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Waspi women accuse Labour of betrayal as Reeves admits no cash planned for them

Women affected by major changes to the state pension age have accused Labour of a “terrible let-down”, after shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves indicated that she had no plans for compensation payments.

The Waspi (Women Against State Pension Inequality) campaign said it appeared that Sir Keir Starmer’s party was “preparing to turn its back on us at the 11th hour”.

There are an estimated 3.6 million so-called Waspi women who expected to start receiving their pension at 60, but had to wait another five or six years due to increases in their state pension age.

One of the affected women told i she was disappointed by Labour’s apparent position on what she called a “scandalous injustice”.

The campaigners have urged political parties to commit to a compensation scheme following the general election, after a watchdog ruled in April that Waspi women were owed money.

However, Ms Reeves has suggested there would be no commitment to payments in the Labour manifesto, saying the party had “not set out any money for this”.

Questioned this week by reporters in Edinburgh on the Waspi issue, Ms Reeves said: “I recognise that injustice.

“There are lots of things that a Labour government might like to do, but the state of the public finances and the dire need of our public services means that we won’t be able to do everything that we might like to do.”

She added: “Our manifesto will be published shortly, but I’ve said that we won’t put forward anything that is not fully costed and fully funded, and I haven’t set out any money for this.”

Labour did not dispute Ms Reeves’ comments, but said the party would study the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO)’s report if it wins the election and forms a government.

Angela Madden, chair of the Waspi campaign, has written to Ms Reeves to remind her that a damning report by the PHSO, which found the Department for Work and Pensions guilty of “maladministration” over the failure to properly notify women of the pension age change. The watchdog also suggested payments of between £1,000 and £2,950.

“Countless Labour MPs have stood in pictures smiling with us and demanding the Conservatives take action.

“Now, with Labour a stone’s throw from power, that commitment seems to be vanishing. Hundreds of thousands of Waspi women already feel badly let down, as it appears Labour is preparing to turn its backs on us at the 11th hour.”

Ms Madden said that ignoring the watchdog’s report would make a Labour government “seem like a pale imitation of Boris Johnson – simply waving away conclusions that it finds inconvenient”.

Mr Johnson had told Waspi campaigners that he would “see what I can do to sort it out” while he was campaigning to be Conservative leader in 2019.

Frances Neil, a 70-year-old co-ordinator of the South East Essex Waspi group, told i that Ms Reeves’ comments were “very disappointing and alarming”, adding: “I’m quite shocked.”

“We have gathered support from many Labour MPs. It’s just not good enough to be treated this way. It’s a terrible let down. It’s a wilful disregard of the PHSO.”

Liz Latham, a 68-year-old campaigner from Wolverhampton, is angry that the pension age change meant she had to keep working her supermarket job in her early sixties.

Poor health forced her to quit at 63, leaving her and her husband to get by on his state pension until she turned 66 and finally got her own payments.

Chairwoman of Women Against State Pension Inequality (Waspi), Angela Madden speaking to the media on College Green outside the Houses of Parliament in London after the publication of the report by Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) saying that people affected by state pension changes which were not communicated adequately should receive an apology and compensation, potentially totalling billions of pounds. Picture date: Thursday March 21, 2024. PA Photo. See PA story POLITICS Pensions Reaction. Photo credit should read: Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Chair of Women Against State Pension Inequality campaign group, Angela Madden (Photo: Victoria Jones/PA)

“It is disappointing,” said Ms Latham of Ms Reeves’ comments. “But if they are put under enough pressure by Waspi women and Labour MPs, they will have to do something once they are in government.

“Sooner or later, they will have to provide compensation. They can’t ignore us. It’s a scandalous injustice – so many women suffered terrible hardships.”

Linda Carmichael, chair of Waspi Scotland, also voiced her disappointment at Ms Reeves’ comments on the campaign trail.

“We hope that each party’s manifesto will reflect our campaign ask for fast and fair compensation,” she told i. “We do not have the luxury of time.”

Starmer has accused the Conservatives of kicking the issue “into the long grass” after Rishi Sunak’s Government refused to respond to the PHSO report in the months before the Prime Minister called the election.

Speaking on Monday in Glasgow, the Labour leader did not rule compensation, saying: “I’m going to look at the ombudsman’s recommendations if we’re privileged to come into power.”

A Labour spokesperson said: “These women have been through so much and have campaigned tirelessly on this issue. It’s only right that we consider this report with the seriousness it deserves because lessons must be learnt.”

“Like many other issues, the Government has kicked it into the long grass, despite having months to respond, leaving so many in the dark. Only they have the appropriate level of detail and engagement with the ombudsman, and if we’re privileged enough to come into office, we’ll pick that work up at pace, and reach a judgement.”

Election 2024

Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer are pausing campaigning for the 80th anniversary of D-Day. i‘s general election live blog is the go-to place for 2024 general election coverage, with everything from party manifestos to candidate news.

Starmer and Sunak faced off in the first leaders’ head-to-head debate, which focused on Labour’s tax plans and the Tories’ pledges around national service. Read i‘s political experts weigh in on who won the leader’s debate and what real voters think of the candidates.

Outside of the debate, the Tories have announced proposed changes to gender laws, but the focus has been on Nigel Farage following his shock move to stand as an MP and become leader of Reform UK. His first outing in Clacton ended with him covered in milkshake.

Labour has said it is prepared to process asylum seekers abroad and launched its plan to clear the NHS backlog. In London, its former leader Jeremy Corbyn, now standing as an independent candidate, has a fight on his hands to keep his supporters from switching to Starmer.

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