MPs call for vote on compensation scheme for Waspi women

MPs have called for a vote in Parliament on whether compensation should be given to women born in the 1950s who have been affected by changes to the state pension age.

During a backbench debate on the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) report on Women’s State Pension age, it was said the Waspi (Women Against State Pension Inequality) women suffered a “gross injustice” and a compensation scheme should be established urgently.

The PHSO asked Parliament to identify ways to provide an appropriate remedy for those who have suffered injustice because of maladministration on the part of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The ombudsman’s report suggested that compensation at level four, ranging between £1,000 and £2,950, could be appropriate for each of those affected.

Compensating all women born in the 1950s at the level four range would involve spending between around £3.5 billion and £10.5 billion of public funds, the report said, adding “though we understand not all of them will have suffered injustice”.

Opening the debate, SNP frontbencher Patricia Gibson said: “Although I’m disappointed there will be no vote on this matter today, there is nothing, nothing at all to prevent the Government from bringing such a vote forward in Government time.

“Indeed, the Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman has invited the House to express a view through laying its report before Parliament.”

Ms Gibson added that the Ombudsman’s report makes it “very clear” that women were not informed appropriately and the DWP was “negligent”.

Intervening, SNP MP Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) said it was “ludicrous” to suggest the women “should have found out about a change to their pension arrangement by happening to read advertisements in the correct newspaper, on the correct day”.

Ms Gibson said: “Many women impacted found out at the very last possible moment that their retirement age had been raised.”

The member for North Ayrshire and Arran went on to say the Waspi women had suffered a “gross injustice”, and accused the Government of being “tone deaf” to their pleas for justice.

She said: “The issue before us today goes to the heart of our sense of justice and fairness, and the social contact the Government of the day has with its citizens.

“A whole generation of women had their pension age raised without the notice that they are entitled to expect.

“Robbing them not just of tens of thousands of pounds in pension payments, but robbing them of their retirement plans, robbing them of financial peace of mind, robbing them of the contract they believe that they had with the society in which they worked hard, paid their dues, fulfilled their responsibilities, and in which they thought they could enjoy some sort of retirement in later life.

“After all, they had earned it, had they not?”

Labour former minister Stephen Timms, who chairs the Work and Pensions Select Committee, said: “I do think that citizens have a responsibility to keep themselves informed, listening to the radio, reading the papers, about changes to the law that affect them, but what the ombudsman has established and has made clear in the report is that the department found out at around – I have to say – the second time that I was pensions minister apparently, that only 40% of women knew about the forthcoming pension age change.

“Now, 40% is a lot of people, but 60% is an even larger number who did not know.”

Labour former minister Sir George Howarth said a compensation scheme cannot be deferred until after a change in Government.

He said: “My fear is we will not deal with it urgently, and let me be clear, I do not believe that allowing the clock to run down until the forthcoming general election is an acceptable option.”

He added: “As has been mentioned by others, every generation experiences injustices. In my time in this House they’ve included thalidomide victims, Hillsborough, Primodos, contaminated blood and most recently the Horizon scandal.

“For me they are all debts of honour which we have a duty to redeem. I suspect that a majority of members of this House would agree with me, so please, let us have the opportunity to do so.”

Conservative MP Peter Aldous (Waveney) said it would create a “constitutional gap” if the recommendation of the ombudsman were not acted on.

He said: “The PHSO points out that it is extremely rare for an organisation that they investigate not to accept and act on their recommendations.

“They make the observation that a failure to comply with the ombudsman’s recommendations represents a constitutional gap in protecting citizens rights who have been failed by a public body and ensuring access to justice.”

He added: “Finite resources are not an excuse for failing to provide a fair remedy. If Parliament chooses to do nothing, that will undermine the ombudsman. The DWP should respect what Parliament recommends.”

Conservative MP Matt Vickers (Stockton South) said his mother had been affected by the changes, adding: “I urge the Government to consider the report as quickly as possible and ensure that Waspi women get the fair and fast compensation that they deserve.”