Bognor Regis Herald — Cheated women pensioners lobby MPs for Justice!

Waspi Women Attend House of Commons Debate

This article highlights our lead theme for today, and all our Video coverage is on the same issue. I met three of the local Bognor campaigners as we shared the same train home, they are really bubbly and lovely ladies, and Bognor can be proud they are standing up not only for their own rights but for thousands of other, many of them living in Bognor and towns like us.

Thursday, December 14th, 12:00 pm, a group of women from the Bognor area and all along the south coast, attended the national debate on Pension Equality for Women, tabled by Easington MP Grahame Morris. Along with many other women from around the country, they showed their purple colours to the Government yet again. It has been a hard task to get the current Government to understand the predicament that — decisions by successive governments, since the early 1990s — have left many women of retirement age, in the lurch. Since the implementation of the roll-out schedule, a vast figure of 3.8 million women are having to wait between1 year to 6 years for their pension money.

The Bognor & Chichester South Coast WASPI group was formed in the spring this year. The numbers have grown from 4 to 134, in these few months. Meetings are held every 4 to 6 weeks to help women better understand the campaign, which is fighting for a non-means tested bridging solution for all 1950s women born on or after 6 April 1950 who are affected by changes to the State Pension age in the 1995 and 2011 Pension Acts.

The debate called on the Government to publish proposals to provide such solutions. Meanwhile, women are lodging complaints with the DWP for the badly orchestrated, non-communication for over 14–19 years, between 1995 and 2009/2014. The meetings the group hold are also to assist with the four-stage letter process and to make many women as possible, aware of the mal-administration and injustice that has taken place.

The Backbench Business Committee granted the debate, which was held after pressure from several opposition MPs and WASPI. The dedicated All Party Parliamentary Group, chaired by Carolyn Harris MP, Swansea and co-chaired by Timothy Loughton MP, Shoreham and East Worthing have already submitted a Private Members Bill for debate on April 27th, 2018. There were many MPs who now supported the WASPI campaign, the APPG and Mr Morris.

Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab) started the proceedings saying

“I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all his work on the issue. As he says, a lot of WASPI campaigners are listening to the debate in the Gallery, so does he think that this would be an opportune time for the [Pensions] Minister to apologise for the crass remark he made in Westminster Hall that WASPI women could get modern apprenticeships?”

Another MP asks MP Morris:

‘Does he agree that it is shocking and unacceptable that the WASPI campaigners have had to work so tirelessly to get absolutely no response from the Government?

The words of a retired teacher from Knowsley who was born in July 1954, we relayed. She says:

“The boy I sat next to in school was born in November 1953. We left school at the same time and began to pay our NI and income tax at the same time but he receives his state pension on his 65th birthday. I have to wait 10 months beyond my 65th birthday. How can that be fair?”

MP Morris continued. “The Government must understand that this is a time-sensitive issue and, as has been said, we need to work cross-party to find a solution. If the Government are unable to do that, they will be letting down a generation of women who are being denied a fair deal on their state pension. In Easington, 4,542 women are affected, and the campaign is looking for justice, not just warm words. The suggestion from my own Front Benchers of early access to a pension credit is a good start, and that could be done immediately, but as a stand-alone option it does not take into account the fact that all the 1950s women have suffered maladministration and loss of income, and that they all deserve recompense.’ For the readers’ information, in West Sussex it is 53,000 plus women — Arun is 10,600+ and Chichester is over 8,000 women.

The other thought of a cost neutral solution could condemn women into pensioner- poverty, and would not, it seem be ideal. Adding later Grahame Morris says: ‘There are also faults with the application of the 1995 Act, and the maladministration suffered by the WASPI women is an issue that the Government are going to have to address sooner or later. The women need recompense, and the Government need to find a solution that will bring relief to all those who are affected.​’

The current Pensions Minister Guy Opperman states in reply to one MP: ‘ he [Morris] will be aware that in 2007, after 10 years of a Labour Government, the then Government considered all matters of pensions legislation and passed the Pensions Act 2007. During their 13 years in power Labour Members had total capacity to do something about what they now say is not appropriate. With respect, there is a legitimate point to answer.’

