The Independent View:  WASPI is relying on the Lib Dems to lead the way for 1950s-born women

It is now eight years since we set up the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI), to represent women born in the 1950s, whose state pension age was increased without proper notice.

As astute Lib Dems will know, the law was changed by John Major’s government in 1995, but neither his nor Tony Blair’s administration saw fit to tell women about these changes.

P60s were duly issued by HMRC each year, without a word about how women’s retirements would be affected.  The DWP website continued to say the state pension age for women was 60 until 2016!

Liberal Democrats have been the leading party on this issue, taking the trouble to understand what our campaign is really about.  Too often, ministers have hidden behind the completely false idea that we are arguing to reverse state pension age equalisation.  Quite obviously, that would be absurd.

Our campaign argues simply that women were – through no fault of their own – heavily disadvantaged by the Department of Work and Pensions’ successive failures over some two decades.  DWP’s own research in 2004 made clear that women simply didn’t know about the impending changes but still the Department did not get on with targeted mailings to those affected.

The impact of this incompetence and neglect is very real.  In a recent survey of 8,000 WASPI women, we found that three in five had already given up work or cut back on their hours by the time they discovered their state pension would not be paid when they’d expected it.

As anyone in our age group knows, getting back into the workplace at that stage in life is often nigh-on impossible, and as such women found themselves falling back on meagre savings to see them through the gap from 60 to 66.  No wonder one in three is now in debt and one in four has struggled to buy food or basic essentials in the last six months.

When we met with Lord (Dick) Newby recently to discuss the Liberal Democrat manifesto, he spoke for so many of us in saying it’s just unbelievable that this mess has yet to be sorted out.  Since 2015, more than 250,000 of the affected women have died awaiting justice.  Another dies every 13 minutes.

Five of those years have been spent with the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) ‘investigating’ sample cases, to look – first – at whether maladministration occurred, and – if so – what its impact was.

In 2021, the PHSO issued a first stage report saying maladministration had indeed occurred.  So far, so accurate.  But the PHSO then took two years to produce a draft, second stage report which was set to conclude that while there had been maladministration, nobody had really been affected.

This was such an obviously irrational conclusion that WASPI set about raising £100,000 from members, and took the PHSO to judicial review.  In an unprecedented move the PHSO folded at an early stage, conceding that his second stage report was unlawful and must be revisited.

It won’t surprise readers that WASPI women have begun to lose patience and lose confidence with an Ombudsman process that seems, as one journalist put it, to make glaciers look like Usain Bolt.

And that brings us to the Liberal Democrats.  Wendy Chamberlain, as your Work and Pensions spokesperson, has been much the most helpful frontbencher to us in the House of Commons.  She has taken the time to meet, to listen and seems determined to see justice done. With her help, we will be in Bournemouth this weekend meeting MPs and the target seat candidates who might soon be MPs.

But the question of what the party’s manifesto says on this issue in 2024 is still live.  In 2019, quite rationally, Liberal Democrats promised to abide by whatever the Parliamentary Ombudsman comes up with.  Today, that seems a less satisfactory approach.

DWP’s incompetence and the attendant injustice it has caused 1950s-born women is clear: it is so stark-staringly obvious that little green men looking down from Mars should be able to see it, without further reports or inquiries.  The Ombudsman has already said it represents maladministration.

That should now be enough for all the parties to acknowledge the political strength of our case, and work out a compensation package that is fair both to those affected and to taxpayers.  We look forward to talking through that critical part of the puzzle with Lib Dems in Bournemouth this weekend.

* Angela Madden is Chair and Finance Director of Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI)

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  • Pension equality means that both sexes should be allowed to retire at the same age. If women deserve compensation for not being made aware that they would have to retire later than they expected, men who have had to work extra years than women before accessing their state pension should also get compensation.

  • Colin Bloodworth 22nd Sep '23 - 2:06am

    This is not the only injustice that continues to be administered by a seemingly uncaring DWP and brushed off by successive governments. A 2020 Inquiry by an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Frozen British Pensions found that 80% out of some 500,000 British citizens, men and women, moving or living abroad had not been advised that their pensions would not be uprated annually if they moved to any of a majority of countries that did not have reciprocal agreements with the UK. Their pensions are frozen at the level they received when they left the UK or first took their pension if already overseas. Half of them are now receiving less than £65 a week.
    Even if they had paid their NI contributions in full throughout their working lives!
    It is time the government rectified once and for all the anomalies and injustices that their incompetent predecessors have inflicted on British citizens, both home and abroad.

