by David Hencke
The outcome of the next general election could be decided by an extraordinary dispute which affects some 3.8 million women who have had to wait up to six years to get their pension.
This huge number of people – known as the WASPI women - have been until recently been either apolitical or traditional Tory voters, but their anger over the failure of successive governments to compensate them for the hardship by having to wait for their pension has changed all that.
The women were supposed to be given 15 years notice in 1995 of a rise in the pension age from 60 to 65. But the vast majority were never informed by either Tory or Labour governments, and their plight was made worse by the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition which decided to increase the pension age further for men and women to 66 in 2011 and phase this in by 2020.
The row with the women has intensified in the last two years when a more militant group of women formed BackTo60 and broke away from WASPI. They were followed by two other groups: “We Paid In You Pay Out!” and WASPI Campaign 2018. They were fed up with getting nowhere and the image of the original WASPI group making jam and pots of tea and being nice to everyone.
BackTo60 decided to take legal action against the government and call for a judicial review after their members were reporting growing hardship among women born between April 1950 and April 1960. The effect of having no pension meant they had lost as much as £50,000 and couldn’t or weren’t able, through ill health, to find work.
BackTo60 recruited the human rights lawyer Michael Mansfield to take up their case and applied for a judicial review. They were granted a review by a judge on grounds of age and gender discrimination and a failure by successive governments to properly inform them.
But this year their case was rejected by two judges which led to an outpouring of sympathy from the general public and the right-wing press. As a result, they raised £75,000 in a crowdfunding appeal in just 12 days and have applied to the High Court to appeal the judgement.
What has also happened is the women have been radicalised because they can’t believe a Conservative government would refuse to help them. The government – even under its new leader Boris Johnson, have made it clear they do not want to compensate them. Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party, have shown much more sympathy, but have only promised token compensation – referred to as “crumbs” by BackTo60.
As a result, it looks pretty certain that the vast majority of the women will withdraw any support for the Conservatives at the next election and encourage their relatives to do so. A breakdown by the House of Commons library showing where the women live reveals it could affect the election result in marginal seats.
For other parties, there is everything to play for.
David Hencke is a British investigative journalist and writer, named 'Political Journalist of the Year' at the 2012 British Press Awards. @davidhencke