Grahame Morris: Helping the Waspi women would cost less than bombing Syria

Grahame Morris

Across Britain some 3.8 million women are affected by the increase to the state pension age. Though there is a good deal of sympathy for the aim of equalising the retirement age, what has taken place in practice has been appallingly unjust.

Raising the pension age for women, often with little notice and sometimes failing to notify people of the changes at all, is a recipe for disaster.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies believe the changes have increased poverty rates among women aged 60-62, with poverty rising from 15 per cent to 21 per cent.

Put simply this is a government policy which raises poverty among a group who in most cases have worked their whole adult lives. Many Waspi women affected by state pension inequality have been working full time and paying national insurance since the age of 15 or 16. In my constituency of Easington, the government’s changes to the state pension age will harm some 4,542 women.

When Britain already has the worst pensioner poverty in Western Europe, despite being one of the richest countries in the world – it becomes clearer that the Tories decision to ignore the Waspi women is a disgrace.

The OECD has recently ranked Britain’s pensions system as the worst in the developed world – yet the Tories are attempting to deny Waspi women even a basic state pension.

The government will not bring forward funding to ameliorate the changes or support Waspi women – instead they talk about women born in the 1950s as if they are just a burden on the taxpayer. This is nonsense, women born then are veteran taxpayers who have worked hard and paid their dues. They are now being expected by the government to accept lower incomes and a greater risk of poverty.

Excluded from the winter fuel allowance, from the free bus pass and now from the state pension, this generation of women are now in numerous cases having to sell their homes, take on precarious poverty-wage jobs or rely on foodbanks.

And why are many of these women facing financial hardship or absolute poverty? Simply because they were born in a certain decade and a Tory government have failed to offer support or amelioration.

The government’s given reason for failing these 3.8 million women is that to give them their pensions would cost as much as £30bn – for six years of pensions.

Yet research from Landman Economics suggests the cost of helping Waspi women would likely be a more modest £8bn.

The parliamentary ombudsman is currently investigating the Department for Work and Pensions for maladministration, by failing to notify women of the changes to their state pension age. If the ombudsman finds in favour of the Waspi women the government could have to pay compensation to the tune of billions of pounds.

Refurbishing Westminster will cost the taxpayer some £7bn, Britain’s airstrikes in Syria are estimated to reach a cost of around £10bn, while increased privatisation of the national health service is estimated to cost at least an extra £4.5-£10bn each year. All this is on top of billions of pounds of needless tax cuts to the bank levy.

In this context finding the money for Waspi women seems a sensible price to pay to give these women justice and stop poverty from rising to ever more tragic levels.

This is why as many as 50 Tory MPs support the Waspi campaign, as do the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the DUP.

We know and we can see that it isn’t equal, it isn’t fair and it isn’t justifiable – it’s driving down the incomes and the quality of life of countless women.

The prime minister is herself a Waspi woman but I doubt she ever has or ever will be faced with a choice between heating or eating. Yet this doesn’t mean it is too late for the government to do the right thing.

Grahame Morris is MP for Easington.

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