  • Marlyn Chambers 22nd Sep '23 - 7:57am

    Sandy Smith no one is suggesting that that the pension age should be different for men and women. Waspi are saying that we weren’t notified about the hike in our pension age. Women also have had to fight to get paid the same wage as men for doing the same job and that’s still ongoing.

  • Rachel Doncaster 22nd Sep '23 - 9:01am

    The problem with WASPI’s demands at the moment is that they want £10k to £20k for every 50s’ born woman regardless of circumstances. That will amount to over £58bn that would come from the current workforce whose own State Pension Age is 67 or 68. Hardly fair especially when surveys back in 2004 show that over 73% of the Waspi age group were actually aware of the rises. The PHSO was actually correct to say that the maladministration did not lead to all of the injustices claimed.

    Ms Madden needs to stop saying that the DWP website still stated in 2016 that women’s SPA was 60 as it’s totally false. The website was actually an old orphaned help page from the Government Gateway and the link led you to the correct information on the DWP website.

    I’m glad that Ms Madden at least now mentions that the Waspi survey was only of 8000 – it was actually 7000 – as previous claims implied all 3.6m women.

    If some women were indeed affected by the maladministration then I’m sure that they will be expected to prove that. What won’t happen, and indeed should not happen, is a blanket compensation package for 3.6m women just because of the date they were born. The majority knew perfectly well what was happening as we actually paid attention.

  • Virginia Kaye 22nd Sep '23 - 10:20am

    Wendy Chamberlain is my local M.P and I have had several discussions with her due to this very frustrating situation and deeply worrying loss of pension for 6 years ( which I for one knew absolutely nothing about ! I would like to ask why someone who was born 10 years before me got their pension at 60 and I have to wait till next year when I am 66 ? Is this fair ?

  • Christine Collins 22nd Sep '23 - 12:53pm

    I worked full time from 16 no breaks in my employment believing I would retire at 60.
    I had no written notification of these changes even up to the last hike from 65 to 66 .
    Totally unfair to pull the rug on someone 3 times .Our working era was very different from today’s. We were paid less than the men and in many circumstances didn’t have the same rights as the men. I couldn’t join a works pension scheme until 25 yrs old . Today they are encouraged to join younger . University was well out of the question we had to work to support our families. Night school in our own time.e if we were lucky was an option . Nowadays most don’t even start working properly
    until their mid 20s and then in my experience don’t do what they went to University for years to train for .
    So no us ladies have not been treated fairly by anymeans .We were definitely not properly informed

  • It’s unfair to penalise the same group of people, many of whom have already been penalised for most of their lives due to overt gender discrimination of the fifties and sixties which dictated that women took the lion’s share of domestic responsibilities, had poor employment prospects, lower income and no private pension. The world was a very different place then.

  • Rose Havant 22nd Sep '23 - 3:55pm

    I absolutely echo the comment by Rachel Doncaster. I am a woman born in 1954 and I cannot support the WASPI claims as some of them are downright untrue, and it is irrational to treat all women born in the 1950s in the same manner. In terms of state pensions, some of us had only a few months added but all of us have lower state pension ages than those who actually pay our state pensions.

    Many of us 1950s women, Ms Madden – a WASPI Director and anything but independent – included, have had professional careers and accrued final salary pensions. That is a luxury most younger people can only dream of now. We were also never prevented from informing ourselves about our likely income from state pensions, and its timing.

    Sure, there are people who are struggling to sustain themselves right up to their state pension age. But this doesn’t only apply to women born in the 1950s. Men and younger cohorts might find themselves in the same predicament. In fact, more men than women in the age 60 to 66 bracket are in receipt of working age benefits.

