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Editorial: There is no justification for attacks on women's pensions. The fight goes on

WASPI women campaigning against the government’s bid to withhold their pensions for years beyond their expected pension age made it very clear outside the High Court that they are not giving up.

In fact, judges were reluctant to endorse the outcome of their own decision, noting that “whether the choices” (to raise the pension age for women to 65 and then 66) “were right or wrong or good or bad were not for the court” and admitting being “saddened” by the accounts of poverty and disruption to women’s lives.

The ruling that there was no sex discrimination rests on judges’ opinion that raising women’s pension age to that of men “equalises a historic asymmetry between men and women and thereby corrects historic direct discrimination against men.”

That might formally be the case, but it does not make it just in a patriarchal system that systematically discriminates against women throughout their lives. Women are still paid less than men (the gender pay gap actually rose to an 11.9 per cent disparity this year from 11.8 per cent last year).

Nor does the claim from Boris Johnson’s spokesman that the Department for Work and Pensions had effectively publicised the changes “over many years” cut much ice. Many women only found out about the changes shortly before turning 60, when they expected to be able to start claiming their pensions. 

Given Johnson’s notoriously distant relationship with the truth, few Waspi women will have put their faith in his leadership election pledge to look at women’s pension ages with “fresh vigour,” but it remains a broken promise campaigners are unlikely to let go. 

Successive governments have raided pensions and the Waspi women are not the only victims. Almost all workers have seen their pension rights attacked in recent years, while Tory projects such as universal credit have intensified the assault by removing lifelines like pension credit. As we know, the same Tory-dominated laboratory that concocted universal credit, the misnamed Centre for Social Justice, has now called for people to be made to work until they are 75.

The rationale for taking money from people who have worked all their lives was put again by the Department for Work and Pensions: “We are all living longer and we need to raise the age at which we draw the state pension to make it sustainable for now and for future generations.”

It all sounds very reasonable (although, under the impact of Tory austerity, life expectancy in Britain has actually started to fall). But it rests on a classic Tory divide-and-rule gambit that seeks to set people of working age against pensioners.

Pensions are deferred wages — and the great pensions grab has taken place alongside pay freezes and below-inflation rises that meant workers’ wages are worth up to a third less than they were when the bankers crashed our economy in 2008. Longer-term trends show that wages have fallen as a share of GDP since the beginning of the neoliberal era in the late 1970s, with a larger and larger share of output creamed off in employers’ profits.

In a world in which the 26 richest individuals own as much as the poorest half of the population (3.8 billion people) combined, and a country in which every Sunday Times Rich List confirms an ever greater bonanza for the wealthiest, claims that we cannot afford to pay decent pensions rest on the assumption that we cannot challenge the distribution of wealth.

But just as Labour’s proposal of a four-day working week with no loss of pay demonstrates that there is no reason — beyond capitalist greed — for workers not to reap the benefits of automation and technological progress, the ongoing campaign of the Waspi women shows that people know our country has the money to fix this problem.

If the courts won’t deliver for us, electing a Labour government can.

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