In response to this remark in the debate from Opperman, Grahame Morris says: ‘We must recognise the injustice faced by these women, because there were many missed opportunities. There is no doubt that the 2011 Act accelerated the changes, and Steve Webb, the former Pensions Minister, is quoted extensively as indicating that. When he wrote to the WASPI women on behalf of the coalition Government, he not only informed them about the change in pension age of one year, as under the 2011 Act, but informed them for the first time about the earlier changes, meaning that some people’s state pension retirement age was being extended by six years.’

Throughout the debate it was apparent that there had been many failings by all Governments — yes, missed opportunities.

A concessionary sweetener of winter fuel allowances and bus passes for all — to enable women to actually get to a job — would be a start. That they should’ve got these at 60 years old, to ease the household expenses, would have been a great help. But not to be tagged as mere old women just out to get bus passes, the WASPI women want their pensions they should have had before the 2011 ACT changes came into being. As MP Morris says, the most significant part is ‘the phasing, and the acceleration of that phasing in, of the original changes in 1995.’

MP Carolyn Harris, Swansea, not quite a WASPI herself, but a strong supporter, says:

‘I have put my thoughts on that on the record many times. Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend.

The number of women aged 60-plus claiming benefits increased by some 9,500 between 2013 and 2017, a 115% increase. Pension age changes have played a substantial part in that increase. It is crucial that this Government recognise the need for fair transitional state pension arrangements, yet they are still not listening. They have deceived these women, stolen their security and shattered their dreams.

In September, my co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on state pension inequality for women, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), and other cross-party members of the APPG joined me in tabling the Pensions (Review of Women’s Arrangements) (№2) Bill, which will have its Second Reading in April 2018. In preparation for the Bill, the APPG recently ​launched a consultation to gather opinions from affected women. The number of responses to our questionnaire within the first few hours was staggering. To date, we have received nearly 90 responses from groups representing many thousands of women. These women are the people who are living with the consequences of the pension changes, and their voices will be heard.

I have met many women, both in my constituency and as chair of the APPG. I have visited many constituencies across the country to speak to affected women. Most recently, I have visited women with my hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) and for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock). My office is currently dealing with requests to visit 1950s women’s groups in Scotland, northern England and across Wales.

Wherever I go, the story is always the same. These women feel cheated and disrespected, and they are angry. Every meeting is packed. Not one of these women has any intention of giving up until they get the result that they have earned and that they deserve — fair transitional payments that allow them to enjoy the retirement for which they have worked very hard over many years.’

Ms Harris, continues in the speech to cover women who have retired overseas. In conclusion, she said.

‘Many colleagues on both sides of the House agree that the changes to the state pension are unjust and unfair, so it really is time for the Government to stop blocking their ears and start listening. They should let these women have justice. They should do the right thing, the honourable thing, and give the WASPI women, and all 1950s women, the transitional payments they deserve.’

The gallery cheered MP Harris, as the honourable lady is a staunch supporter of the WASPI cause, the etiquette in the public gallery was reiterated by Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing)

‘Order. Before I call the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) to begin his speech, let us make it very clear that we do not have cheering and clapping in any parts of this Chamber. We do have, “Hear, hear” and we do have smiles, nods and laughs, but we do not have cheering and clapping.’

The debate continued for just over 2 hours, with over 40 speakers participating — some twice. When Pensions Minister Mr.Guy Opperman finally stood to speak, it became evident he had not been listening the entire time, (looking at other correspondence and signing yellow paper letters) as he began to say the same old lines, about life longevity, the thousands of Queen’s 100th birthday letters nowadays and the cost of the reverting back to 60, which is not what they are asking.

The WASPI women were not impressed and in unison stood up in the bullet proof glass, shielded public gallery, promptly turned their backs on him and proceeded to file out in a dignified, but rousing exit.

Lastly, it is worth airing the Hansard verbatim report for one very supportive MP Hugh Gaffney (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab.) says it all.

