Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Labour and WASPI women: 'Why Rachel Reeves must back our demands in full' – LabourList

This week, Labour missed the perfect opportunity to recommit themselves to a campaign backed by overwhelming numbers of parliamentary candidates, and indeed many on the frontbench.

More than 3.6 million women born in the 1950s – or WASPI women – received as little as 18 months’ notice of a six-year hike to their State Pension age. The rug was pulled out from under the careful financial planning that so many of us had done, causing severe financial losses and subsequent hardship. One-in-three of us have fallen into debt.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) concluded in the summer of 2021 that the government got things wrong and was guilty of ‘maladministration’. The Department for Work and Pensions was found to have ignored its own research showing that women didn’t know about State Pension age changes and failed to write to women in time.

In March this year, the PHSO issued a further, final report confirming that WASPI women should be compensated. Astonishingly, Conservative ministers refused to accept these findings and so the government watchdog was forced to take the rare step of asking Parliament to intervene.

Support still needed

Appearing before the Work and Pensions Committee last month, the Secretary of State Mel Stride was grilled on whether the government would ever pay up. Days later, Rishi Sunak pulled the plug on Parliament and called the election.

So, now the issue of compensating millions of women across the country will no doubt be top of the inbox for an incoming Labour Work and Pensions Secretary. Or so we thought. Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves this week told journalists at a press conference in Edinburgh that while she recognised the injustices women had suffered, “we have not set out any money” for compensating those who had their retirement plans thrown into chaos.

It would be a travesty for a new Labour government to put themselves in the same position of denial and delay as its predecessor. Labour brands itself as the party of social justice and the vast majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party have been steadfast in their support for compensation WASPI women for many years. Many on the frontbench have also held placards and made public commitments too.

READ MORE: ‘Could a Labour resurgence make Wales Tory-free once more?’

Yet the Labour Party position has been to ‘wait and see’ what Tory ministers came up with before committing to a stance of their own. That is – of course – no longer sustainable: Labour’s commitments during this campaign surely have to reflect the party’s longstanding support for our cause.

After all, it is simply ‘Boris-esque’ to ignore independent reports that don’t rule in a government’s favour. What is the point of an Ombudsman if ministers – of whichever party – just ignore its findings? One of the campaign’s Conservative supporters summed this up well last month, telling MPs in the Commons that “you can’t only listen to the umpire when you agree with him”.

Popular support for WASPIs

In recent weeks, the campaign has been overwhelmed by backbench Conservative MPs willing to stick their heads above the parapet. It seems those headed for opposition are always more willing to help than those destined for office.

The outgoing administration has completely failed an entire generation of WASPI women and time is now running out to deliver justice. There are structural problems too in Labour’s operation, with the Shadow Pensions Minister resigning more than a month ago, citing personal circumstances, with no sign yet of a replacement in the middle of a crucial election race.

Given millions of women across the country have been impacted by this ongoing scandal, there will no doubt be hundreds, if not, thousands of conversations about delivering justice to those affected on the doorstep in the coming weeks. WASPI women and their families will be thinking very carefully about how they cast their vote.

READ MORE: ‘Labour women are front and centre this election, and history is about to be made’

With national polling showing that seven-in-ten Brits back fair and fast compensation for WASPI women, and government ministers going into hiding on the issue since late March, Labour still has an opportunity to give real meaning to that perennial political slogan, ‘change’.

One WASPI woman dies every thirteen minutes while this appalling scandal continues. We are watching and waiting to see if Labour will finally deliver the compensation it promised us and we are due.

Read more of our 2024 general election coverage here.

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