The Northants women fighting for pension compensation
The local WASPI group was formed in 2020
This piece was written for NN Journal by subscriber and community columnist Rachel McGrath
By Rachel McGrath
“The Daily Mirror knew I was going to be a WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality.) woman before I did,” jokes Jill Robertson, the founder and co-ordinator of the local Northampton WASPI campaign. She highlights the front cover of the Daily Mirror on the day she was born in 1954. In the bottom left hand corner they ran a column on MPs worried about national insurance running out.
The WASPI Campaign, established in 2015, is fighting for justice for all women born in the 1950s (on or after 6th April 1950 to 5th April 1960) affected by the changes to the State Pension Age (SPA).
It highlights that the SPA for women born at this time was changed with little or no notice; as stated by the WASPI chair and finance director Angela Madden in an International Women’s Day press release this year: “If women had known they were going to retire up to six years later than they thought, they would have been able to plan better.”
The 1993 White Paper ‘Equality in State Pension Age’ set out the government’s intention to equalise when men and women could claim their state pension. The Pensions Act 1995 passed through parliament, phasing changes over a 10-year period. The long lead in was to allow people sufficient time to plan. However this failed to happen and the Department for Work and Pensions only started to inform women directly in 2009, 14 years later after the legislation had been passed.
Jill, who recently moved from West Sussex and drawing on her experience there, was prompted to establish a WASPI group in Northampton. In 2020 she put a notice in her front window and promoted it on a hyperlocal networking service. She only got a handful of responses but persevered and after moving to Little Billing directly contacted the national WASPI membership to help her get in touch with signed-up women local to Northampton. As a result she met a fellow WASPI woman Pat in 2021 for a fateful coffee at Jeyes of Earls Barton, a village café and a local group was born.
With Pat on board and another member Terry, a regular meeting was established, with the All Seasons Café at Billing Garden Centre becoming the base camp for campaign planning and catch ups. Since then the Northampton WASPI group has grown to a membership of 30.
Jill emphasises that the campaign group is not party political but describes their cause as ‘beyond politics’ and instead about maintaining human dignity and social justice for women who have lost out on up to six years of pension payments after working hard all of their lives. The group and campaign has backing from a number of MPs across all political parties.
The focus of the local group is to write to all MPs and councillors as well as providing information points and stalls with a call out to women who have been affected by changes to pension age to join the local campaign.
Jill points out that women affected by the SPA changes may miss out on as much as £50,000 of pension payments.
“Most of the women in Northampton who are members would have started work at 15 or 16 because no university education was available to the masses back then. You finished school and you went to work unless you did something vocational. These women felt that they signed a contract in good faith that their national insurance and tax payments would last for 40 years until they were 60. So, they expected to retire at 60,” she says.
She highlights the case of Janet born in 1953 who having worked for the civil aviation authority most of her life, expecting to retire in 2013 subsequently had to work several years more due to sudden changes in the law on state pension age without due notice.
“If you can imagine women would be working all their lives and then were trying to retire to discover they have to work up to six years longer and so their plans would have been put on hold: to go off to their holiday home, looking after grandchildren – this impacts on their children’s working lives, savings have had to be used for general living; some of their husbands have died before they can enjoy retirement together and vice versa,” Jill says.
“Illness may have come upon them due to worry, stress and anxiety about money plus their social retired status, meaning they can’t have the esteem in their older age, taking time out to volunteer in the community for example or other similar roles after working hard all their lives. Even though previously people could retire at 60, some of course went on to work part time or continue working; that is personal choice but that personal choice has been taken away from these women.”
WASPI women will have also been impacted by precarious work patterns and gaps in their life for caring responsibilities, unavailability of Occupational Pensions and are more likely to have been in part-time, unskilled, and low status jobs. Women also generally earn less than men.
The good news for local campaigners is that last year in July 2021 the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) completed stage one of an investigation and found maladministration by the Department of Work and Pensions, (DWP) regarding the lack of notice 1950s women received about their State Pension age increases. Following on from the PHSO report, a statement was released indicating the following:
“We have found that between 1995 and 2004, DWP’s communication of changes to State Pension age reflected the standards we would expect it to meet. But in 2005, DWP failed to make a reasonable decision about targeting information to the women affected by these changes. That was maladministration. In 2006, DWP proposed writing to women individually to tell them about changes to State Pension age but it failed to act promptly. That was also maladministration.”
The next stage of the WASPI campaign is for compensation for women affected to remunerate for emotional and financial distress due to maladministration. They do not wish to reverse the equalisation of pension age with men but to serve justice for the lack of information and notice in changes to the law.
Jill highlights that women have been left with serious concerns including no due notice to future proof their pension pot, had to adjust intergenerational family caring needs, suffered impoverishment and poor mental health, anxiety and stress, had to endure age discrimination whilst job hunting and thousands have also died whilst waiting for their pension.
According to current figures there are around 41,800 women in Northamptonshire affected by the issue. Nationally the figure stands at 3.8 million women in the UK and abroad.
Research commissioned by WASPI carried out by Statista ahead of Rishi Sunak's Spring Statement on Wednesday shows that 220,000 women will have died waiting for pension compensation in the seven years since the campaign started.
If you want to find out more you can get in touch with the local Northampton WASPI group via the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org