Yorkshire Post, 5 February 2016
FIVE years ago, in 2011, the Government increased the state pension age for a second time for women born in the early and mid-1950s. This was on top of the equalisation of the state pension age for men and women first announced in 1995. A “double whammy” for women now in their early 60s who thought that by now they would be looking forward to imminent retirement.
Now, of course, equality means men and women should retire at the same time, and it’s right that the pension age increases over time as people live healthier for longer.
But what I take issue with is not giving people the information they need to plan for the future, not giving enough notice of changes (the independent Turner Commission on pensions said 10 years minimum notice) and hitting the same group of women twice with hikes in their pension age. The 2011 changes to the state pension age are therefore wrong and unfair.
We won a partial concession that meant no woman would see their pension age pushed back by more than 18 months.
But I said then, and I say again now, this does not go far enough to right the wrong.
There are still 2.6 million women who have lost out as a result of the Government rewriting the rules – of whom 300,000 will have to wait 18 months to get their state pension.
Last week I caught up with Barbara Bates, who I campaigned with against these changes during the last Parliament.
The osteoarthritis affecting her wrists and thumbs when I first got to know her five years ago has now spread across her hands, in her knees, neck and right foot.
She said to me that “no Government can change the way our bodies age, and in particular those of us who started work at 15 in the 70s, a lifetime of menial and heavy jobs that are vital but un-noticed”.
And on Monday morning a constituent of mine, Margaret Cutty, phoned my office during her tea break. Margaret accepts the changes introduced in the 1990s to bring women’s pension ages up to men’s – but she is really angry about the further 2011 change which brings the total extension of her working life to six years.
Barbara and Margaret are just two examples of what we know are hundreds of thousands of cases around the country.
Analysis I have commissioned from the House of Commons Library confirms that the 300,000 suffering the maximum 18 month delay have effectively lost out on £12,000-worth of pension.
Only six in 10 women aged 55-64 have any private pension wealth, compared to eight in 10 men and for those that do, their average size of their pension pot is only 57 per cent that of their male counterparts.
And for women like Barbara or Margaret – often earning little more than the minimum wage, often with caring responsibilities, desperately trying to conserve what savings they have managed to build to give them a minimal level of security and comfort when they retire – moving the goalposts as this Government has done can have a devastating impact on their finances and life plans.
Ros Altmann, now the Pensions Minister, said in 2011 that “the Government has not given women enough time to change their plans. These women have already accepted an increase in their state pension age, but they were given time to adjust. Suddenly, these same women are being targeted again, but this time they are not being given enough notice as the changes start in just five years’ time. I believe the Government’s decision is unfair and disproportionately hits women who are now around 56-years-old”.
She was right then, and now in Government, she must do the right thing and help those women who should be looking forward to their retirement but instead are fearful for their future.