What hope should WASPI take from political promises?

A very complex issue

This is not a blog about the rights or wrongs of WASPI, it is simply a statement about party political promises to women in  the UK , born in the nineteen fifties. Their case is made well in the article behind this link.

I’m concerned that many women are being given false hope about pension recompense by Parties who can promise much prior to an election, and deliver little after one.

If you want to properly understand the complexity for and against WASPI , I would recommend the Government’s own 63 page briefing paper “State Pension Age Briefing for women born in the 1950’s”.

If you haven’t time for that and want a simple timeline of how we got to where we are now , here it is

Screenshot 2019-11-24 at 09.57.26.png

What is going on in politics?

Both the LibDem and Labour manifestos are clear that if they are in power in the next term, they will seek to recompense  women born in the 1950s for pension payments

The Liberal promise they will

“Ensure that the women born in the 1950s are properly compensated for the failure of government to properly notify them of changes to the state pension age, in line with the recommendations of the parliamentary ombudsman?”

Labour’s manifesto  promise is noisier and  less specific to the ombudsman’s recommendations.

Under the Tories, 400,000 pensioners  have been pushed into poverty and a generation of women born in the 1950s have had their pension age changed without fair notification.

This betrayal left millions of women with no time to make alternative plans– with sometimes devastating personal consequences.

Labour recognises this injustice, and will work with these women to design
a system of recompense for the losses and insecurity they have suffered.

We will ensure that such an injustice can never happen again by legislating
to prevent accrued rights to the state pension from being changed.

Either way, women born in the 1950s have a reasonable hope of recompense under a Liberal and Labour Government but no guarantee of what (despite John Mcdonnell’s statements to the Guardian- see below).

Since I began this much enlarged blog , the Conservatives have published  their   manifesto. It makes no  commitment to the  WASPI  women but we can suppose that this assessment of the situation by Conservative MP Maria Caulfield, represents the house view. Writing on her Facebook page she says

The Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman (PHSO) has contacted me to say it has selected six complaints about the state pension age that will act as lead cases to set a precedent for thousands of others.

The six cases were selected for a preliminary enquiry, which the PHSO said would determine whether or not to investigate the claims further and which could potentially force the Government to intervene and support all women affected by the changes to their pension age.

These cases were brought to the Independent Case Examiner (ICE), the second stage in the Department for Work and Pensions’ two-tier complaints process, by women unhappy about the recent increase to their state pension age.

The PHSO has now decided to step in and deal with this issue, as progress on handling the complaints proved slow.

The PHSO has used a broad generic scope obtained from the six cases for the purpose of their investigation and if they find in favour could have positive implications for all affected.

Manifesto promises – trumped by the need for votes?

There has been plenty of talk in the media (including the BBC) about Labour promising full recompense to WASPI women. It turns out to be true.

When I originally wrote this blog, I took the Labour manifesto at its word – that it would work with affected women towards an acceptable resolution. I had assumed it would be guided by the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

But that promise has been trumped by John McDonnell’s statement overnight.

Screenshot 2019-11-24 at 08.41.27.png

As you will see from the numbers below £58bn is almost double the net savings to the DWP of the changes introduced in 2011 and maybe three times the impact of the 2011 changes on women (men are bearing much of the brunt).

Labour is pledging to pay all women born in the 1950s for any pension income they may have lost when the men’s and women’s state pension age was equalised – in stages beginning in 2010 – following an act of Parliament in 1995.

“All women” includes  the Rothschild women

I agree with John Ralfe  who says the money would be far better targeted at those who were hit when the timeframe to equalise the gap was accelerated in 2011 – a far smaller cohort.

John argues that it would be sensible to means-test the funding, so it can go to those who suffered hardship when the changes were put in place. I agree with that as well

But Labour’s policy is all-encompassing.

Thanks to Suzy Albright for this chart that shows who will be Labour’s biggest winners.

Labour proposal

The party says that, as all women paid in, all women should get out and as “a one-off historical redress for a historical wrong… the state will be expected to find the money”.

Not only is this pledge unfunded (see previous blog), but it amounts to the kind of electoral bribe that brings the parliamentary system into disrepute.

Scottish Grannies will be cheering!

When you look at the geographic distribution of the 3.7m women affected , you can see that they are not evenly distributed, they are very over represented in Scotland, where Labour were wiped in 2016.

The compensation is based on misinformation to women between 1993 when Kenneth Clarke first announced the intention to equalise state pension ages till the implementation of the 2011 Pensions Act. Earlier this year the High Court ruled that women had not been misinformed.

