Solent Waspi campaigners hit back at Ann Widdecombe’s ‘ignorant’ comments on pension changes

TENACIOUS campaigners from the Solent area have slammed former Tory minister Ann Widdecombe for her 'ignorant' comments on pensions equality, penning her a condemnatory letter.

By Fiona Callingham
Friday, 5th April 2019, 5:59 pm
Updated Friday, 5th April 2019, 6:02 pm
Part of the Solent Waspi group protesting in London last summer
Part of the Solent Waspi group protesting in London last summer

Members of Solent and Isle of Wight Women Against State Pension Inequality (Waspi) group took the opportunity to deliver their message while Ms Widdecombe was in Southampton for her one-woman show, Strictly Ann.

The group is part of a nationwide campaign for fair transitional arrangements for women born in the 1950s who have had as much as six years added to their state pension age with little, or no, notice.

They were disappointed when Ms Widdecombe, 71, who started the process of equalising pension ages for men and women in the 1990s, dismissed the plight of Waspi women during a BBC television programme last month.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Ann Widdecombe at Oaklands Catholic School and Sixth Form College in 2015 Picture: Barry Zee

In a conversation with 60-year-old Devon Waspi member Eve Wignall she described the campaigners as 'unreasonable, self-indulgent and entitled.'

Appearing on Inside Out South-West Ms Widdecombe said: 'We sent out five million darn letters. How do you think the state is going to afford year in-year out, for us to retire five years younger than all the rest of the world is retiring?

'When the age was set after the First World War you were darn lucky if you got to 75. We’ve now got 15,000 centenarians in this country.

'I’m sorry I’m going to be blunt here, it is unreasonable, self-indulgent and entitled to think that you can retire at the same age with a much longer life expectancy at the state’s expense.

'I’m not saddling the current generation with that and nor should you want to.'

In their letter the group said: 'The opinions you expressed so forthrightly on the programme revealed a surprising lack of understanding about the lives of many women who were born in the 1950s. And although you used the collective “we’ve been caught by this”, you have not been caught at all.

'You are not in our cohort and you received your state pension at 60. Unlike many of us, you are also fortunate enough to have a good occupational pension.'

Solent Waspi co-ordinator, Shelagh Simmons, added: 'We hope our letter will make Ann Widdecombe reconsider her remarks. As one of the ministers charged with steering through the 1995 state pension age legislation, it is not surprising that she should robustly defend her record. However, she clearly has no insight into what our lives have been like.'

They were backed by Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan. 'Ann Widdecombe’s unhelpful comments are a kick in the teeth for Waspi women, her perception that the women affected have lived a privileged life is insulting and incorrect,' he said.

It is thought 3.8 million women nationally and overseas, with around 116,000 in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, have been affected by the state pension changes.