50s women pensions: Will rival attempts to speed up compensation for the 3.6 million work?

Royal Courts of Justice

While I have been away there have been significant developments in the long battle to get justice for the 50swomen who lost tens of thousands of pounds through maladministration, discrimination and lack of communication over the six year rise in their pension age.

Like everything in this long tortured tale the developments have not been straight forward.

Basically two separate initiatives have been launched. WASPI after first going along the route of seeking justice for 50swomen through Rob Behrens the Parliamentary Ombudsman, suddenly turned on him threatening him with a judicial review and launching a crowdfunder to fight him which raised nearly £150,000.

Alternative Disputes Resolution

Backto60, as the only organisation that campaigns for full restitution for the women, launched a plan to call for an Alternative Disputes Resolution, to negotiate a settlement with Mel Stride, the secretary of state for works and pensions, to end this long running dispute which has angered so many women who feel cheated by the DWP. This is backed by 54 MPs, petitions that have attracted 87,000 signatures and a Parliamentary motion.

Both the initiatives I suspect followed the leaking of the Ombudsman’s first and second stage reports on the issue on this blog. Without them becoming public the 3.6 million women affected would not have known the full and frankly paltry proposals by the Ombudsman to solve this dispute. And I have not forgotten senior people from Waspi pressing me to remove the posts so the reports would remain part of a private discussion between them, the Ombudsman and selected MPs rather than allowing the 3.6 million victims the opportunity to read them. And the second one is still not published.

The reason that I suspect WASPI turned is that it was becoming clear that the compensation would be meagre and limited – the DWP could decide ( as they have following other Ombudsman’s reports) that only the six complainants would automatically get compensation of £1000 and some 600 will have to fight for it .It looked a far cry from the promise by Waspi’s chief spokesman, Angela Madden at last year’s Labour conference of between £10,000 and £20,000 for everybody. That is still a lot less for many people owed up to £50,000.

Angela Madden WASPI

Now developments have moved fast on this proposal. It is clear that WASPI, the Ombudsman and teams of lawyers from Bindman’s and Blackstone Chambers have come to a compromise which ended up in the high court last week. Reading the order from Judge Kirsty Brimelow it is clear that parts of the Ombudsman’s second stage report are quashed. These deal with the latter part of the report which rejected any financial compensation for women whose well being and life choices were affected by the delay and did not acknowledge the impact of the DWP pausing sending out letters to women.

The section was admitted by the Ombudsman to have been legally flawed by not taking everything into account.

Crowdfunder page

Since then WASPI have issued on their Crowdfunder page a series of ten conditions which ,it says, the Ombudsman should fulfill.

“WASPI will not be passively waiting for its outcome. At each stage we will be pressing the Ombudsman not only to complete his investigation in a way that is as rapid as possible but also thorough and fair. We will also be raising concerns about this with MPs, particularly those who sit on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) which oversees the Ombudsman’s work. And we will turn to our lawyers for their expert input when responding to the Ombudsman’s draft reports and if we have concerns his investigation may be derailed again.”

The Ombudsman has been more cautious. He has agreed that he will show Waspi and the complainants his proposed changes and accept comments before finally presenting his report to Parliament.

A spokesperson committed them to looking at the report again adding” We don’t currently have a timeline, but we want to resolve the investigation as swiftly as possible, so any mechanism for remedy can be implemented for those affected.”

Now while this is happening Back to 60 pursued a different tack. The key issue for them has been the People’s Tribunal which looked into the plight of the 50swomen under the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Tribunal held last year and the judgement given by Judge Jocelynne Scutt which ruled that the women had suffered both maladministration and discrimination.

Jocelynne Scutt

Some critics have tried to say the tribunal and the report are irrelevant because they have no standing. Given that the deputy chair of CEDAW in Geneva gave evidence to it and the judge was one of Australia’s first discrimination commissioners, such criticism seems rather ridiculous. to put it mildly.

The judge took a strong view that Parliament had a moral duty to this. “Government and Parliament have a responsibility to face up to and acknowledge the grave wrong done. There is no room for obfuscation or quibbling. Historic discrimination requires relief. There is a moral imperative to right this wrong. The law is on the side of 1950s women.”

Sir George Howarth

Sir George Howarth, Labour MP for Knowsley, who chairs the Alternative Disputes Resolution project has already written to Mel Stride, asking to come to a meeting. The organisers have also invited Waspi who have not replied.

What is missing is what the DWP will do. It has registered as an interested party to the proceedings over the ombudsman’s report but did not send lawyers to the hearing last week.

Any question to ministers on these developments is met with the answer that it is ” neutral” and would not comment because of the legal proceedings.

This is not surprising , the DWP can’t commit to implementing the Ombudsman’s findings if it doesn’t know what they are. The proper procedure will be after the final report is published.

Will these initiatives work?

The stumbling block for Waspi is that the Ombudsman cannot compel the DWP to accept his findings – even if he does everything Waspi wants. This is one reason why legislation needs updating to strengthen his power which the government is reluctant to do.

The disputes procedure cannot get off the ground without the DWP agreeing to come either.

We could be left with a stalemate with the DWP playing one side against the other and sadly it will still mean women will not get the compensation they badly need. Difficult and confusing times lie ahead.

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