Group shocked after MP stops them campaigning at Havant fair

Solent Women Against State Pension Inequality outside the Older Persons Information Fair organised by Havant MP Alan Mak.
Solent Women Against State Pension Inequality outside the Older Persons Information Fair organised by Havant MP Alan Mak.

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WOMEN campaigning state pensions were left shocked after being told they could not hand out leaflets in a fair.

The Solent branch of Women Against State Pension Inequality (Waspi) wanted to attend the Older Persons Information Fair organised this month by Havant Tory MP Alan Mak.

But the group say they were told by Mr Mak he could not give exhibition space to a ‘politically-focused’ group.

Instead, they were told they could stand outside to handout leaflets.

In an email, Mr Mak added: ‘We have been informed that your campaign group may be organising a protest at the fair with the intention of disrupting the event.’

Shelagh Simmons, who is a Solent Waspi co-ordinator along with Carolyne Jacobs, said: ‘We were extremely shocked and upset to receive this from Mr Mak’s office.

‘Our attendance was never intended to be a protest, or demonstration, but to raise awareness about the Waspi issue.

‘We have no idea why he thought we would be protesting, or demonstrating, but we suspect he just didn’t want us there.

‘It would have been much better if he had been honest from the start instead of using lack of space as a reason.

‘That was clearly simply an excuse.’

Solent Waspi had wanted to use the fair to raise awareness of the thousands of women who are having rules surrounding their state pensions changed - meaning some will have to wait longer to receive the pension.

Earlier this year, they attended a similar event hosted by then Portsmouth South Tory MP Flick Drummond.

Shelagh added: ‘Sadly, we continue to meet women who are in serious difficulty and don’t understand the full implications of the state pension age rises, or what they can do to get support.

‘Many don’t use social media so it’s crucial that we are able to meet them in person. We thought an Older Persons’ Information Fair would be the ideal place to do that.’

Mr Mak said he offered to meet the group on an alternative day to discuss their campaigns and denied they were banned from the event.

He said: ‘Waspi protestors were not banned from the fair, and were in fact allowed into the event as visitors.

‘However, as this is a very popular community event, which is always oversubscribed, I do not allow politically-focused campaign groups to exhibit or give out leaflets inside, which I told Waspi in advance.

‘We allowed the protestors to distribute leaflets outside, and I offered to meet them which they turned down.

‘It’s disappointing that protesters from outside of my constituency came to take advantage of a community event for my constituents.

‘In addition, politically-neutral civil servants from the Work and Pensions Department were at the fair to provide impartial advice on pensions and welfare benefits.’