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Ollie Smith: Waspi women at least deserve decency

Warring factions and unwillingness to accept the compromises offered by some politicians, Waspi's state pension campaign is often dismissed. But its central grievance is not misplaced and should be taken seriously, argues Ollie Smith.

Ollie Smith: Waspi women at least deserve decency

Last week Women Against State Pension Inequality (Waspi) campaigners descended on parliament to demand compensation for successive increases in the state pension age. We went along to the protest with a camera and microphone to capture some of the drama.

Over the years we have learned to expect scepticism regarding the campaign. Arguments range from ‘well, many of them are asset-rich baby boomers with final salary pensions,’ to ‘they haven’t even agreed on what they want.’ I dare say there is a degree of truth in both these positions.

I have seen examples of women who have been inconvenienced by this issue, but not hung out to dry. Some are relatively well-off. Others are very well-off.

But there are plenty who are living on the breadline. We do not see that because they tend to be the ones without a voice.

Everyday sexism

Our reporting has recently revealed campaigners are now extremely fragmented. So fragmented in fact that there are now multiple, separate campaigns demanding different things, with an internal war going on in the Waspi leadership itself.

But none of these things make the women wrong. The fact that anyone has been made destitute by this is a disgrace. The campaign divisions are a shame but they should not be a bar to government action. 

I suspect there is sexism too. People oppose Waspi because they are ordinary women who are angry and organised. Not everyone raising concerns about the campaign is being sexist, but let us ask ourselves the big question: would male campaigners be treated in the same way? I doubt it.

Having a degree in economics, pointing out pension age rises had been the plan since the 1990s, or expecting an entire generation of women to have been researching their state pensions from the get-go are all insufficient reasons to oppose this campaign too. They are retrospectively applied red herrings that somehow expect the women to have been playing by different rules to the rest of us, at a time in their lives when they justifiably had more important things to do.

And as for the prosperity argument, we should not be ignoring the historical card of injustice these women have already been dealt throughout their lives, simply for being women. Paid less, acknowledged less, and valued less. We know this has happened because it is still happening now. It is now happening to them again.

In short, the Waspi campaign may be imperfect, but it is not wrong.

Unfortunately, with Brexit raging on in the background and the fiscal belt tighter than ever, a comprehensive solution appears distant. But at the very least, something should be done now for the women who have been made destitute as a result of this.

And, for our part, we can all do more to understand the issue and treat people who have been wronged – whether they are rich or poor – with decency.

Watch our report, featuring interviews with Waspi women, campaigners and politicians. 

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