Nic Cicutti: Waspi in-fighting needs to stop

Nic Cicutti

Many years ago, when I was in my late teens and an ardent trade unionist, I recall being introduced to the delights of the “compositing meeting”.

Every year, hundreds of branches of our union would send motions for discussion at its annual conference. Many of the motions were on the same subject and expressed analogous sentiments.

Which is where compositing came in. The day before the conference was due to start, delegates with proposals they wished to see discussed by the full conference would meet to try to identify what they had in common with others proposing similar motions.

Horse-trading would ensue, with proponents of motion A merging their version with backers of motion B, those of motion C and so on.

The challenge was agreeing which demands to drop from your own motion in order to group together as many branches as possible behind one set of proposals, without watering down the final composited version so that it became meaningless waffle.

The end result was a compromise, to be sure. There was always the possibility both the more extreme element and the more moderate sides of the argument would be disappointed with the outcome. But at least it allowed a topic to be discussed and a way forward to be agreed – offering the potential to win the argument more widely on the conference floor.

I have been pondering on the virtues of compositing for the past two weeks, ever since reading the ongoing debate in Money Marketing, where various Women Against State Pension Inequality factions have gatecrashed the website and posted scores of comments on their campaign below articles.

Factions falling out

I may be confused but, from what I can make out, there are now at least two separate groupings competing in this area. One is the original Waspi, which wants women born on or after 6 April 1951 to be given  a “bridging” pension to cover the gap from when the women turn 60 until they reach the new state pension age.

They have rejected as insufficient a range of alternatives put forward by politicians (including from the Labour party as well as the Work and Pensions select committee) that would go part-way to meeting the financial problems many women will face as a result of the changes announced in 2011.

Then there is a more moderate grouping: Waspi Voice. This appears to be a clearing house for a range of different ideas as to how to take the campaign forward, including, 63 Is The New 60, where women born between April 1953 and April 1960 would all have a state pension age of 63. Those born after that would have to wait until 66.

If push came to shove, I would personally not be desperately keen on this last proposal, if only for the selfish reason that someone close to me was born in the first week of May 1960.

She would have to wait three years longer to receive her state pension, by virtue of being born five weeks later than someone else who could retire at 63.

Ironically, she and other female friends in their late 50s who are variously affected by the change in state pension ages would rather see something that helps as many women as possible, even if some of them do not get everything they would like to have.

With campaigners falling out with each other, turning down proposals that do not meet every dot, dash and comma of their original aspirations, what is being missed is the fact every year this internecine row drags on between activists themselves, the Government is let off the hook.

And by 2023, of course, the issue will be irrelevant anyway.

“Every year this internecine row drags on between activists themselves, the Government is let off the hook.”

Fighting the good fight 

That would be a tragedy. We have a situation where Labour, Scottish National Party and Liberal Democrat politicians are prepared to support women who have only recently discovered they will not receive a pension at the age they expected.

Some Conservative MPs are also highly sympathetic, as is former pensions minister Ros Altmann, who had the unenviable role of arguing against Waspis when in office but has since backed elements of their case.

What is really needed is a spirit of compromise where, for the greater good, one set of proposals is agreed that stands the best chance of success.

It may be the case that some of the Waspis will not like it but it is better to see a measure that helps the overwhelming majority – at least to some extent – than nothing at all in place, in which case everyone loses out.

Another thing that needs to take place is more grown-up discussion between politicians themselves. Right now it looks like each political faction is seeking to score cheap points against each other, simultaneously professing their solidarity with the core of the Waspi argument while lamenting the way the “other side” is not on board over this or that issue. Take the recent row on whether to amend the Pensions Schemes Bill, for example.

We need someone to do some serious compositing. Perhaps it is time for Altmann to dust off her campaigner’s mantle again.

Nic Cicutti can be contacted at nic@inspiredmoney.co.uk