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Election / Local candidates respond to Labour’s pledge to WASPI women

LABOUR has pledged to compensate around 3.7 million women born in the 1950s who have been losing out on their state pension as a result of the rises to the women’s pension age.

The move, announced by the party in a press statement with very little detail given in its election manifesto, is estimated to cost as much as £58 billion over five years.

It is not entirely clear what exactly Labour proposes to compensate for, whether it is reversing the equalisation of the pension age for women and men introduced in 1995, the general increase in the pension age to 66 and 67, or the acceleration of that process brought in by the coalition government in 2011.

Labour candidate Coilla Drake in Stromness at the weekend. Photo: Labour Party

Local Labour candidate Coilla Drake, herself a WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) woman, has welcomed her party’s commitment, but the plans were questioned by the other candidates contesting the Orkney and Shetland seat.

“We did not deserve to be punished in this way, women put so much into society in so many unseen and often unappreciated ways,” Drake said on Monday.

“Thank you for helping Jeremy, there are so many injustices to address when you get into government.”

The WASPI women claim they were not notified when the most fundamental changes were introduced in 1995, and had subsequently too little time to adapt when the rise in the pension age was accelerated by the coalition government.

Under the plans put forward by Labour, women born in the 1950 could be entitled to as much as £31,000 in compensation.

“I am a WASPI woman,” Drake said. “I cared for my husband and father for twelve years till they passed at home in Westray as they wanted. When my husband died just before Christmas 2017, I was left with no income except a few weeks of carers allowance.

“I claimed JSA because it was £10 more a week. I felt like a criminal, the threat of sanctions made me very anxious. I spent seven weeks in winter in Orkney with no heating or hot water because I didn’t know if I would be able to pay the bill.”

SNP candidate Robert Leslie said his party fully supports the WASPI campaign and their efforts to secure fairness, and added that according SNP calculations the cost of reversing the 2011 changes would be in the region of £8 billion.

He said: “While we agree with the equalisation of the state pension age, we do not support the unfair manner in which these changes were made in the 2011 Pensions Act. Around 3.9 million women were affected by the accelerated pace and many will receive their pension years later than expected.

“Due to the UK Government’s shambolic handling of the notification process these women have not been given reasonable time to prepare for retirement. This is a gross injustice.

“The SNP will continue to fight for the UK Government to take responsibility, deliver the pension that women born in the 1950s deserve and end this inequality at source.”

Independent candidate David Barnard, who is campaigning on the single issue of ending the monarchy, said the pension age for men and women should be the same, adding that he could see how any transition period “is going to be particularly harsh on the 1950s women”.

But he criticised the Labour Party for not giving any detail of the policy and its associated costs in its 105-page manifesto. “Words are easy,” he said.

Brexit Party candidate Robert Smith, meanwhile, called the plan “nonsensical”.

“The original plan was to have a gradual approach to raising the pension age but the EU prevented the UK government from doing so,” he said.

“When we leave, this can be revisited and hopefully these women can get the pensions they paid for.”

Jennifer Fairbairn, standing for the Conservatives, dismissed the proposal as “unrealistic” and “not credible”.

“Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party have continued to make entirely unrealistic proposals for public spending without any suggestion of where the money to pay for them will come from,” she said.

“As respected, independent experts like the Institute for Fiscal Studies have said, this proposal simply isn’t credible”.

Responding last night (Monday) after returning from a day of canvassing in Unst, Lib Dem candidate Alistair Carmichael said his party would implement the recommendations of the parliamentary ombudsman.

“The Lib Dem manifesto commits the party to implementing whatever the parliamentary ombudsman requires to be done at the end of their investigation,” he said.

“It is frustrating that because of the court cases that investigation has taken so long. Whatever is done will require to be fully funded and the Liberal Democrats are committed to making that money available when the full sum is known.”

More information to all six local candidates standing in the general election can be found on our Meet the Candidates page here.