Peter Aldous is MP for Waveney and Co-Chair of All Party Parliamentary Group on State Pension Inequality for Women.
As we approach conference in Manchester this year – likely the last before the next general election – there will no doubt be lots of talk about how to keep Rishi Sunak in Downing Street.
Some very public debates around our future commitment to the triple lock on pensions have already begun, as MPs and those behind the scenes determine how we can protect the most vulnerable pensioners against rising inflation, while maintaining spending on key public services.
However, whatever the outcome of discussions around the triple lock, one demographic who are some of the hardest hit by the ongoing cost-of-living crisis and associated inflationary pressures are the 3.6 million women affected by unforeseen increases to the state pension age.
In some cases, affected women were just given a few months’ notice of a six-year increase to their state pension age to 66, which plunged tens of thousands into poverty and has left one-in-four struggling to buy food as a result.
Through no fault of their own, these women had their retirement plans ripped up in front of them, with many forced to spend the entirety of their savings as they scrambled to find new employment at the last minute, no easy feat when you’re in your late fifties or early sixties.
Rather than simply sit back, tens of thousands of tenacious women across the country joined together to form WASPI: the Women Against State Pension Inequality campaign.
While some on the fringes of the debate might call for the state pension age to be reset to 60 (which will never happen, and should not happen) WASPI are far more pragmatic. The campaign simply asks for fair compensation for the Department for Work and Pensions’ failure to inform them of this massive change to their state pension arrangements.
They are to be commended for their determination and level-headedness, while their strong desire for justice was on full display when a group of campaigners met with me and fellow Conservative MPs this week.
With the Liberal Democrats actively pushing ahead on this issue, we need to ensure we make the Conservative case for supporting this cohort of women who have worked hard all their lives, done the right thing, and paid into the system.
While previous governments of all colours hold some responsibility for these long-running injustices, it’s incumbent on all the main parties to go into the election with a plan to right this wrong.
Sunak rightly said at Prime Minister’s Questions in the spring that he would “act appropriately” to respond to any recommendations that came his way from the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.
With over 50 MPs writing to DWP ministers and the Ombudsman himself to express concern with the length of time the investigation has taken, one thing is clear: supporting this group of determined but pragmatic women is both morally right and politically necessary. It’s time to develop a political commitment to this group and ensure we leave no 1950s-born woman behind.