Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex - So much for sisterhood when women’s pension age changed

Lynne Mortimer has seen her retirement age pushed back

Lynne Mortimer has seen her retirement age pushed back

There will be a number of women facing their maker sooner than they expected,” states Ann quietly.

We have been discussing her pension and the fact that she, along with many thousands of other women like her, born between 1953 and 1955, won’t be receiving a pension quite yet, writes Martin Newell.

Ann, 61, won’t receive her pension until autumn of 2020.

The situation is complex but runs roughly like this: the state pension age for women was due to rise from 60 to 65 between 2010 and 2020. But then,in 2011, the government accelerated the process. Because of this, the state pension age for women is due to go up to 65 in November 2018 and then to 66 by October 2020.

Ann was born in Essex in October of 1954. After grammar school, she spent over a decade working as a p.a in London. At 31 she gave birth to her daughter. Her husband deserted her soon after the baby was born and simply disappeared, leaving her penniless. Now, much as I have an occasional titter at those Fathers 4 Justice blokes and their clumsy Batman-style publicity pranks, many women too, get a raw deal after a marriage breakdown. Women, despite stories to the contrary, don’t always come away with the house, the car and all the money.

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Having been suddenly deserted by her husband, lost her home and now with a young baby to care for, Ann was plunged into crisis. With help from friends and family she began a teacher-training course, taking what work she could in the meantime. She has never “not worked”, she says. Nor has she ever claimed any kind of state benefits.

After qualifying as a teacher, followed by many years in that occupation, Ann believed that she would see out her working life as a teacher, In 2011, however, she was shocked to discover that she’d been employed on a zero-hours contract. She was, effectively, made redundant, with no legal redress and no payoff. It took a little while for her to realise what had happened.

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“I was devastated and I went into a short period of deep depression. Then I rallied,” says Ann. She reinvented herself as a gardener, taking on work, mostly, for older ladies. She discovered that there was more work going than she could actually do. Gardening work, however, although she enjoyed it hugely, was not as remunerative as teaching. Quite apart from the fact that Ann didn’t want to let ‘her ladies’ down, she needed to pay the bills. So she pushed herself ever harder. Then, while at work, one morning last summer, she recalled feeling strange and extremely tired. Her face went numb on one side. She found it hard to walk. Her gardening customer drove her the few streets to her home, where a friend was already phoning an ambulance.

Ann had suffered a transient stroke, almost certainly brought about, her friend bluntly told her, by her ‘working like a navvy’ when she was not far short of her 61st birthday.

As April 2016 looms, the New State Pension and the attendant new rules approach, a storm is brewing. More than 100,000 people have signed a petition challenging it. They feel very strongly that women such as Ann, who has worked all her life, have been let down by what was, in effect, a sudden goalpost-shift by the Coalition government - remember them?

As the Scots Nat. MP Mhairi Black pointed out last week, there wasn’t even a proper vote on the matter at the time. The 2011 state pensions change seems to have just been whistled through with hardly any thought about its later ramifications.

UK state pensions began in 1909. The age for unmarried women to be eligible for a pension was reduced to 60 in 1940. There were very sound reasons as to why it was decided that single working women should receive their pensions a little bit earlier than men. Physically, they wear out quicker. They bear children and are inclined to suffer osteoporosis, anaemia and all manner of other ailments less common or unknown in men.

No matter much old tosh on the subject of ageing is written in ‘Weekend Living’ sections as reality insulation for the chronically gullible - 60 is not the new 40 and never will be. 60 is not even the new 56. It’s actually the old 60, a thing which I discovered for myself while looking up from a hospital trolley at a doctor, shortly after I reached 60.

Now I don’t wish to get into the politics of this, because as an Extreme Centrist, it’s my job to dislike Mr Shiny-Face in his wellies as much as I dislike Mr Meerkat in his Lenin hat. So I would like to see an immediate all-party debate in Parliament upon how to provide interim help for women such as Ann, who currently has a long four-year-and -nine-month haul before she receives a state pension.

Too old-fashioned to sign on, too fragile to resume full-time garden work, she’s currently doing bits and bats of this and that, with occasional bail-outs from her family and friends. Minister for pensions, Ros Altmann, when asked about the pensions debacle, replied that the law was the law. She added that there was no chance of any change and that, “...the decision had been known about long enough for women to have made their own arrangements”. Sisterhood, hey? Nice one, Baroness.

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