On a bitterly cold International Women’s Day, a group of women, clad mainly in purple, many of them well into their 70s were to be seen by one of the main roads in Castleford, banners, and placards on hand. Why would they brave the elements when they might much rather have been in the warmth of their homes or enjoying a coffee with friends? These though were women with a real grievance, protesting in one of the few ways open to them.
These were WASPI women or to give them their full title Women Against State Pension Injustice. I first wrote about these women for Yorkshire Bylines in February 2022, in the piece ‘Is pension justice within reach for the WASPI campaign?’ when they were feeling optimistic that they might be getting somewhere, yet here we were two years later, the same women, the same plight.
I spoke once again with Catherine Dwyer, the passionate leader of the Castleford group who reminded me what their protests were all about and brought me up to date with the current situation; a story that had lost much of the buoyant optimism of two years ago.
Catherine joined the WASPI campaign in 2016 as soon as she heard about it:
“I was feeling robbed of my state pension as I had worked hard and contributed to the national insurance fund as required. I saw that a meeting had been arranged with my local MP, so I went along, she agreed that the rise in state pension age had been too fast.”
Half-hearted attempts at communication
The campaign obtained legal advice and was advised to complain to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that they had not been given timely and adequate notice of the increase in the state pension age. As a result, they were not able to prepare adequately for their retirement at a much later date than had originally been planned for. The DWP had taken the decision that they did not need to inform the women individually and had only been half-hearted in their attempts at informing them correctly.
As Catherine said, only half-jokingly:
“Had we had the time to read newspapers I doubt that one advert of two dogs looking out to sea discussing the rise in their state pension age would have caught my attention.
“In 1995 I was busy working on a 30 bed [emergency] unit, as a qualified mental health nurse I had to keep my knowledge up to date doing mandatory training and I was also doing extra training to better my prospects. I had little time for reading newspapers.”
Catherine explained to me that she had written her first letter of complaint in July 2016 then subsequently, several more letters were exchanged between her and the DWP. Finally, her case was accepted for investigation by the independent case examiner, she now thought she was well on the way to being referred to the parliamentary and health service ombudsman and she felt that all her letter writing had been worthwhile.
On 30 November that year a judicial review was granted to another group of 1950s-born women who were asking for the state pension payments to be applied at the age of 60. Days later Catherine received a letter informing her that her case had been closed “with no explanation, no reasons, nothing!”.
When Catherine questioned the decision, she was told by the independent case examiner that they would not respond to any further correspondence from her. Since that date all the information she has gathered has been from online reports and statements from the ombudsman.
She told me that she was “led to believe that the ombudsman could not investigate a case that was subject to judicial review”.The court did not accept that the DWP were guilty of maladministration and the court case was closed in August 2019. After this the ombudsman agreed to investigate six cases of his choice of those put forward by 1950s-born women that were before him.
After considering these cases for four years the ombudsman concluded that from 2005 onwards there were failings on the part of the DWP and they were guilty of maladministration, in that they did not notify the women adequately in time for them to prepare for a later retirement. It stated that the DWP had failed to take account of the need for targeted and individually tailored information. It should have written to all affected women by December 2006 at the latest. That was the situation the last time I spoke to Catherine.
Since that announcement, the DWP has been considering the second stage of the investigation which is to establish whether any of these women had been disadvantaged by not being informed of the changes. In Catherine’s case she has now been waiting some six years for her complaint to be resolved and she has now heard (but not from the independent case examiner) that her letters would now have been destroyed.
Another long wait
Once a decision has been made the case enters yet another stage and another long wait until it has been decided what action should be taken to recompense those that have lost out. The DWP has stated that the results of the investigation will apply to all 1950s-born women but just how will it be applied? Despite her writing several letters to the DWP and her case being accepted by the independent case examiner, Catherine fears that she will be back at the start with yet more letters to write to put her case over yet again.
Why is it taking so long? Why all the secrecy? Some of the women who managed to get as far as the ombudsman, have been made privy to more information which Catherine says she has no right of access to until it is released publicly.
It has been suggested that the ombudsman is proposing that 1950s-born women should have known about the changes brought about by the Pensions Act 1995, that there was sufficient information available.
“Obviously we should have read about it in the Financial Times and thought to have contacted the DWP for an information leaflet on the rise in the state pension age. They are implying it is our own fault that we didn’t prepare. So now in early 2023 we await the ombudsman’s announcement. We are told it will not be a good result for us, that it warrants legal action even. So 1950s-born women have come together under the WASPI banner and raised enough money to pay for a judicial review of the ombudsman’s decision.
“Time is ticking by for us all. An announcement needs to be made – and soon – as some of the women are suffering and need some recompense before it is too late, why are we waiting and why is it taking so long for this injustice to be put right?”
Local councillor Tony Wallis is a big supporter of the campaign group. He explained:
“Why do I support the WASPI campaign? Because it is an injustice that no-one voted for. An injustice that took many women by surprise. Three rises in the pension age so close together is something that should not have happened in our society.
“I admire the way they have taken to their campaign, especially when at times the government isn’t listening at all. One thing that keeps them going is the knowledge that they have widespread support throughout the country.
“I brought a resolution championing their cause to Wakefield council. Like many other councils, it was passed at Wakefield unanimously. WASPI and their supporters will not go away. We will keep campaigning and highlighting this injustice until action is taken.”