Half a million women are asking the Government why they are waiting up to six years longer for their state pension.
In their working life they paid National Insurance contributions expecting to get their pension at the age of 60, an age fixed in 1940 at five years younger than men.
Then in 1995 the Government set out a timetable to equalise the pension age for men and women at 65. It fixed a start date 15 years ahead in April 2010 and phased in the change slowly so only from April 2020 women born in April 1955 or later would get their state pension at 65.
The change was politically sensitive – it had been postponed once by John Major’s government – and the women affected, then aged 45 at most, were not warned about it by the Department of Social Security. Even the newspapers largely ignored the change, confining it to a paragraph buried in the finance pages. In 1995, the year 2020 seemed a long time away.
A tough timetable for women
In 2007, the Blair Government decided that state pension age for men and women would rise to 66 but there would be no change until 2024. Then, in 2011, the Coalition Government decided to make it happen much more quickly.
After challenges in and out of Parliament, it finally set the new timetable that was tough on women and broke a pledge that there would be no change until after 2020. Half a million women had their pension age postponed much further. Women born March 6, 1953 would reach pension age at 63. But those born six months later on November 6, 1953 would have to wait another two years to age 65. For those born September 6, 1954 it will be 66. So those 18 months younger have to wait another three years to get their pension.
Women were not informed of the changes
Lin Phillips was born in May 1954. She will be nearly 65 and eight months when she gets her pension in January 2020 – nearly six years after she originally expected it in May last year when she was 60.
It was only in 2011 when she read about the new plans that she realised her state pension age had already been raised to 64. And was shocked to discover it would be pushed a further eighteen months into the future to age 65½.
Lyn said: "I’m an intelligent well-informed woman. I didn’t know about the 1995 changes. It’s such a life-changing thing. The Government should have written to us all."
Altogether half a million women face an extra delay of more than a year and 300,000 of those, like Lin, face an extra wait of 18 months. That delay will cost them as much as £12,000 each in lost state pension. Replacing that is very difficult. Few of them have company pensions to tide them over as many firms excluded women and part-timers from their schemes. About half of women aged 55 to 64 do not work. Many of them are caring for relatives and at that age finding even a part-time or low paid job is very hard.
The changes are unfair to women
Men’s pension age is rising too. But no man will face a delay of more than a year. And of course none has already had to wait five years longer than they were expecting. Women were given six years notice of an eighteen month delay while men got at least eight years notice of a one year delay.
That sex discrimination was first pointed out in 2011 by Ros Altmann, then Director General of Saga, who called for a slower timetable and better information for those affected. Now Baroness Altmann, Ros sits in the House of Lords as Pensions Minister. She was unavailable for comment when Saga Magazine contacted the Department for Work and Pensions. However, a spokeswoman said: "The last Government made the decision to bring in changes to the State Pension age, following extensive debates in both Houses of Parliament … Any further changes or compensation could cost billions of pounds."
The man who piloted the changes through Parliament in 2011, Baroness Altmann’s predecessor Steve Webb, now admits he may have gone too far. Asked at a conference last autumn for his one regret in his time as Pensions Minister, he told the delegates: "I pushed too hard and too fast on raising women’s state pension age."
New Pensions Minister urged to act
Lin hopes that the new Minister may make changes. She and four others have formed a campaign group Women Against State Pension Age Increases – WASPI. She says the fair thing would be to give this group of 500,000 women some sort of transitional payment to cover the pension-less years they were not expecting.
Lin says she is not in hardship but she does have to work and now has a part-time sales job. ‘I am married but I absolutely need the money. If I’d been written to in 1995, I would definitely have done something about it, changed my plans.’
Others are not so lucky
Wendy has worked since she was 13. A year ago she lost a good job in a café in Manchester when it changed hands. Aged 61 she thought she would get her pension. But she discovered it was not now due until November 2016 when she will be 63½. She says she had no notification of the delay. Because she is under pension age she has to look for work to get any benefits.
"I had worked for 48 years but had to go on a two week course on employability. After a year looking for work I got transferred to the work programme run by a private firm. I have to go three days a week to do supervised jobsearch. But at 62 it is not easy to find work," explains Wendy.
For this she gets £65 a week and some of her rent paid: "Not all of it so I am building up arrears. Luckily I have exceptional neighbours. We are a community."
Like other jobseekers, Wendy faces the constant fear that if she does not jump promptly through every hoop she will face a sanction – losing the small amount she gets for four or 13 weeks.
When she does get her pension in November next year it should be more than £150 a week and all her rent and council tax will be paid. But for now she has to live on less than half that and look for work she will probably never get.
A legal challenge
WASPI accepts that pension age must rise as people live longer. But Lin Phillips says it is not fair that women were not informed personally in 1995 or in 2011. And WASPI has a sting in its tail. The group is getting a barrister’s opinion on the possibility of a legal challenge to the Government’s plans. It raised the £6,000 for that in just under four days on a crowdfunding website. If the lawyers say they have a case, they are confident they can raise enough to take the challenge to court.
Visit WASPI here.
Find out how much state pension you will receive with the Government's state pension calculator.