St Helens Council supporting better pension deal for town's Waspi women

Waspi campaigners at westminster
Waspi campaigners at westminster

St Helens Council has thrown its support behind thousands of women across the borough affected by pension reforms.

Around 2.6 million women have been affected by changes to the state pension age, which were accelerated by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government.

Under the 1995 Pensions Act a timetable was drawn up to equalise the age at which men and women could draw their state pension.

However, the coalition government of 2010 accelerate the agreed timetable, arguing the state pension was becoming unaffordable.

Under the 2011 Pensions Act, the new qualifying age of 65 for women was bought forward to 2018.

This meant hundreds of thousands of women born between December 1953 and October 1954 who were approaching their state pension age were made to wait an extra 18 months.

Many of these women have argued they had not been given time to adjust to the new retirement age and that the government had failed to clearly communicate the changes.

From this, the campaign group Women Against State Pension Inequality (Waspi) has emerged.

This week, former St Helens Council leader Derek Long submitted a motion that called on the council to express its support for the Waspi campaign.

Speaking at full council, Coun Long said the pension reforms affected around 10,700 St Helens women.

Coun Long, ward councillor for West Park, called the changes a “robbery” that took 30,000 years of pensions from St Helens women.

He said around 1,145 women across St Helens North and St Helens South and Whiston are currently facing hardship as a result.

Coun Long said: “The people caught by this face severe hardship, in some cases. Not all of them face hardship.

“Some of them will be in a good position to deal with it. However, many will not.

“And those who do face hardship, they face it because they did not have access to work, they did not have access to company pensions for a lot of the time and they certainly couldn’t adjust when the government changed the plan that had been set down some 16 years previously by the previous Conservative administration.”

Coun Long said those affected are people we have a “duty of care” to as a society, adding that the government is not delivering the resources to do that job properly.

The former council leader insisted the Labour Party “will not abandon our older residents” in St Helens.

Coun Long’s wife, Labour’s Trisha Long, also spoke passionately about those affected by the pension reforms, saying there are 804 women born in the 1950s in her ward of Moss Bank.

Coun Trisha Long said: “First, the government failed to give proper notice to these women that their pension age was changing, depriving them of up to six years of state pension.

“This can mean individual amounts of £40,000 and more to some, life-changing amounts of money.

“Secondly, the government failed and is failing to understand the reality of the lives of many of the women caught by this issue.”

Coun Trisha Long said the motion is Labour urging the government to recognise and “put right” the “avoidable financial hardship it has unnecessary inflicted” on women in this age group.

St Helens Council backed a similar motion in 2017, calling on the government to implement transitional arrangements for those affected by the changes.

The motion was put forward by Coun Gill Neal, who was a Labour councillor at the time.

Coun Neal, who recently quit the party to become an independent, welcomed the new motion.

“I’m thankful this motion takes the motion that we brought one step further by calling on the council to express its support and to look for ways that we can help these women.

“Because we have to reiterate, these women are not women who are working in powerful jobs in the main.

“These are women who are working as our school dinner ladies, lunch-time assistants. They’re working as teaching assistants, working in healthcare, midwives.

“I’ve got two older cousins who’ve got caught up in this and they’ve lost thousands and thousands in pensions.”

Coun Neal said many of the women affected are “too proud” to claim benefits, and those who do are caught up in the “complicated” Universal Credit system.

She said others who care for children and grandchildren are caught up in a cycle that prevents them from seeking employment.

The motion put forward by Coun Long calls on the council’s new interim chief executive Harry Catherall to examine what measures the council could take to ensure affected families do not face hardship.

It also instructs the chief executive to write to the Department of Work and Pensions to set out the council’s concerns about the impact of the pension reforms in St Helens and to seek clarification of what steps the government intends to take to rectify the problems the policy will cause.

The motion was unanimously approved following a vote.