The day the women fighting for their pensions brought Westminster to a standstill

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50s women reclaiming the street outside Parliament

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A decade ago this would have made headline news. Hundreds of  50s women deprived of their pensions until they reach 65 or 66 blocked the road in Parliament Square for over an hour yesterday. The police – just five of them – had to divert traffic away from Parliament as they sang slogans deriding Theresa May  from ” We paid In,  U Pay Out ” to ”  Hey, Hey, Theresa May, Theresa May, how many women who have you robbed today ” in an extraordinary display of anger at successive governments decisions to raise the women’s pension age from 60 to 66.

The noise  from the vibrant  demo drowned out irritated van drivers, bus drivers and motorists tooting their horns as they were stuck on the one way system round the Square. But the women were more than a match for the motorists, the police and certainly are making an impact on MPs.

The decision to block the road was not planned  and taken spontaneously by some of the protesters and led to a traffic jams right up Whitehall. Even Fiona Bruce, the BBC newscaster had to flag down a passing police car to get to Millbank to present the six o’clock news.

The protest  began with a 1000 strong rally in Hyde Park bringing together Backto60, Waspi and the ” We Paid In, U Pay Out” groups under a #One Voice and ” shoulder to Shoulder ” banner. Groups from as far away as Aberdeen, Cornwall, Wales, Tyne and Wear and Derby came to London to voice their anger.

It has got the backing of the Fawcett Society, the Women’s Equality Party and the SOS Initiatives  who have highlighted the desperate plight of the women , some of whom have contemplated suicide or self harm.

What was  clear at Westminster is that it is attracting support from senior people in the leadership of both the Labour Party and the Scottish Nationalist Party, the two biggest opposition groups in Westminster. John McDonnell’s office sent over a senior researcher and unless I was mistaken, Laura Alvarez, wife of Jeremy Corbyn, who keeps a low profile but I would bet will be telling the Labour leader about the strength of feeling there.

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Chris Williamson examines the Derby Waspi banner

Other Labour MPs there included Chris Williamson, the Labour MP for  Derby North;Laura Smith, shadow Cabinet Office minister and MP for Crewe and Nantwich; Battersea MP Marsha de Cordova; and a number from Scotland and the Midlands. Two prominent Scottish Nationalists, the Westminster leader Ian Blackford and Mhairi Black also pledged support. Tory MPs were noticeable by their absence.

What is clear is this issue which I fully support – I did address the rally myself on the key issues- is now going places. This weekend it made the mainstream media, the next stage must be inside the courts and Parliament itself.

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The protesters arrive at Westminster 

 

Exposed: The worldwide hypocritical stance by successive UK ministers on women’s rights and their pensions

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The logo of the convention on the elimination of discrimination against women

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A damning academic expert opinion on successive UK government’s failure to meet its international obligations to  1950s women hit by the rise in the pension age is to be presented in court soon as part of an application for a judicial review of the decision

Jackie Jones, a law professor at the University of the West England , has produced the report,  which shows that this group of women have suffered discrimination contrary to an international  convention signed by successive UK governments. It is not a legal document but it is an expert opinion.

The full brief  can be clicked on  here. AMICUS BRIEF 10 September 2018

The reports conclusion’s are stark :

 “The effect of the mechanisms in issue in this case have a discriminatory effect on women born in the 50s, adversely impacting on older women’s health, economic and social life in that the voluntary use of the mechanisms have the effect of failing to provide adequate access to pensions for women and therefore must be removed and full restitution substituted. “

Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1986 took the decision to sign up to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (known as CEDAW)  – an international treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly and now recognised by 189 countries. In 2004 Tony Blair’s government went a step further and accepted an optional protocol and  UK ministers of all parties have played an active role in its international work for many years.

The UK’s treaty obligations mean that we are signed up, as the report says, to “women’s equality within society, in both the public and private spheres, obligating States to formulate policies, laws and programmes to advance women and promote substantive equality (equality in outcome, not only equality of opportunity) as well as from refraining from actions that will put women in a worse position.

“It includes alleviating economic disadvantage as a result of persistent structural inequality and remedying past injustices that had and continue to put women in a disadvantageous position vis-à-vis men. ”

The report argues that the UK is in breach of its international treaty obligations in three main areas over the treatment of 50s women.

The rise in the pension age from 60 to 65 and then 66 for women was far more drastic than for men who  faced a one year rise in 2020 compared to a six year rise for women. The implementation of the taper which meant women had to wait longer and longer for their pension  and it was made worse by the failure of the government to inform individuals how the decision would affect them. And finally the decision targeted one particular group – those born in the 1950s in a much more drastic way than anybody else – and successive governments have failed to even consider reviewing its effects.

The report says : “The imposition of the mechanisms resulted in women born in the 50s’ access to pensions being postponed, in some cases for years, despite the fact that women born in the 50s had a life-long expectation and had been repeatedly told that they would be entitled to their State pension at 60.

“The effect of the State measures of delay in being able to access State-sponsored pensions has meant a decrease in income for women born in the 50s as well as obligating women born in the 50s to continue to work or to find employment in order to make up any shortfall in pensions. This has led to substantial financial insecurity for the women so affected.

By their actions, the State has discriminated against these women because they are women as the measures only seriously adversely affect women born in the 50s, made the economic and health position of women born in the 50s significantly worse and thereby have infringed their human rights and fundamental freedoms as proscribed by CEDAW. “

In my view the ministers involved are hypocrites. Margaret Thatcher,as Britain’s first women prime minister, deserves praise  for signing the country up to the new convention.

But then her social security secretary, John Moore, within two years started undermining the position of  women  – first by withdrawing Treasury money to the  National Insurance Fund – leading eventually to  a shortfall  of  £271 billion – this included not only pensions but the funding of maternity allowances.

Then John Major’s government took the decision to raise the pension age rather than start paying money again into the fund which would have more than covered the current £77 billion to restore pensions for the 50s women. Successive governments  including Theresa May’s either did nothing or made matters worse by raising the pension age further claiming there was no money.

Meanwhile on the international stage Britain was portraying itself as a world leader in women’s rights with ministers attending the international convention meetings.

Since 1997 when Tony Blair created the position of minister for women in the Cabinet – the following prominent women politicians have held this job. which they combine with other duties. The Labour politicians are Harriet Harman, Baroness Jay,  Patricia Hewitt,the late Tessa Jowell and  Ruth Kelly.

The Tories are Theresa May, Maria Miller, Nicky Morgan, Justine Greening,Amber Rudd and Penny Mordaunt , the current minister who is also international development secretary.

These women should be backing the case for 50s women if they have a shred  of integrity and want to live up to the ideals of a convention signed by Margaret Thatcher which commits the country to the advancement of women.

CEDAR is already planning to hold the UK to account in February for breaching its commitment to women over austerity – 86 per cent of benefits cuts fall on women.

With the judicial review of the raising of the pension age and this international pressure over the UK’s discrimination against women over benefit cuts the scene is set for a perfect storm for the UK government.