Lindsay Razaq: Theresa May must realise that the purple pensions protesters of WASPI aren’t going away

WASPI protesters
WASPI protesters

IN the days after the EU referendum, a rainy Westminster was invaded by hordes of women in their late fifties and sixties brandishing purple umbrellas.

In one sense it was perfect timing – it was the anniversary of the day the suffragettes marched on Parliament in 1909.

In another way it was not, with the world’s gaze understandably elsewhere and the political establishment still stunned by the UK’s vote for Brexit.

But the Waspi protest – supported by 1000 or so pension campaigners from around the UK – had been planned for too long for it not to go ahead.

And for the women affected – including, incidentally, my mum – the issue must be addressed.

My mother is lucky in that, having worked as a teacher for more than 35 years, she has a superannuation and savings to fall back on.

But others aren’t so fortunate and are forced to keep working for longer, delaying the day when they can start to spend more precious time with their grandchildren.

Many older women made redundant during the economic downturn have had to join the dole queue for the first time.

One such worried lady at the demonstration, who had applied for 100 posts in five months without success, insisted the situation was so bleak that she expected suicide rates to rise.

The 58-year-old campaigner pointed to the unwillingness of certain companies to take on people over a certain age, suggesting the only option for some candidates was to lie to their potential employers.

Women Against State Pension Inequality, to use the group’s full title, was set up last year by five women to highlight the impact of the changes to the state pension threshold on those born after April 6, 1951.

Plans to raise the age when women retire to 65 – the same as men – by 2020 were originally set out in 1995, but were fast-tracked in 2011.

Campaigners are not against equalisation; they just want fair transitional arrangements to protect women against hardship, arguing they have been unfairly disadvantaged both by the speeding-up of the process and a lack of notice.

That is the biggest bone of contention, with many women complaining they were only informed about the changes in 2013.

Some women fast approaching retirement age were given just two years’ notice, wrecking their plans altogether.

Banff and Buchan MP Eilidh Whiteford says the government is cheating women out of pensions they have contributed to.

Her SNP colleague, Inverness MP Drew Hendry, believes it is untenable for the Conservatives to continue to do nothing.

Among the options being put forward is a non-means-tested bridging pension to give people access to some money from as close to age 60 as possible.

In the circumstances, the Waspi campaigners’ demands don’t seem unreasonable.

But the UK Department for Work and Pensions takes a somewhat different view – equalisation was announced more than 20 years ago and rights a longstanding inequality, though women retiring today can still expect to receive a higher state pension over their lifetime than was the case in the past.

The campaigners were told last month that there is no budget available to address the situation.

And it’s hard to envisage a change of stance under the new Prime Minister who, at 59, is of a similar age to many of the women in question.

Theresa May has consistently voted for reductions in welfare spending and she supported the so-called bedroom tax.

Moreover, her views are shared by the new work and pensions secretary Damian Green, a longstanding ally expected to continue where his predecessors left off.

Seen in the context of doubts over the future of the UK’s finances as the recent post-Brexit upheaval continues, it doesn’t look good for the Waspi warriors.

But there’s no chance of them giving up and the power of protest in a just cause should never be underestimated.

After all, there were doubters in 1909, and look at what the collective force of women ultimately achieved.


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