Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending a meeting of the Glasgow and Lanarkshire branch of Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI), a campaign fighting a battle against inequality on behalf of millions of women across the UK.
WASPI is made up of women born in the 1950s who have had their plans for retirement ruined by faster than promised changes to the state pension age with little or no notice given to those affected. For thousands of women in Scotland, this will mean financial hardship in older age. What makes matters worse is that this unfairness is compounded by years of discrimination and inequality at work.
Many of the women affected had to fight for equal pay and were, in the past, unable to join workplace pension schemes leaving them with no other retirement income. Many of them have caring responsibilities and are in lower-paid, part-time jobs that are often physically demanding and harder to continue working on. In 2017, it is simply unacceptable that anyone might face the threat of poverty in old age, particularly when it is brought about by the actions of Government.
The campaign does not oppose equalisation of the State Pension Age but calls on the UK Government to secure non-means tested transitional arrangements for all women born in the 1950s until they reach State Pension Age. Labour’s manifesto committed to transitional protections and we will continue to fight for that action.
The Scottish Government must also carefully examine what it can do to support the WASPI women using the powers of the Scottish Parliament to introduce discretionary payments. I was disappointed to read senior SNP politicians suggest that even if the Scottish Government could help, it should not have to. The SNP is always very vocal on big campaign issues but more reluctant to take action when there is a fight with Westminster to be had.
Of course, the Tory Government must act immediately to end this gross unfairness, but it is perfectly reasonable to demand that action whilst simultaneously supporting those affected. If there is anything the Scottish Government can do to help the WASPI women, it has a moral obligation to do so.
WASPI is an impressive, grassroots campaign that has already demonstrated its effectiveness – the Independent Case Examiner has received over 700 complaints and is now setting up a dedicated team to handle them – and the Glasgow and Lanarkshire branch are hoping that more women will get involved to help keep the pressure on the government. There are more women in Rutherglen and Hamilton West who will be affected by these changes than in any other constituency in Scotland.
I fully support the campaign and I am happy to assist anyone in the constituency who is affected. WASPI Glasgow and Lanarkshire also offers lots of help and resources, including letter templates, to those who want to get involved in the campaign and add their voice to the growing number women across the UK who are standing up against these unfair changes.