One of my pledges during the election campaign was to stand up for the people of Sunderland – and that is exactly what I am doing for women affected by unfair Tory changes to state pensions.
Hundreds of thousands of women nationally, including more than 3,000 in Sunderland Central constituency, have been left facing financial hardship just because they were born on, or after, April 6, 1951.
Last week a debate was held in Westminster Hall, calling for the fair treatment of WASPI women (Women Against State Pension Inequality) – which attracted a large, and cross-party, crowd – it was standing room only.
It was a passionate debate which drew gasps from the public gallery when Pensions Minister Guy Opperman had the audacity to suggest ladies in their sixties should take up apprenticeships until retiring. How inappropriate and condescending.
It is totally unacceptable that those who have worked hard, saved all their lives and planned for retirement, should be left in this situation due to the changes introduced by the Coalition Government.
It is time for this Tory Government to listen, and act, to put right this injustice. Thankfully, at least two Conservative and seven Democratic Unionist Party MPs have so far backed our call for a fairer pension system for all.
The WASPI injustice is not, sadly, the only Government injustice we need to fight. The continuing pay freeze for public sector workers, such as firefighters, police and nurses, is also appalling – several Cabinet members have now called for this pay freeze to stop.
This freeze has lasted for seven years and, when prices are rising twice as fast as wages, the 1% cap on pay rises for these essential workers means a severe cut to their standard of living.
Average public sector wages are already £1,000 lower in real terms than they were in 2010. Everyone in Britain relies on the skills, bravery and dedication of public sector workers and it is essential that they are paid a fair wage for such vital work.
** This column by Julie Elliott was originally published in the Sunderland Echo on July 13, 2017.