'Vindicated at last' - Pension compensation on the horizon for WASPI women
- Credit: WASPI Campaign
Women born in the 1950s finally feel "vindicated" following an ombudsman ruling that the government failed to prepare them for a "financially crippling" state pension age increase.
The WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) campaign began in 2015, and has faced a long, uphill battle to get where they are today.
Debbie de Spon, group coordinator for Norfolk, said the ruling brought them one step closer to compensation — but left members feeling "bitterly angry and disappointed" the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) had resisted accusations of wrongdoing for so long.
Around 54,000 women in Norfolk are affected, and 3.8 million nationally.
In response to the ruling, a DWP spokeswoman said both the High Court and Court of Appeal had supported the actions of the DWP under successive governments since 1995 — with the Supreme Court refusing the claimants' permission to appeal.
She said: "In a move towards gender equality, it was decided more than 25 years ago to make the state pension the same age for men and women."
But the WASPI campaign's main bone of contention is that officials failed to give the women affected enough direct warning their state pension age would be increasing from 60 to 65, and then 66.
The Pensions Act 1995 agreed the state pension age for women would increase from 60 - 65 between April 2010-2020, with the coalition government extending this to 66 in the 2011 Pensions Act.
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However, the ombudsman report published on July 19 of this year has confirmed the DWP "did not get it right" in terms of making women aware of these changes from 2005 onwards.
In fact, they were 28 months late in writing directly to the women the change would affect, contacting them in April 2009 instead of December 2006.
The report states: "For women who were not aware of the changes, the opportunity that additional notice would have given them to adjust their retirement plans was lost."
The next stage of the ombudsman's investigation is to find out what injustice the women faced as a result.
According to Ms de Spon, there is still a long way to go.
She said: "We're so pleased at the ruling, and finally feel vindicated.
"But the ombudsman can't refund us our lost pensions. We know we're never getting those back.
"It also can't force the government to give us our pension earlier than allowed.
"However, it can recommend the government compensate us for the crippling financial loss we faced purely because we had the apparent misfortune of being born in the 50s."
She went on: "We need all women affected to write to their MPs and encourage them to support whatever the ombudsman recommends."
Ms de Spon, who is now 66 and lives near Wymondham, is "overjoyed" at the prospect of finally getting her state pension in October this year — six years after she was promised it.
But she said for those women still having to try and find jobs, those without partners now reliant on benefits, or those unable to access benefits altogether because they have savings, the struggle isn't over.
"Nobody wants to hire women our age", she said.
"The government said we just needed to get jobs, and our critics say we wanted equality and now we've got it.
"But the number of women over 65 and unemployed has sky-rocketed in recent years. At this age, we're just airbrushed out of society.
"We go into the job centres and we're told not to put our age on our applications."
Before the pandemic, life was tough for 50s-born women, but even more so in its aftermath.
Ms de Spon said: "A lot of women my age work in retail, hospitality, cleaning or the gig economy. Those are the very jobs the pandemic has decimated.
"We are not against pension age equality at all. We just want recognition of the ways in which we have been specifically penalised without proper redress, when we paid our national insurance contributions like everyone else."
Moving forward, Ms de Spon said it was about "turning anger and disappointment" into action.
"We're furious it's taken so long to get to this point", she said, "but it's too easy to feel hopeless and disempowered.
"We're not going down without a fight."
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