Labour today broke through the political barrier of just offering tea and sympathy for 3.8 million women who had to wait up to six years for their pensions.
And coming only 24 hours after Boris Johnson announced that the Conservative Party would not give a penny in compensation to any of the women affected by this appalling scandal it is a major advance.
First the positives. It is a huge improvement on the offer available from the All Party Parliamentary Group on the issue co chaired by Tim Loughton, the Tory MP for Worthing East and Shoreham and Carolyn Harris, Labour MP for Swansea,East. The sums are obvious. Tim Loughton is on record of seeking £2 billion compensation, Labour is offering to spend £58 billion over five years.
From what I could gather – despite both MPs declining to answer any of my questions – it would have meant probably only £73 a week on benefit for women who have still not gained the pension in two years time and nothing for the rest, who form the vast majority of people involved.
It is also – and this is very important considering the age of people involved- to start pretty soon if Labour is elected. This compared with the previous APPG proposal with no firm date for implementation and the longer the delay, fewer people would have got anything.
As John McDonnell, shadow chancellor, said: ” “We will introduce it as rapidly as we probably can and we will try to ensure the payments are made promptly. …… we are hoping that people will appreciate the sense of injustice and anger that these women feel about the changes that were imposed upon them.”
And it is helpful for people who had relied on the now outdated married woman’s national insurance contribution to build up their pension entitlement since to get compensation Labour is treating all cases as though they paid the full national insurance stamp which would increase their entitlement.
It is also by far the best offer on the table for the December 12 election as it compares with nothing from the Conservatives and an offer from the Liberal Democrats to obtain compensation through the Ombudsman. Again that would depend when the Ombudsman considered the case and whether he decided to award any compensation.
Now the pitfalls. First it is paid at the rate of £100 a week over five years for all those born before 6 April 1955 rather than a lump sum. It is also taxed. As one of the arguments by the numerous detractors from the private pension industry -is that it should be means tested, very wealthy people will have to return, under Labour, half the payment to the state. Those who are really poor will get it tax free – because there is no tax next year on the first £12,500 of income. And this limit will probably rise over the period.
Second the scheme is complicated and the amount of compensation will be different for each individual.
Broadly it looks as though compensation will rise from a month’s loss of pension (£400) to a maximum of £31,379 for those born up to April 5 1955. It would then gradually fall again until disappearing altogether for those born after April 5 1960. The figure paid out will fall from £100 a week to a lower sum depending on a person’s date of birth from 6 April 1955.
In general terms this means that those born up to April 5 1955 will fare better than those after- though those born in the rest of 1955 will still get high compensation.
What this mean for those born earlier and have or about to get their pension that they will be guaranteed an extra £100 a week for up to five years depending on their birth date.
What the deal is not full restitution given that some women have lost up to £50,000. However Back to 60, have raised enough money through their crowdfunder, to continue their legal action and are seeking permission at the Court of Appeal to appeal the ruling.
The fact that BackTo60 went to the courts prompted Labour to prepare a much more generous offer for the 50swomen – their briefing makes it clear that this was in their mind.
” It’s a one-off historical redress for a historical wrong, so the state will be expected to find the money, just as it would do if the Government lost a court case.”
This is the opposite to the view of Guy Opperman, the pensions minister, who takes the position ” we act within the law” and the defeat means no money need ever be paid.
The fact that both Unison and Unite unions supported full restitution was also hugely influential in Labour’s thinking.
Labour’s manifesto has promised talks with all groups before it is implemented which will give all 50swomen representatives the chance to comment and discuss the implementation of the scheme.
Last night Waspi Ltd – which has not wanted full restitution – and ” We paid in, you pay out ” were advising their supporters to back Labour at the general election.
BackTo60 which never intended to advise its voters which way to vote – will produce a comparative guide to all the offers from the main parties to 50swomen and leave it to their supporters to draw their own conclusions on how they wish to cast their votes.
John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, said
“We’ve prepared a scheme to compensate these women for a historical wrong. It’s one that they were not been able to prepare for and for which they’ve had to suffer serious financial consequences for as a result.
“Some of them have been hit by a combination of poverty and stress, having lost out on what they had contributed towards. These changes were imposed upon them by a Tory-led government. So we have a historical debt of honour to them and when go into government we are going to fulfil that debt.”