The government changed the state pension age for millions of women born in the ’50s. But they failed to inform them for 14 years, just before many thought they were about to retire.
Women born between 1950 and 1960 were particularly affected by changes to the State Pension age. Data shows there are 354,000 such women in East Anglia. The Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) group is standing up for these women, alongside campaigners in Suffolk, Essex and Norfolk.
Imagine paying in to a pension fund all your working life, then, as the time comes to claim your pension, the fund provider tells you that it has changed its terms and you will have to contribute for another six years. It’s a nightmare scenario that, thankfully, is unlikely in the commercial world, but one which successive governments have made a reality for 3.8 million women born in the 1950s.
Pension injustice: what is the issue?
The 1995 Pensions Act increased the State Pension age (SPa) for women to 65, to bring it in line with men’s pension age. In 2011, the SPa was further increased for both sexes to 66. Equalisation of pension ages for men and women is not the issue here; it’s the fact that the Government did not act properly to ensure that the women affected knew about the changes in good time to make proper financial plans.
Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) has been campaigning for financial restitution for the lack of notice since 2015. Initially, the campaign saw this settlement as a “bridging pension” to bridge the gap between their expected pension age of 60 and the actual pension age of anywhere between 60 and 66. The settlement now looks much more likely to be compensation for failures by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).
After going through the DWP’s labyrinthine complaints process, WASPI women took the issue to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO). The Ombudsman has now concluded the initial part of its investigation, and has found the DWP guilty of maladministration in the way it failed to keep women informed.
It was not until 2009, 14 years after the 1995 changes were brought, that the DWP got in touch with a small section of the affected women. But the majority did not hear until 2012 — when many were within 18 months of their expected retirement date — that they would have to wait up to six years longer to receive their State Pension.
A devastating impact
This lack of notice has had a devastating financial and personal impact on 1950s women.
Women have taken life changing decisions based on the lack of correct information. Thinking they were within a year or two of getting their state pension, some gave up their job to care for elderly or sick relatives; others were finding work hard and decided to live on their savings while waiting what they believed would be a short time until they got their pension. Once they discovered the truth, they found that, at 60 plus, it was impossible to find new work, forcing them to deplete their retirement savings and turn to benefits for the first time in their lives. Where work has been available, it is often poorly paid, and sometimes physically demanding.
Liz, a qualified midwife, took early retirement to look after her 85-year-old mother. On discovering that she had six years to go until she got her state pension, she started night shifts at supermarkets to make up the shortfall in her income. It’s the only job she can find that fits around her caring responsibilities.
The campaign continues
The Parliamentary Ombudsman’s finding is clear: women should have been informed about these changes earlier, and it is the DWP’s fault that they did not. The investigation has two further stages to complete, but the government could step in now and pay out fair compensation to the affected women.
Sadly, that doesn’t seem likely any time soon. No DWP minister has ever agreed to meet with WASPI, and the current Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Thérèse Coffey (MP for Suffolk Coastal), is no exception. Indeed, she is actively hiding from the PHSO judgment of maladministration by her department behind a smokescreen statement, referring to the equalisation of the State Pension age rather than lack of notice provided to 1950s women.
When asked by SNP MP Joanna Cherry whether she could offer “any hope for the future—any hope that she will revisit the issue of compensation” Dr Coffey replied: “We have been through the cases, and the right of Parliament to set the pension age has been upheld, so we will not be reviewing anything to do with the state pension age in response to the WASPI campaign.”
Angela Madden, the WASPI campaign chair, said: “We will continue to push for the compensation due to the women who have suffered because of the DWP’s maladministration. MPs of all parties support us and it is time that the government did the right thing and looked now at a fair and fast compensation scheme, rather than pretending they have done nothing wrong. We will fight on until we achieve justice.”
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