Tory-Lib Dem government’s turbo-charged austerity.
The Women Against State Pension Inequality (Waspi) campaigners have bravely fought for justice. Their campaigning resulted in the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman carrying out an investigation into the Department for Work and Pension’s (DWP) handling of the state pension age rise since 2018.
The Ombudsman found clear maladministration in how the DWP failed to communicate changes to affected women and the second stage of its investigation was intended to focus on the detrimental impact the DWP’s communication failures had on these women. This second stage investigation was challenged by Waspi recently due to legal errors and is now being revisited.
This part of the investigation is critical in determining how much compensation affected women should get. The Waspi campaign is now urging all MPs to encourage the Ombudsman to focus their investigation to urgently and correctly identify how much injustice the women suffered, listen to the voices of affected women, and make fair recommendations on any compensation that properly accounts for their losses.
It is incumbent on the Government and indeed all political parties in Westminster to fully support these key steps and the compensation recommendations made by the Ombudsman. Indeed this was an issue I posed directly to the Prime Minister recently when I asked him if he would commit to the fair and fast payment of any compensation recommendations made by the Ombudsman. Sadly he simply stated he could not comment and would respond appropriately to any recommendations made. A simple “yes” was the only right answer.
Politicians will continue to feel the heat in their constituency surgeries and at House of Commons lobbies, until the debt of honour to these women is settled.
In the three and a half years since Labour set out plans to compensate the women caught in the pensions trap, the injustice and hardship they have faced has become so much more severe. The Covid pandemic, cost of living crisis, and yet more Tory austerity has inflicted more poverty and devastation on women in this age group.
Tory politicians who imposed this pensions robbery on women born in the 1950s during their time in the coalition government have totally abandoned those affected. Since the 2019 General Election in particular, the Tories have airbrushed the claims of the Waspi women off the political agenda. It’s a complete betrayal of these women and their families.
Only Labour has had the courage to seek to rectify and mitigate this injustice, so righting a historic wrong for these women is unfinished business for the next Labour government. Waspi campaigners are rightly looking to Labour to deliver the justice for them that the Tories never will.
Of course, Labour’s 2019 commitment must be updated and refined to take account of the impact of Covid, and the damage Liz Truss’s disastrous mini-Budget did to the economy. However, compensating the Waspi women is affordable. A tax on wealth, profits of big corporations and “big money” in the City could all help pay for it.
There’s plenty of money available, if the political will is there to deliver a compensation package. Labour’s manifesto must retain a commitment to recompense the women for the money they have lost within the first five years of our party’s term in government.
A policy commission could be launched by the next Labour government, made up of pensions experts, economists, trade union representatives, and those affected, to examine how the compensation package would be delivered. A commitment to publish the commission’s findings within six months of a Labour government, with a view to start making the payments within a year, should be part of a new contract with the Waspi women.
Paying the promised compensation over the court of a five-year parliament is realistic and achievable. Irrespective of electoral considerations, it’s the right thing to do for these women. The trauma, hardship, poverty and sheer stress these women have been put through for a decade must make justice for them a matter of urgency.