    1 of 2

  • Rose Havant 22nd Sep '23 - 3:56pm

    I wouldn’t dream of linking the entitlement to a state pension to the fact that some people die before they reach their SPA. But since WASPI have sunk to those depths, it is worth mentioning that statistics dating back as far as 1975 show that many more men than women have died each year before they could draw their state pension.

    The “independent” view promoted by WASPI Director Angela Madden doesn’t give you an unbiased and accurate picture of the situation. It’s a Sales pitch, to try and secure tens of billions of taxpayer money to be distributed to women born in the 1950s.

    Well, I for one will NOT vote for any Party which would give billions to a group of women who belong to the wealthiest cohort that ever lived, whilst at the same time not having any funded plans to lift 4 million children, 2 million current pensioners and 8 million working age adults out of poverty. Help the needy, not the greedy.

    2 of 2

  • Kate Wallington 22nd Sep '23 - 5:43pm

    Astute Lib Dem’s will know that the Lib Dem’s were in coalition with the Conservatives in 2011 when a further rise in state pension age (from 65 to 66/67) was legislated for. All of the main political parties have been involved in the raising of state pension age for men and women. As a country, we can’t afford not to do that because of our ageing demographic.
    As a 1950s born woman, I have seen my own state pension age rise but I’ve known that was on the cards since 1993. That’s 30 years ago! Changes were widely reported in newspapers, on the news etc so there was no secret about it. I guess some people genuinely didn’t know but the data indicates that the majority did. The Ombudsman has identified a small window of maladministration when communications could have been more timely. Presumably anybody who made retirement/life impacting decisions in that period might be entitled to some compensation but it’s not possible that it had an impact on all 1950s born women.
    The High Court and Court of Appeal have both ruled that there was no age or sex discrimination in the changes.
    I’ve no doubt that the rise in state pension age has made life very difficult for some and those are the people for whom a remedy would be appropriate. Focus on need not greed indeed!

  • Jayne Saggers 22nd Sep '23 - 9:31pm

    I did manage to work on until I was 66 years with some difficulty due to arthritis, I never had any notification about having to work on until I was checking what pension I would get when I retired at 60 years, I was shocked to find out I had to go on for another 6 years. I think the government are going as slow as they can so most of us in this situation do die, then they will not have to pay out. It is so unfair, I do agree that men and women should retire at the same age but we should have been told, earlier so we had time to build up a bit more money.

  • >” DWP’s own research in 2004 made clear that women simply didn’t know about the impending changes but still the Department did not get on with targeted mailings to those affected”

    I don’t remember receiving a letter from the DWP telling me my retirement age had changed from 65 to 68. But then given the raising of the state retirement age, firstly of women to 65, the same as men, and then to 70 was common knowledge and at times widely discussed in the media since the mid 1980s, I would have not paid much attention to it, as by the mid 1990s I was working on the assumption that I would be retiring at 70 and given the seriousness of the situation, I would only worry about exact details much closer to the time – even now I expect 68 to be raised to 70 or even 70+.

    So as far I m concerned this campaign is more about a legal technicality – DWP didn’t send an official letter to every one who’s retirement had been increased, than “justice”.

  • Elaine Simpson 23rd Sep '23 - 12:55pm

    It is interesting reading the comments of some in this posting. Arguments about men and women’s retirement ages being equal are valid, however the most affected group have been those born in the 50’s. The degree of change to women and the additional NI credits given to men in the same period aren’t equal. Governments management of communication of the changes to women has been appalling and as a result every 1950’s woman has been adversely impacted. The tardiness of government, DWP and now the ombudsman demonstrates the real contempt in which these women are held which of itself is an absolute disgrace. To have other women as per this blog suggesting further hoops need jumped through to demonstrate they were affected beggars belief but you are entitled you your view. DWP have a history of scandalous treatment and error ridden approaches to women’s benefits and particularly
    In the area of pensions, just think of the current scandal of underpaid pensions to millions of women related to entitlement of additional years NI contributions whilst being paid child benefit and underpayments related to increases they should have received on husbands reaching retirement date. Women could be forgiven for believing that the Government and DWP both think and act in a way that supports them being second class citizens historically and currently. Time to shame them. Vote for the party that demonstrates women matter and i don’t believe that is either conservative or Labour

  • Rose Havant 23rd Sep '23 - 7:14pm

    The amount of misinformation spread about this subject is staggering. For instance, it is simply not true that women born in the 50s are the most affected group. We were the first affected but that doesn’t make us the worst affected. Hundreds of thousands had just a month or two added to their SPA. Granted, many more had up to 6 years added. But that’s still less than the up to 8 years those born after 1959 had added. It’s lack of respect to say these younger people had more time to prepare.

