Ros Altmann’s first big political test


The WASPI petition is now in the hands of a small group of parliamentarians who decide whether the petition’s 100,000 signatories have enough of a point to trigger a parliamentary debate. Large as 100,000 is, it is not so politically significant as to get a debate automatically.

The Backbenchers debate on Thursday (7th Jan) could be seen to deal with the matter.

This debate focusses on specific parts of the WASPI campaign

and the SNP does not support WASPI’s aim to “rollback” the years to allow women who had originally been promised a retirement age of 60, to pick up their money without delay.


All on the Black?

The Backbenchers debate is being sponsored by the SNP and led by Mhairi Black


Mhairi Black

That this House while welcoming the equalisation of the state pension age is concerned that the acceleration of that equalisation directly discriminates against women born on or after 6 April 1951, leaving women with only a few years to make alternative arrangements, adversely affecting their retirement plans and causing undue hardship; regrets that the Government has failed to address a lifetime of low pay and inequality faced by many women; and calls on the Government to immediately introduce transitional arrangements for those women negatively affected by that equalisation.

Labour too has expressed concerns about the speed of the transition but is silent about the wider demands for roll-back.


Opportunity Knox?

John Knox coined the phrase “the monstrous regiment of women”. It attacks female monarchs, arguing that rule by females is contrary to the Bible. I have heard similar views expressed by Fundamentalist Christians in business today.

Knox would have regarded the current debate as a ’cause celebre’ as almost all the principal players are women. The DWP, TPAS, TPR – and the Treasury’s economic secretary are women.

The women will argue that the damage done by poor communication was done by men, and in particular by Steve Webb, the former Pensions Minister who has run up the white flag with a “mea culpa” , delivered from the safety of his top-floor office at Royal London Group.

I agree with Steve Bee, who argues that there are lessons to be learned about communicating major policy changes that effect people’s later lifestyle.

But Steve Bee, like Steve Webb – was a guru in the 1990s and the noughties when all this communication wasn’t going on!  The harsh reality is that we were busy making a great deal of money out of selling personal pensions and other daft policies and very little time worrying about reforms of the state pension.

Knox out!

Knox was of course hideously wrong. Mary – who he was railing against- didn’t last long on the English throne and was succeeded by Elizabeth, a brilliant queen who was also a most effective politician.

 Elizabeth was a supporter of Knox’s Protestant cause , but took offence at Knox’s words about female sovereigns. Her opposition to him personally became an obstacle to Knox’s direct involvement with the Protestant cause in England after 1559.


Where the Government appears to stand

The odd thing about the debate is that Ros Altmann will not be in parliament either for the Backbencher’s debate on Thursday or for a subsequent debate on the WASPI petition (if that debate happens).

So the key Minister- the Pensions Minister will be represented in the debate by a backbench Conservative who will tow the Government line. We know that Altmann is quite obdurate in her opposition to any shift in the Government opinion, so I would be extremely surprised to see a climbdown at the debate or beyond.

Frankly the Government is in a position to tough it out.

Good Queen Ros?

While I don’t want to call this debate too early, I suspect that Ros Altmann has all the cards in her hand. Like Knox, Waspi is strident and single-issue. Like Knox, it attacks the establishment from the outside through popular media.

First blast

and like Waspi, Knox was keen on playing the gender card.

For their (women’s) sight in ciuile regiment, is but blindnes: their strength, weaknes: their counsel, foolishenes: and judgement, phrenesie, if it be rightlie considered.

Much of the chit chat on twitter has been little more than this Knoxian rubbish. The debate needs to be lifted up above gender politics and the emotional outbursts that they breed.

Altmann did not sell personal pensions and she was out campaigning for social justice for many deprived groups with no voice. She still is (witness her championing the cause of the low paid contributing to  net pay pensions).

Elected or not, she is the Pensions Minister and her silence – like that of the first Queen Bes, is more eloquent than most of what I’ve read from WASPI.

As I’ve said many times now, I am really glad we are having this debate, I am grateful for WASPI and its leaders for making the debate happen and I look forward to its cut and thrust.

Social justice?

The real social injustices are not here. The deprivation being suffered by the migrants sleeping out around Europe and the homeless sleeping on our streets grips me beyond the frustrations of WASPI.

The perspective of Ros Altmann- in the place upstairs, must be wider than what has been delivered by WASPI.

In the final analysis, she must Govern for everyone.




About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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2 Responses to Ros Altmann’s first big political test

  1. John Moret says:

    As usual this is a thought provoking and well argued blog.
    FWIW I support some of the Waspi arguments. I think there are 3 key issues:
    1. The case for equalisation – in my view there is no rational argument against this
    2. The methodology used to get there. Here I have a problem as there is a group of women who have been dealt a raw deal. These are some of those affected by the 2011 changes. As an example take a group of 4 women born on 1 Sept 1952, 1 Jan 1953,1 July1953 and 31 August 1953. The common factor is that they were all born in the same academic year. But they have or will receive their state pension on 6 Jan 2015, 6 Sept 2015,6 Mar 2017 and 6 Nov 2017 -i.e. a gap of 2 years 10 months between the first born and the last born in the same academic year.That surely isn’t fair. The reason for the big timespan is that the last two are in the select group of women born between 6 April 1953 and 5 January 1954 who were singled out by the Pensions Act 2011 for the worst treatment – as a result of the methodology used. Those born after 5 January 1954 and before 5 October 1954 also suffer but marginally less so.
    3. The communication of the changes has been poor. The 1995 Act changes were communicated in 2009 but in an impersonal way with the focus more on the impact on NI records. Only through ordering a pension forecast would you discover your new SPA. The 2011 Act changes were communicated in 2012 but the communication simply stated the new date for receiving the state pension -with no reference to the previous date.
    There is still time for the methodology failings to be corrected which is why the debate this week is helpful – and why in my view Ros Altmann should be either be attempting to defend the (flawed) methodology or should be correcting the inequitable treatment hidden in the 2011 Act changes.

  2. henry tapper says:

    Agreed John

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