BLOG: Making sense of the Waspi campaign

Written by Natalie Tuck

Having covered the recent debates on women’s state pension age, I thought I had a concrete understanding of what the Women Against State Pension Inequality (Waspi) campaign group want and the government’s arguments against it.

It was my understanding that the Waspi women are not against equalising the state pension age for men and women, therefore increasing women’s state pension age. Instead, what they are campaigning for are ‘fair transitional arrangements’. The Waspi women believe this is a reasonable request because a) the government didn’t notify the affected women after initial changes were made in the Pensions Act 1995, and b) the government then accelerated the increase to their state pension age in the Pensions Act 2011.

This meant some women, who by this point were in their mid to late fifties, were told they would have to wait until the age of 66 for their pension (by this time the state pension age for men and women had increased to 66). This is despite the Turner Commission recommending a period of 15 years’ notice be given to pension changes.

On the other hand, the government has claimed the women were given sufficient time to prepare, and they have already made a transitional arrangement following the 2011 legislation so nobody has to wait more than 18 months for their pension. In addition, the government says the women will receive the new flat-rate state pension, which many will be better off on.

Unsurprisingly, Pensions Minister Ros Altmann, the former pensions campaigner and Saga chief, has faced a barrel of criticism. Altmann, who stepped into the role long after the changes were made, has had a much harder time than former pensions minister Steve Webb, who approved the 2011 changes. Altmann’s past as a pensions campaigner has come back to bite her; a quick Google search reveals the Minister was against such rapid changes to increasing women’s state pension age.

Speaking in Parliament last week, Shadow Pensions Minister Angela Rayner quoted Altmann from a blog on her website in 2011, at which point she claimed the government were “oblivious to the problems faced by those already in their late fifties, particularly women,” when they accelerated the increase to their state pension age in 2011.

Altmann has since told the Telegraph that the campaign is actually “advocating state pension inequality” as the changes bring women into line with men and the Waspi group are “misleading people”.

However, Altmann did state she had called for a slower timetable to raise women’s state pension age but that this “government has to make difficult choices”.

Sunday's comments in the Telegraph, however, revealed Waspi women’s criticism of Altmann has become personal. Altmann now claims she has been “bullied, insulted and vilified” by some Waspi campaigners.

“These women have emailed me horrid and vile messages, such as hoping I get struck down with cancer, that I’m a traitor, a turncoat and that I’ve sold my sole to the devil,” the Minister said.

In my own attempt to contact Waspi for a response to this, I heard from Frances Coppola, who used to work in banking and now writes about finance. Following a blog post and tweets to Waspi supporters, Coppola says she has been “bullied and insulted” by them.

Waspi are yet to respond to my requests, but I am sure (and hope) it is just a minority of these Waspi women, who have taken to such personal, vile and venomous verbal attacks on people who don’t support their cause.

Whilst the bullying should be taken seriously and the perpetrators be made to apologise, I do think it has, to some extent, detracted from what the Waspi women are campaigning for – a question which causes confusion and ambiguity.

Coppola, in one of her blogs, explains she is against their cause because the Waspi women are actually campaigning for the state pension age to be reverted back to 60 for all women born in the 1950s, but increased to 66 for any women born from 1 January 1960 onwards.

Altmann too, has said the ‘fair transitional arrangements’ the campaign group are calling for, would lead to the unwinding of the Pension Acts of 1995 and 2011. Both Altmann and Coppola have come to their opinions on the Waspi campaign because of this statement on the Waspi women’s Facebook page.

“Waspi ask the government to put all women born in the 50s, or after 6th April 1951 and affected by the changes to the state pension age, in the same financial position they would have been in had they been born on or before 5th April 1950."

It is this statement that is open for interpretation and causes conflict, and I can see why. The campaign has recently gained traction but Waspi need to clarify what it is they actually want? What ‘fair transitional arrangements’ do they want? Does their request for putting all 1950s women in the same financial position as those born on or before 5 April 1950 mean they want to reverse women’s state pension age? Or do they want a lump sum from the government?

At this point, my interpretation of their statement is that women born in the 1950s should receive their state pension, or a sum of money equal to receiving their state pension at 60; and those born after 1 January 1960, should receive it at 66 upwards. To me that isn’t fair.

I am in favour of fairer transitions for the Waspi women, but not reversing the rule altogether. I think what has happened is a great scandal but there has to be some slack. It definitely isn’t fair to shift the whole burden onto 1960s women, just because 1950s women weren’t told of the changes.

Instead, I believe the government should revert back to the 1995 timetable, despite the cost - it is the fair thing to do. But in order to make progress, Waspi campaigners first need to clarify exactly what they are trying to achieve.

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