    Another false claim is that men had an advantage through additional NI credits. The truth is that if men were eligible to claim NI credits, a woman of the same age could already claim her SP. Absolutely no disadvantage for women. In addition, over a lifetime many more women than men qualify for NI credits, e.g. when they take time out of work to look after children. As a 1950s woman, I am appalled by the one-sided, and often false, claims of others of my age.

  • James Fowler 23rd Sep '23 - 9:00pm

    Thank you to everyone who has contributed here as my understanding of the many technicalities in this debate has come on a long way as a result.

    It is hard to say definitively whether people should or could have known/prepared for all the impending changes. Some appear well explained in fair time, others which came later appear more last minute. To add to the mix, some people pay attention to the world around them, some do not and others hope that tomorrow they’ll be millionaires so it won’t matter anyway. Anecdotally, many people stuff long term financial bad news under the sofa cushions and leave it there. They’ll do something about it at the right moment – which of course never comes.

    The nub of the matter is who would pay the compensation. I would be more supportive of the WASPI women if I didn’t have a very strong suspicion that – yet again – it would be badly paid young people being dunned for a Boomer privilege that they themselves will never enjoy.

  • Rose Havant 23rd Sep '23 - 9:34pm

    Glad to hear the comments on here have given you more insight into the issue.

    You are completely right, different people have different attention span to changes in out legislation, and different laws are communicated in different ways. None of them is communicated by personal letter, though. So why anyone would expect to get a personal letter for changes in state pension legislation is hard to comprehend.

    Important to also understand that the changes did not happen last minute. We all had at least 15 years to find out. None of us has ever been prevented from informing ourselves – though everyone of us is free not to do so. If we choose not to inform ourselves, we have to live with the consequences. We can’t then demand that taxpayers compensate us for our own failures.

    You are also completely right when suspecting that it would be badly paid young people who would have to foot the WASPI bill. The really tragic aspect of it is that those young people are the children and grandchildren of WASPI women. I have no idea how any woman would want to inflict this on her own offspring.

  • Margaret Houseman 24th Sep '23 - 10:45am

    “To have other women as per this blog suggesting further hoops need jumped through to demonstrate they were affected beggars belief but you are entitled you your view.”

    What beggars belief is that some women believe that other women should just agree with them just because they are a woman no matter what misinformation is posted. Simply saying ” I didn’t know” and expecting compensation is not going to happen.

    For years the campaign groups on Social Media have been full of myths, misinformation and at times total lies. This is especially true of some of the group leaders who stir up hatred in an attempt to makes themselves feel important. They repeatedly show that they don’t actually understand the state pension system nor what has actually taken place and unfortunately their members have believed them. They think that they have 3.6m women on their side when in reality the numbers are very low.

    Over the years many of the original campaigners and some leaders have actually come to realise that what they were being told was complete nonsense and amid a culture of blocking people who told the truth, have given up. Now we have new people joining who don’t know the history and who are now being led down that same garden path.

    Some honesty is what is needed now.

  • It’s myopic to think it’s a simple case of self-informing. Many women of that generation, especially those in a low income bracket, were brought up to be reliant, often without the confidence needed to take initiative. That sort of formative conditioning is usually for life. In UK, Equality Law only dates back to 2010, but thirteen years on, the struggle continues. In fact, there are only 14 countries in the world out of c200 that fully acknowledge equal rights, but all fall foul in one way or another of precedents already set, because wheels of change are so slow to turn when it comes to equality. As usual, Stage Pension Age has turned into a dog-eat-dog situation where underdogs blame each other and the real culprits – those who facilitate the amassing of millions or billions by corporates and individuals – go unheeded, so that the blatant squandering of resources that belong to the future continues unabated :/ State pension age is just more political deadcatting.

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