Thousands of 1950s WASPI women, including a delegation from Pembrokeshire, arrived at Parliament Square on March 8, to protest about the impact of a raised state pension age for women from 60 to 66.
Many of these women take issue with the way the state pension age changes were communicated - with the majority arguing they were not provided with the notice they needed and many, had no letter or no notice at all.
So on International Women’s Day 2023, thousands of women from across various campaign groups including 1950s Women of Wales, Waspi 2018, Modern Day Suffragettes, We Paid In You Pay Out, Waspi Scotland, Waspi Campaign swarmed upon London to be seen and be heard; along with supporters and representatives from Unison Cymru and Unison nationally.
Kay Clarke, one of the Organisers, from the Vale of Glamorgan and founding member of 1950s WoW (Women of Wales) and beyond, stood next to the Millicent Garret Fawcett Statue, a memorial to commemorate the campaigner for women’s suffrage, and delivered an opening speech to the crowd saying:
“It’s taken a lot for us to come here today through the snow and ice, especially as most of us are fast approaching 70 years of age. However, we are all here to express our utter contempt towards the trusted representatives who sit daily in that building [the House of Commons], and pick and choose the fate of people like you and me. We all know what they’ve done to the women born in the 1950s, and the 1960s as we later found out”.
“We’ve been robbed. We’ve been seen as an easy target to focus on, in order for this Government to enforce its austerity measures to save money. It was nothing to do with equalisation, as stated by previous Tory Chancellor George Osbourne”.
Kay Clarke went on to say that “We will only be guaranteed a fair reply from this Government when they find a cure for human nature!”
Local Organiser of the Pembrokeshire & Carmarthen West group Jackie Gilderdale said she and everyone remain frustrated at what they perceive as a lack of response from the Government on the matter. Rishi Sunak was invited to meet with the women today, but “like always, chose to ignore us.” The issue was not even brought up during Prime Minister’s Questions, which was infuriating as it’s one of the biggest women’s campaigns in living history and the rally held on International Women’s Day.
Jackie went on to say that Jeremy Corbyn MP met with the women outside Parliament and to date he and John Mc Donnell MP are the only politicians to put a fully costed proposal on the table, to resolve this issue. On behalf of the local group and the 1950s Women of Wales she has written to Sir Kier Starmer on six separate occasions asking him to reinstate that proposal, but has not had any response.
Jackie Gilderdale said that many women were completely shocked when they found out. Even at the end of 2022, a local lady who was planning to retire from Withybush hospital told Jackie that she’d been thinking about all the wonderful things that she was going to do when she retired, like go to the library, read, enjoy her time with her family and look after her grandchildren.
“She was six weeks off her 60th birthday,” Jackie said. “She had no idea she wouldn’t be getting her state pension for another six years, until we got chatting. A sum of money she had factored into her retirement income. Plans had to change and she withdrew her application to retire and had to keep working, even though she has her own health challenges to manage in a physical job.”
“There are 3.6 million women impacted across the country and over 15,000 of them are across the two Pembrokeshire constituencies.
“Research has found that nearly one in three WASPI women across the country have struggled to pay energy bills this winter, with 27 per cent falling into debt; and since the start of this campaign over 220,000 1950s women have died and will never see their state pension, or any potential compensation. To date these deaths have saved the Government approximately £10,560,000,000 and we know via a previous freedom of information request, that this government pilfered the NI fund, to offset the national debt.”
The adverse weather saw any 1000s of purple umbrellas adorn Parliament Square, a colour which has come to be associated with the women’s rights and suffragette movement.
Others came with signs with slogans commonly used by 1950s-born women, including: “Fair and fast compensation”, “We paid in, you pay out”, and “We want our pensions now”.
A substantial number of campaigners stood on the main road near Parliament Square, outside the House of Commons, holding up traffic as they held up posters, sang personally written songs and chanted slogans.
Some stood for a quieter moment of reflection next to the Millicent Fawcett statue, and others spoke about their personal experiences with other women in their situation.
Several 1950s-born women also shared their thoughts ahead of the scheduled march.
Jackie said, “Thousands of women are risking their health and safety by travelling from all over the UK to show just how angry they are at the way they have been treated. Our coach from Pembrokeshire left Fishguard at 4.45am for the long journey, but the women were full of song, resilience and on a mission to get justice done”. One lady even baked WASPI cakes and made treat bags for everyone on the coach.
Jackie went on to say: “this Government must stop burying their heads in bureaucratic sand, admit that a moral injustice has devastated lives and offer redress for what has been done”.
“We completely agree men and women should retire at the same age. But there was no gradual increase! We were not even afforded the courtesy of a written warning!” Multiple current research programmes show that life expectancy is in reverse, so the state pension age should actually be reduced and not increased further”.
On March 1, Delyth Jewell Plaid Cymru MS put a question forward to the Counsel General asking him:
“What legal advice has the Counsel General provided to the Minister for Social Justice regarding the steps the Welsh Government can take to assist women who were born in the 1950s that were refused their pensions?”
Delyth went on to say that:-
Jackie and Kay Clarke have responded to Delyth Jewell to thank her for this very pertinent question and have asked to meet with her and Counsel General, Mick Antoniw MS to discuss the next legal step forward on behalf of all 1950s and 60s women of Wales.