Former pensions minister Ros Altmann has revealed she fought behind the scenes for the Women Against State Pension Inequality (Waspi) cause when in government; a stance that “jeopardised” her position and was met with “total intransigence”.
Speaking to FTAdviser, she predicted the government's “absolute determination” not to grant the campaign any concessions would continue.
Her comments came after it was revealed there had been a split in the Waspi leadership, leaving the future of the campaign uncertain.
Baroness Altmann, who left government in July shortly after Theresa May became prime minister, said women born in the 1950s had been hit hard by the changes to the state pension age.
She claimed the government had not adequately communicated the changes to the state pension, either those made in the 1995 Act, or the 2011 amendments.
In the spring, the Work and Pensions select committee branded communication of changes to the state pension so bad “neither the winners nor losers yet know who they are”, while Which research found many of those approaching retirement are confused about aspects of the new state pension, ahead of its April launch.
Baroness Altmann’s expressions of sympathy with Waspi’s stance did not sit well in the Department of Work & Pensions or the Conservative Party, she claimed.
“My department and the whips were unhappy that I continued to express sympathy for those affected and tried to engage with them to see if we could find a route forward, both before and after the Work and Pensions Select Committee hearings and parliamentary debates,” she said.
“I tried so hard and in fact jeopardised my own position by refusing to just accept that the government was right on this matter, because I don’t believe these women have been treated fairly,” she said.
There was “absolute determination” not to grant the Waspi campaign any further concessions, after the initial 2011 concession of reducing the maximum wait time for pensions from two years to 18 months, she said.
She said she tried “many different strands of work” to find a solution, but said “there was no hint of any recognition” from government that the matter was important.
“Therefore, I can only assume that, sadly, the government will continue to stonewall and delay any engagement, will string things out and perhaps assumes that by 2020 all these ladies will be getting some state pension so the issue will have gone away,” she said.
The Department for Work & Pensions declined to respond to Baroness Altmann’s comments.
Linda Phillips, one of the five founders of the Waspi campaign, confirmed that Baroness Altmann had met with them when she was pensions minister. Ms Phillips said the minister had warned them that, while she would have liked to help, “she wasn’t in a position to do so”.