Stephen Hepburn MP: Women right to fight for pension equality

Most of us living on the South bank of the Tyne will know at least one woman cheated by the Tories of their state pension.
Members of WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) celebrate International Women's Day.Members of WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) celebrate International Women's Day.
Members of WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) celebrate International Women's Day.

There are 8,000 of them in South Tyneside and 4,000 in my Jarrow Parliamentary constituency, which includes part of Gateshead council area.

These are the WASPIs – Women Against State Pension Inequality. Our mothers, nanas, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces, neighbours, friends and workmates and former workmates.

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Women born in the 1950s who discovered late in their lives they wouldn’t get pensions at 60 and instead would be forced to wait as many as six years later than expected after the Conservatives sneakily accelerated plans to equalise retirement ages with men.

Women who found late in their lives that being born one year later would mean losing three years’ worth of pension.

Recently in Parliament I raised this hugely important issue only to be dismissed as a dinosaur by a Tory Minister, but I will continue to keep up the pressure on the Tories until the WASPIs get the justice they rightfully deserve.

Some of the WASPI women could be out of pocket by more than £50,000 when the amount stolen by the Tories could be £164.35 a week.

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Theresa May had a cheek to talking about ending “burning injustices” when she is guilty of one of the greatest crimes of our era.

I support an equal retirement age for men and women but oppose increases by Tories forever putting up the date when it means working class grafters dying around 10 years earlier than upper class folk might never receive a penny and enjoy a well-earned rest.

The WASPIs back an equal retirement age too, but they and I both condemn the robbery of mature women who were conned, never properly informed the pension they expected had been unforgivably taken away by the Tories.

Meeting the women as I often do and fighting their corner in Parliament is a noble cause.

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Their dignity is as inspiring as the pathetic excuses of the Conservatives is depressing.

I’ll never forget the controlled outrage of the women when Tory Pensions Minister Guy Opperman advised women he’s short-changing to find apprenticeships.

Yes, apprenticeships. Talk about adding insult to injury. How many employers do you know who would offer apprenticeships to women in their late 50s and 60s? Exactly. Few or none.

But that isn’t really the point. The point is a broken promise is creating real hardship for women who deserve better than cheapskate Tories grabbing what was rightfully theirs.

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Even the Pensions Minister in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition Government, Steve Webb, admits it was a bad decision” by his lot and “it had gone too far”.

Women are the backbone of many families and local communities who often don’t enjoy the recognition they deserve.

Whether it’s keeping families afloat, caring for friends and relatives or running neighbourhood groups – often on top of many other responsibilities – their contribution goes unrewarded.

The WASPI women are fighting a brilliant, good natured yet determined campaign with the suffragette colours of purple, white and green. I vowed to myself I’d be with them to the end when I saw a group at the Durham Miners’ Gala.

They support us and we must support them because it is the right thing to do. We mustn’t stop until the WASPIs have justice.