“I start by paying tribute and dedicating this speech to my good friend (and sister) Mary Moore, aka Doyle. As I speak, her family will be attending her burial service, and I know that Mary would have been the first to ask me to speak out and stand up for her generation of women — the WASPI women. I would also like to say a word of thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris). He is a tireless champion in this House of working people and the WASPI women.​

We have come together to debate an issue of fairness, of decency and of what is right and wrong. I know that women affected by the inaction of this Government — particularly the WASPI women in Glasgow and Lanarkshire — are watching this debate live in Glasgow today, and I thank Unison in Glasgow for making that possible. The WASPI women are watching and listening, and they deserve action. They deserve honesty, and they deserve decency and equality. I say to them: “I am with you, and I know that Labour Members are with you, too.”

Like many Members of the House, I have campaigned with, welcomed to my surgery, cried with and listened to the stories of WASPI women. Take Helen, for example. Helen lives in my constituency. She was born on 18 January 1954, and she will shortly be celebrating her 64th birthday. Helen has spent her adult life working, and her job will come to an end in April. If she followed the advice of the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), Helen should either apply for jobseekers’ allowance or apply for an apprenticeship. Yes, Members heard me — an apprenticeship at 64. I think she should be able to claim her pension and enjoy dignity and respect. Helen and women like her should not have to sing their favourite Beatles song:

“Will you still need me, will you still feed me

When I’m sixty-four?”

Yes, Helen, we do still need you, and yes, Helen, we will feed you.

I would like the Minister to let us know why he refused a meeting with the WASPI campaign. I know that he has turned down a request to meet several times, and I would like to know why. The Government have a duty to bring our country and its people together, and I want to know why they have not and will not. A few short weeks ago, I was very pleased to be able to lead my first Westminster Hall debate, which was on the state pension age. It was a good debate, and I was very grateful to the many Labour colleagues who joined us that day and stood up for their constituents. It was sad that during the debate, Tory Back Benchers made only two interventions. They had an opportunity to speak up then, but they did not take it.

I was sent to this House to stand up for working people, and there is no greater pleasure for me than to know that I give voice in this Chamber to decent, working people out there. I have had many emails, letters and calls from WASPI women, and it has been an honour to receive every one of them. I say to the Government, “Don’t mess with the WASPI women — they will sting.” I say to the WASPI women, the women in the Gallery and the women back home in Glasgow, “Until justice is done, I will be fighting with you.”

The fight goes on. If you live in the Arun/Arundel or Chichester districts of West Sussex, Bognor and Chichester WASPI is the group to join but the fight is your fight, we cannot do this all for you on our own. More women are asked to come forward; seek and give in return assistance and understanding, — the action is in your hands.

It is also worth noting on 13th December, the day before, a debate was held in The House of Lords, tabled by Baroness Scott of Needham Market, joined by Baroness Joan Bakewell, who said the ignorance of the injustice was risible and suggested it was such a historical campaign, of which one day a film would be made about the WASPI women. Other women speakers were Baroness Donaghy, Baroness Gale, Baroness Altman who claimed it was a ‘serious act of omission’, Lord Kirkwood, Lord McKenzie also stood to support.

The WASPI campaign has now been given its overdue Parliamentary recognition and is known as the biggest, fastest growing campaign, so far, this Century.

If you wish to know more about your local WASPI group, please contact:

bogonorsouthcoastwaspi@gmail.com or view on Facebook : Waspi Bognor & Chichester South Coast Group. Alternatively, visit www.waspi.co.uk. Should none of these mediums be acceptable to you please contact the editor, who will pass on your details to us.

Jill Robertson Area Co-ordinator and Team

Bognor & Chichester South Coast WASPI

Pictures credited to: Jill Robertson & Helen Downes.

References: Hansard.parliament.uk Pension Equality for Women 14/12/2017 Vol. 633.

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Jan Cosgrove

Jan Cosgrove

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National Secretary of Fair Play for Children, Also runs Bognor Regis Herald online. Plus runs British Music Radio online