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WASPI: the modern-day suffragists fighting for equality in Moray

Ellaine Muscroft, centre, Sheila Forbe, left and Jennifer Matheson to the right
Ellaine Muscroft, centre, Sheila Forbe, left and Jennifer Matheson to the right

Ellaine Muscroft isn’t somebody who sits on her hands when faced with a problem.

On the contrary, the Moray WASPI Supporters Group member – that’s Women Against State Pension Inequality – has thrown herself into the fight to tackle what she regards as the scandal of her state pension being withheld by the government.

There are millions of others in her position across Britain: those affected by controversial changes to the pension system, which were implemented by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat administration at Westminster in 2011.

The first increase in women’s state pension age was introduced by the Pensions Act in 1995, which legislated for their SPA to rise from 60 to 65 slowly between 2010 and 2020.

However, women born in the 1950s were not given sufficient – or any – notice of the proposals until at least 2009, 14 years after the original legislation.

And they believe they have had the rug pulled from under their feet when the coalition government fast-tracked the new system during its first year in office.

Those in their ranks argue they have worked assiduously throughout their lives in the expectation they would gain their pension when they turned 60. Now though, many of them have been told to wait four, five or even six years.

They are furious at what they regard as a betrayal, or breach of contract. And they are not prepared to accept the situation without using all the tools at their disposal to gain recompense.

Ms Muscroft is one of an estimated 3.8m women across Britain – more than 350,000 of them in Scotland – who has lost out. And her story testifies to the problems which she and so many others in her situation are facing.

She told the Press and Journal: “When my husband experienced a dense stroke five years ago, I learned in an instant what it was like to become a full-time carer of a needy adult.

“I had no choice but to give up work, aged 58. We lived on disability allowance and so I patiently waited for my pension at 60.

“Now, at 63 years of age, I am still waiting.”

“My state pension would ensure specialist neurophysiotherapy, which is not possible on the NHS, to aid his recovery. It would provide respite for him, for me, and for our two daughters.

“It would provide a better quality of life for our whole family. But now it has been taken away from us, unfairly, and yet we are just expected to be stoical and accept the situation.

“Well sorry, but that is not going to happen. When I started my working life, I entered into a contract, one which I consider to have been unlawfully breached.

I never, at any time, received any notice of intention – written or otherwise – that my pension would not be forthcoming at 60.

“I lived at the same address for 27 years, but no DWP (Department of Work and Pensions) letters ever found me. So I consider the DWP is guilty of maladministration. Millions of us feel the same way.

“And, although we have been frustrated by the reluctance of Westminster and the DWP to sort this out, we have a message for them: We are not going anywhere. We are in this for the long haul.”

She and her colleagues have gained backing from many sources, including the Scottish National Party, the Labour Party, the trade union movement and a few individual Conservative MPs such as Moray member, Douglas Ross.

Yet, despite a campaign which has been likened to that of the Suffragists – a policy of peaceful persistence – there is no sign of the issue being addressed at Westminster.

The former Conservative pensions minister, Steve Webb, has claimed: “The 2011 Act, which I was responsible for, did not add any more than 18 months to people’s pension age.

“But when we wrote to people, this was the first time they had heard about the changes [dating back to 1995].

“So, instead of me writing to tell them there was an extra year on their pension age, we were effectively telling them they had six extra years added, which, of course, is why they were outraged.”

There are WASPI groups active across the north and north east of Scotland, whose members had been planning to protest at last weekend’s scheduled Conservative Party conference in Aberdeen until it was cancelled because of the weather.

But other demonstrations have been arranged across the region to commemorate International Women’s Day [on March 8] and Ellaine Muscroft will be continuing to highlight the matter with a passion.

She added: “We have been accused of taking money out of the mouths of our children and we were even told that we should join apprenticeship schemes – when we are in our 60s – which was utterly ridiculous.

“I think there are some politicians who are basically waiting for us to sit down and shut up – or even die – although we have received support from plenty of others which is encouraging.

“Sadly, though, Theresa May is not among them. When she became Prime Minister [in 2016], her initial response was very encouraging.

“But now there is just tumbleweed rolling across Downing Street. So we have to look elsewhere to raise the profile and momentum of the campaign.”

However, despite her campaigning, and the mounting anger from across the WASPI group and many politicians, it appears there is no sign of a shift in the existing policy.

A DWP spokesman said yesterday: “The decision to equalise the State Pension age between men and women was made over 20 years ago and achieves a long-overdue move towards gender equality.

“There are no plans to change the transitional arrangements already in place.

“Women retiring today can still expect to receive the state pension for 26 years on average – several years longer than men.”

These are not words which will placate the WASPI campaigners, whose endeavours are set to gain momentum in the coming months.

As Ms Muscroft said: “We have made progress in highlighting the inequality we are facing. And we are not stopping now.”

Further information on the WASPI groups can be found here: