IN THIS Age of Austerity many who bear the brunt are invisible to the rest of us.
We see the growing numbers of homeless men and women on our streets – how can we not? – but those suffering abrupt and savage reductions to their income and entitlements are often thrown into crisis and hidden from view.
One such group is the Waspi women. Across Britain they number some 3.8 million; in Cheltenham alone there are around 5,600 women who have fallen into the Waspi pensions trap.
Women Against State Pension Injustice (WASPI) have been fighting back since 2015 against the withdrawal of pension rights for women born in the 1950s.
Cheltenham Waspi Co-ordinator Hilary Simpson met recently with the Labour Party Women’s Group to rehearse the arguments and map out ways forward.
Although the roots of the Waspi injustice go back decades, Waspi women can rightly claim to be victims of austerity, caught up in the cost-cutting frenzy introduced by the Conservative-led coalition following the 2008 financial crash.
It’s now 24 years since legislation was passed in Britain to equalise the pension age for men and women. At that time, the retirement age for women was 60, 65 for men.
Plans were set out to phase in changes gradually, by April 2020. But these were torn up by government in 2011 when the deadline was abruptly brought forward to 2018.
Estimates at the time showed the change would raise £30 billion for the Treasury.
Women who had worked and paid taxes all their lives were faced with a new reality.
But the situation was far worse than that.
Many women affected had no idea their entitlements had changed. They were not contacted by the Department of Work and Pensions; no Government-sponsored campaign at any time flagged up the dangers ahead.
Cheltenham’s Waspi campaign has many case studies of women whose lives were devastated by this sudden, unanticipated loss of pension rights.
They did not expect to be abandoned entirely, in their early Sixties.
Waspi women are not looking to set the clock back pre-1995. They want compensation for women who have suffered under these ‘stealth’ changes, and transitional payments to restore a degree of equity to women now approaching retirement age.
And 2019 may be the turning point.
Permission was granted two months ago for a Judicial Review into the legality and the mishandling of pension changes for women.
If the Court finds in their favour, government will have to address an injustice it has paid no more than lip-service to in the intervening years.
Waspi co-ordinator Hilary Simpson will be addressing our Labour Women’s Group on March 9 as we celebrate International Women’s Day (March 8) with a range of local groups.
We hope Cheltenham Waspi women will join us: 2-4pm, Saturday March 9, School House Café, St Paul’s Road, GL50 4EZ.
(This article appeared in Gloucestershire Echo on 7th Feb 2019)