I was thinking today about what it takes to be a people’s champion, and my thoughts took me to Betty Jeffery a feisty 76 year old in a wheelchair, who does small bore rifle shooting as a hobby. When a woman attempted to steal her handbag in the street Betty administered a sharp right hook and saw off her attacker. She looks like a champion when up against it.The parents of two year old Faye Burdett who lost their little girl to Meningococcal b, and who chose to release a picture of the effects of this awful disease to raise awareness of a campaign for vaccination of all children. They looked like champions in the face of awful sadness.
The five women who chose to stand up and fight against the escalation of the State Pension Age to bring it in line with that of men, are they champions? I have to express a self interest here because I am one of the women born in the 1950’s who had their pension age raised from 60 to 65, and then increased a second time to 66, without adequate notification or proper consideration of the effect it would have.
The WASPI women started a crowd funding page to seek legal advice, and then set up an online petition which as I write has 154,000 signatures on it. Many women of our generation gave up work to look after elderly relatives or partners and now find it increasingly difficult to find work to finance these extra years. They are a generation who had little or no work place pensions, or pension rights for that matter, and who were historically paid less than their male counterparts, lost their jobs when having children and have provided the majority of the care in the ‘Caring Community’ we live in.
Many had physically tiring jobs in hospitals, schools and factories and are now struggling with ill health, caring responsibilities and/or child care of grandchildren. Hundreds of thousands of them have decades of National Insurance Contributions behind them and are being asked now to work on and wait up to six extra years in order to qualify. The speed of change and lack of notice has left them unprepared or with insufficient time to make any further pension preparations. WASPI argue that while equalising the pension age of men and women is desirable the means to achieve this has been mishandled and merely creates a second inequality.
Needless to say the fallout from this argument has been immense. The WASPI founders have, with little or no funding steered a disparate group of women (and some supportive men) through Facebook rage, Twitter backlash other online hostilities. The Government has told us to claim benefits, get jobs. In the various bays of calm shelter there’s been enormous support from MPs on all sides, commentators, journalists and bloggers, as well as the 50’s women around the country, which brings them and us to a third debate being held tomorrow in the House of Commons followed by a vote. It’ll be lively. I wish them well.
So a champion doesn’t look like anything in particular, but in their heart they have a burning sense of doing what’s right and not considering personal pain. I hope I have that should I be called on.