The chancellor’s last Budget before Brexit extended generosity to many, but made no mention at all of the plight of the four million women in financial hardship due to the recent seismic shifts in the state pension age.
As Hammond took a seat at the end of his speech, some of the 80 or so Women Against State Pension Inequality members watching and waiting for an acknowledgement in the Commons’ public gallery banged on the glass screen.
According to press reports, some MPs turned and applauded these modern-day suffragettes as they chanted “shame on you” and waved their banners.
The Waspi campaign is not going away. Indeed, it appears so unseemly and unnecessary that its well-documented case still seems to get ignored.
The legislation that equalised the state pension age for men and women at the age of 65 and provided for further increases to that common retirement age was passed a long time ago in 1995.
The legislation to accelerate that increase in the common retirement age was passed in 2011. It was only at this later stage, when the increases were brought forward, that many of those affected by the 1995 changes actually found out about them for the first time. The Waspi campaign grew out of the sense of bewilderment and unease accompanying that realisation.
The obvious problem is that the original changes to the retirement age were simply not communicated effectively.
That lack of communication left many with little or no time to change their retirement plans, restricting the choices available to a whole generation of women as they reached their senior years.
This is what needs to be urgently addressed. The changes to the state pension age were debated by parliament over a long period of time and were planned to take effect many decades after the legislation was passed.
That is exactly what you would expect; the ship of state does not need to turn on a sixpence where pension matters are concerned.
The savings made as a result have clearly been substantial and the public purse will receive the expected benefits of that in future years. But given the amounts involved – both to the state and individuals – and the importance of them to the wellbeing of our mutual economy, surely it would have made sense back in 1995 for the government to have embarked on a comprehensive communication programme to ensure all those affected understood what was happening and why.
For a tiny fraction of the savings being made, surely each of those involved could have been sent a letter with a second-class stamp to explain the changes to them?
Such relatively negligible expense would have at least allowed those able to amend their retirement plans to do so, and would have gone a long way towards generating a timely national debate about how those most vulnerable might be properly protected.
Steve Bee is director at Jargonfree Benefits