Lisa Nandy MP: Now justice for the Waspi women
Thousands of Wigan women who were born in the 1950s and were badly affected by the changes to the state pension age scored a significant victory this summer.
A damning report from the Parliamentary Ombudsman agreed that the Government failed to adequately inform women about the rise in the age that they would receive their State Pension, which left many of their retirement plans in tatters.
The report, which is now before Parliament, describes the maladministration and chaotic methods used by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to communicate the rise in the State Pension age for women born in the 1950’s from 60 to 65 and subsequently to 66.
The Ombudsman found the DWP failed to act quickly enough once it knew that a significant proportion of women were not aware of the rise in the State Pension age and concluded that the Department should have written to the women who would be affected years earlier than it did.
This is a long overdue vindication for the tireless Wigan, Makerfield and Leigh WASPI campaigners who I have come to know well over recent years.
Some 3.8 million women were affected by these changes across the UK, including almost 6,000 women in Wigan alone.
While some women were able to change their plans at short notice, over the years I have been in contact with many women who were left facing serious financial hardship and mental stress because of this error.
For some it would mean they would have to wait up to six years longer than they had planned to receive their pension and it is estimated that, on average, these women will have lost around £50,000 each in payments.
Some had spent much of their lives as full-time carers for their children or other family members and had no other source of income as they got older.
Taking time out for work had also cost them dearly in pension contributions, leaving them doubly disadvantaged.
Others had worked in demanding jobs and retired early or due to ill health, expecting their pension to kick in at 60.
Securing work later in life had been difficult for many and zero hours, temporary or low paid contacts or relying on benefits was the only alternative to survive the extra years without the pension they had expected.
The pandemic has served to make a bad situation worse.
Women in the ‘at risk’ age category have been forced to keep on working, often in front line roles such as nursing, care and retail.
Women over 60 have also been amongst the most likely to have lost their jobs in the past year and with the furlough scheme set to end next month more redundancies are on the horizon.
The Ombudsman’s report found that the Government knew almost half of women affected were unaware of the changes but did not do enough to improve awareness.
They relied heavily on general advertising campaigns and women were given on average less than 18 months’ notice of an up to six-year change to their pension age.
Targeted mailings only started in 2009, some 14 years after the state pension age was changed.
I have been raising the concerns of the WASPI women with the Government for years now, urging them to acknowledge that WASPI women were disproportionately affected by changes to the state pension age, to accept that serious mistakes were made in how the changes were communicated and to ensure that help is given to those who face hardship because of these errors.
At every turn Ministers have failed to listen. They repeatedly defended how changes were communicated and refused to consider any proposals for help, such as extending Pension Credit to those who were due to retire before the rise.
Instead, they insultingly suggested women in their 60’s who were struggling should look to retrain or take up “apprentice opportunities” to fill the gap left by the rise in pension age.
With the Ombudsman now making it clear, as WASPI campaigners have always known, that maladministration occurred in the handling of this change, the Government must now outline how it will take concrete action to address these failures and provide justice for those who have had their lives turned upside down.
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