More Equal Than Others

By: Stuart White 28-11-2019

Categories:HRMC Articles written by Managing Director, Stuart White,

You are probably aware that there is a general election currently underway in the United Kingdom.  Perhaps that ought to read ‘another election’ since this is now the third such public plebiscite in 4 years and if you add in 2 referenda, one on Scottish independence, the other on leaving the European Union, the British public might be forgiven for feeling somewhat jaded with the whole business of putting a cross in a box.

It is all the more bizarre because when you think of the UK in terms of its politics, the word ‘stable’ would be one that comes to mind,  compared to Italy, say, where they seem to change governments with the frequency that some of us change our socks.   Prior to 2011 the rule of thumb was every  5 years, unless the sitting Prime Minister chose to hold one earlier but that year saw the introduction of the Fixed Term Parliament Act, which dictated that elections could not be brought forward – they had to last the full 5 years, except under special circumstances but as far as the past 4 years are concerned that seems to be ‘a custom more honoured in the breach than in the observance’, to quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

So there they are in Britain, gearing up for another vote,  referred to as a ‘snap election’ because it has been called and prepared for in double-quick time to ensure a decision is in place well before the festive season.  And as you would expect, the politicians are out in force, promising the moon and sixpence if you will give them and their party your vote. ‘We’ll get us out of the European Union’, ‘We’ll make sure we stay in the European Union’, ‘We’ll have another vote on the European Union’, and a plethora of pledges on the Utopian land that will be created if this or that party gets into power.  

And thus into the mix  comes a promise from the Labour Party to reimburse WASPI women.  Unsure who they are?  Me too.  In the ‘80s the acronym WASP was a demographic group which stood for White Anglo-Saxon Protestant so my first thought was a mental picture of an army of middle-class white women who had been identified for a government windfall, which seemed somewhat curious in the culturally-diverse society that modern Britain is.   However, it seems that WASPIs are not necessarily WASPs, though probably some might be both.

The new acronym stands for  Women Against State Pension Inequality and refers to the  estimated 3.8 million women born in the 1950s who were adversely affected  by a change in state pension age from 60 to 65. The pension age shake-up was introduced by successive governments in 1995, 2007, and 2011 to bring women's state pension age in line with men and to account for the fact that people are both living and working for longer.  Previously women qualified for the State Pension at age 60, whereas men had to wait till 65 and it was decided that in view of equality of the sexes, combined with the  fact that on average women live  longer than men, it was decided that there would be a gradual increase in the pensionable age for women to bring them in line with their male counterparts.   Without going into the technicalities of the WASPI’s complaints,  a change in the tax relief threshold   which meant that many of Britain's poorest-paid workers were not able to claim tax relief on their pensions disadvantaged some women to the tune of around £64 (around P1000) a  year. Some of the worst affected were the 300,000 women born between December 1953 and October 1954, who were made to wait an extra 18 months before they could retire.

Cue another election promise!  Responding to the campaign, Labour jumped on that bandwagon chop chop.   Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said: "We've prepared a scheme to compensate these women for a historical wrong.  It's one that they were not been able to prepare for and for which they've had to suffer serious financial consequences for as a result.  These changes were imposed upon them by a Tory-led government. So we have a historical debt of honour to them and when we go into government we are going to fulfil that debt."

The party said the payout could amount to £58billion over five years - with individual payments averaging £15,380 running to a maximum of £31,300.

The Tories, traditionally the more fiscally-responsive party, refused to be drawn on  a compensation pledge.  In a televised election special debate on November 22, an audience member asked Boris Johnson to correct the injustice.  But the PM said that while he sympathised deeply, he could not promise to "magic up that money" for them.  He further described a Labour promise to compensate the women as "very expensive".

The interesting HR point here is the equality issue concerning pensionable age.  The  alternative would have been to reduce the retirement age for men and allow everyone to stop working at age 60.  The PC argument against this is that both men and women are living longer so why then should they not be expected to stay in work longer but logically, of course, as women live longer than men, common sense says surely then men should be allowed to retire earlier?

But we all know it doesn’t work like that, does it guys?!