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Politics: The sheer scale of this scandal demands a clear and compassionate response

By Richard Thomson

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Last week saw the publication of the long-awaited report from the Parliamentary Ombudsman on women’s state pension age.

MP for Gordon, Richard Thomson
MP for Gordon, Richard Thomson

The state pension age for women was increased to 65 to equalise it with the retirement age for men and increased again in 2020 to age 66. However, the UK Government through the Department for Work and Pensions failed to provide adequate notification about the change to those it would materially affect.

The impact on the women affected was wide ranging, from having to carry on working through ill-health to struggling to pay bills. Some, in anticipation of their retirement date, had given up jobs in order to care for relatives only to then find what they thought would be a fairly short period between their last wage and their first state pension suddenly became a gap of many years.

The campaign for justice for these women has been ably articulated by the WASPI campaign and, indeed, I was lobbied on the matter as a candidate for election, long before I was elected as an MP in 2019. I’d strongly encourage all those either directly affected or with an interest in seeing this injustice put right to lobby their candidates in the run-up to this next election so that there is no hiding place on this issue for anyone seeking their vote.

The Ombudsman found that there were failings in how this change was communicated and has concluded the women affected are owed compensation. Quite disgracefully, the UK Government has been so intransigent on this matter over the years that instead of publishing the report and awaiting the response as would be the norm, so uncertain is the Ombudsman that the response would be the correct one they have decided that they need to use extraordinary powers to bypass Ministers and report directly to Parliament.

WASPI campaign
WASPI campaign

The Ombudsman herself says: “Given the significant concerns we have that it [the DWP] will fail to act on our findings and given the need to make things right for the affected women as soon as possible, we have proactively asked Parliament to intervene and hold the Department to account. Parliament now needs to act swiftly, and to make sure a compensation scheme is established. We think this will provide women with the quickest route to remedy.”

I have written to successive UK Pensions Ministers asking that they acknowledge the direction of travel since the Ombudsman’s initial finding of maladministration and urging that they start putting in place the processes for making swift compensation payments to the affected women. Successive Ministers have written very short replies to me advising they intend doing no such thing.

Over 250,000 of the women affected have died waiting for this injustice to be remedied. That’s over 250,000 reasons for the UK Government to now move without further delay and get the mechanisms in place to compensate those affected.

The Ombudsman has a clear expectation that Parliament will do the right thing. At a time when maximum political pressure needs to be exerted on the UK Government to do the right thing, it was therefore deeply concerning to read reports at the weekend of the Scottish Labour Party being told by their Head Office in London to keep quiet on the issue of compensation, because of the potential financial cost of simply doing the right thing.

The sheer scale of this scandal demands a clear and compassionate response. The conclusion of the report couldn’t be more straightforward - these women were failed by government, and they deserve compensation.

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