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Changing women's state pension age - have they been badly treated?

PUBLISHED: 13:26 04 June 2019 | UPDATED: 18:43 05 June 2019

The Ipswich branch of Women Against State Pension Inequality mark the 'national day of local action' in Ipswich in 2017. Picture: SHELLY DARWIN

The Ipswich branch of Women Against State Pension Inequality mark the 'national day of local action' in Ipswich in 2017. Picture: SHELLY DARWIN

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This week, there is a judicial review of the process that raised women's state retirement age to 66 - threatening to plunge many into poverty. Our reporter reveals what we know so far.

Campaigners descend on Westminster in 2017. Picture: KAREN SHELDONCampaigners descend on Westminster in 2017. Picture: KAREN SHELDON

As one of the women affected by these changes, I won't pretend to be impartial.

It is not and never has been the argument that women should retire at an earlier age than men, as in the past when men retired at 65 and women at 60.

It is right that men and women should be equal... and maybe salaries will catch up with pension equality, at some point.

The review, which is taking place in the High Court on June 5 and 6, is looking at the undue haste with which the changes - to 65 and then to 66 − were introduced.

WASPI campaigners attended at event at Gressenhall. Photo: Pension Action in NorfolkWASPI campaigners attended at event at Gressenhall. Photo: Pension Action in Norfolk

So what exactly happened and just how many extra years am I having to wait for my state pension?

The first change was enshrined in The Pensions Act 1995 which provided for the State Pension Age (SPA) for women to increase from 60 to 65 over the period April 2010 to 2020. At that time, many women affected did not receive the recommended 10 years notice of the change.

This legislation was tinkered with in 2011 when the Coalition Government legislated to accelerate the latter part of this timetable, starting in April 2016 when women's SPA was 63. The increased pace meant women would hit the SPA at the age of 65 in November 2018 (not in 2020 as previously thought). Thereafter it would continue to rise (for both women and men) to 66 by October 2020.

Let's take an example - me. I was born in 1955 and until 2011, I might have expected to retire at 60... and then, surely 65, in 2020. But when the Coalition Government hit the accelerator, it meant my retirement age was pushed back to 2021, when I reach 66.

Suffolk campaigner Margaret Thompson (in the purple coat), with  WASPI members, protesting at the gates of Downing Street in 2017. Picture:Margaret ThompsonSuffolk campaigner Margaret Thompson (in the purple coat), with WASPI members, protesting at the gates of Downing Street in 2017. Picture:Margaret Thompson

The reason given was increases in life expectancy − which is not the same as quality of life. Moreover, we learned in March 2019 that projected life expectancy has fallen - down by 13 months for men and 14 months for women, compared to 2015.

They were quick to increase pension age based on increased life expectancy... not so quick to decrease it when life expectancy projections show a fall, however.

Many women born in the 1950s argue they have been hit particularly hard, with significant changes to their SPA imposed with a lack of appropriate notification. One of the campaign groups, Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) called for "fair transitional state pension arrangements," which would provide a 'bridging pension' paid from age 60 to SPA.

This would, they maintain, compensate those at risk of losing up to around £45,000.

Women across the country are facing an uncertain future over their pensions Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTOWomen across the country are facing an uncertain future over their pensions Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

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In March 2015 the Work and Pensions Select Committee concluded that "more could and should have been done" to communicate the changes.

The issue has been debated in Parliament on a number of occasions and an all Party Parliamentary Group on State Pension Inequality for Women has been set up.

It won't surprise you to learn that the Government position has not shifted. Its position being that it will "make no further changes to the pension age or pay financial redress in lieu of a pension."

In December 2018 Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd on December 17, 2018 said there would be no reversal "especially when we take into account that women who reached State Pension age in 2016 are estimated to receive more State Pension on average over their lifetime than women ever have before."

Sorry, Ms Rudd, I don't mean to selfish but what about me? I didn't reach State Pension age in 2016.

There are hundreds of thousands of women who are in dire straits because, having for most of their working lives made assumptions based on the state pension age of 60 (which was introduced in 1940), have been undermined by an over-zealous need to claw back money. You might argue it has been at the expense of those least able to afford it.

Although we know, don't we, that there will be many people who do not have to suffer financial privation when they reach retirement age. MPs get a very healthy final salary pension when/if they retire at 65.

There are, however, a number of MPs who support the women who are trying to get redress.

Meanwhile the judicial review of "matters arising from the government policy of equalisation of women's pension ages and the impact of those changes on women born in the 1950s," is listed to take place on Wednesday and Thursday this week.

The campaigning women have been encouraged by the quality of the legal team that is lined up to make their case.

Figures (researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-7405 ) show that between May 2013 and May 2018 the percentage increase in the number of women claiming out-of-work benefits has increased nationally by 219% in the over-60 age group (It was 75% for men).

In Suffolk, Norfolk and North Essex, the constituencies which exceed that average percentage increase - some by an astonishingly high amount - are Clacton (625%); Colchester (280); Great Yarmouth (518); Harwich and North Essex (460); Ipswich (270); Mid-Norfolk (340) and Waveney (450)

It is an indication of the increase in need of women aged 60 and over in that five year period and is significant in showing some of the evidence pointing to the level of impoverishment affecting some women in this age group.

I confess I do not think a return to the state pension at 60 is feasible but women deserve better than the cavalier treatment that has been meted out to them. It has almost been a throwaway measure: "Oh, I know, we'll push up women's pension age - that'll be okay."

Well it's really not okay.

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