Flying in the face of the law

This precipitative proposal from Labour is not in its manifesto, pre-empts the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s findings and is based on a premise that in October was dismissed by the High Court. The court ruling is behind this link.

Jack Dromey, shadow pensions minister , responded to the High Court ruling , stated that his party would continue to support the WASPI women, but (as the manifesto has it) by talking with them not over-ruling the law.

As Jo Cumbo points out, John McDonnell chooses to over rule this verdict and the law.

I cannot see the point of having a High Court or a Parliamentary Ombudsman, if politicians decide to make it up as they go along – regardless of the institutes of Government they are supposed to respect. WE HAVE BEEN HERE BEFORE as Boris Johnson will know very well.

Should WASPI women really trust this promise or its bearer?

Shouldn’t we focus redress on the 2011 changes?

The briefing on WASPI issued to MPS shows just how complicated and expensive full restitution would be.

Let’s start by using the briefing’s estimates of the number of women affected. It’s important to remember that though women have suffered more, men too are suffering.

Screenshot 2019-11-24 at 07.15.02

From this you can see that the dark green bar (women) have been affected since 2016 but that the numbers impacted increase sharply over the term of the next parliament so that by the end of the term over 3.7m women will be impacted.

Screenshot 2019-11-24 at 07.16.28

Now let’s look at the savings the DWP are making over the next parliamentary term and we can see that women and men get less spent on them , but that women are most impacted by the changes, especially if we look backwards.

In terms of numbers, the savings look like this

Screenshot 2019-11-24 at 07.17.10

The total nest savings of the 2011 changes amount to just over £30bn but the pension changes save the DWP £34bn, the majority over the term of the next parliament.

The £58bn is rather hgher than the DWP’s savings and women are only partly the losers.

Women will bear well over half of the cuts in benefits and the revenue will benefit from women staying in the workforce longer (through increased income tax and national insurance receipts).

Does Labour know what it is talking about on pensions?

While the Liberal’s statement is responsible and grounded, the Labour proposals are simply misinformed.

£58bn is more than this country can afford , it is based on a politicised view of history and will put most of the money in the hands of people who do not need it. If we redress all women, we will need to redress all men and wind back the program of a regressive state pension age which until now, seemed to have had cross-bench consent.

Just what Labour means by designing a system of recompense is unclear and for all the sound and fury , it may signify nothing.

A failure of Government perhaps.

From this brief  look at the numbers , people should be clear that women have had less given and more taken by the state and that Government knew all about this in 2011.

The general population of people moving into retirement around now, clearly weren’t as aware as they could have been of the changes in state pensions age, but this information was open to all parties and (other than a minor amendment).

Whatever the shortfalls in awareness, the opposition parties seem to have been quiet on what is now being called a “betrayal” by Labour and a “failure of Government” by Liberals.

The changes were first muted in 1993, enacted in 1995 and extended in 2011. This period included period when conservatives were in power, Labour were in power and a period when Liberals and Conservatives jointly governed.

The matter is therefore not so much party-political but a matter of good or bad government, which is why it is now in the hands of the parliamentary ombudsman.

But why not leave that to the Parliamentary Ombudsman?

I would warn WASPI against the hope of getting  “recompense for the losses and insecurity they have suffered”.

There is nothing in the Labour Party manifesto stating how much this recompense would be or from where the money would be found. Like the cap on increases of state pension ages beyond 66 (for men and women), there is no mention of the impact of the promise on the public purse.

I would not put my trust in un costed promise, especially when the Labour party have costed so much else. I would expect no more from the Liberals than support for the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

The simple conclusion we can draw is that all parties should wait to hear from the Parliamentary Ombudsman and I would be surprised if any went beyond its recommendations. The new plan put forward by John McDonnell smacks of political expediency (vote grabbing) and is not to be trusted.

There is no “victimless” £58bn giveaway

£58bn could better be spent saving our climate for future generations. Labour’s giveaway is a wealth transfer to the baby boomers.

Expect it to fall badly with millennials

The best that the WASPI women can get out of these manifesto promises is that there is political will among what are likely to be minority or opposition parties, to press for whatever the Ombudsman offers. As for the Conservatives, Guido is bang on the money, if you’ve got it – you’ll keep it

As Maria Caulfield puts it manifestos “have positive implications for all affected”.


About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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1 Response to What hope should WASPI take from political promises?

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