WASPI stirs a hornets’ nest over state pension changes
Mariana Robinson, a former Oban resident and a founding member and campaigner for Women Against State Pension Inequalities, explains why she is fighting for justice
A HUGE injustice has been done to a small cohort of women in the UK born in the 1950s with late changes to their expected state pension date.
A group of five plucky, ordinary women severely affected by the changes started a campaign to fight back and asked for transitional arrangements to be put in place.
WASPI – an apt acronym for Women Against State Pension Inequality – has galvanised into action to bring to public attention the iniquitous way in which 1950s women have been betrayed by successive governments. I am one of those betrayed women.
No- one disputes that equalisation of age is necessary between men and women, but it is the acceleration and underhand way in which this has been executed, without proper transitional arrangements or notice, which is causing real hardship and inequality.
We’ve been fobbed off by our MPs with ‘ we’ve had to make changes under EU law’. That is not true, as Barbara Keeley MP proved in great detail during one of four cross-party debates on this topic.
Equalisation is desirable but each member country can make up its own timetable for this, or not at all. It is the speed with which this has been done in the UK, using an unfair timetable of transition that has a disproportionate effect in 1950s women compared to other groups.
I was never informed about the changes in the 1995 Pensions Act, but a friend in Oban alerted me to a short piece he’d read in The Times, so I telephoned the Department for Work and Pensions(DWP). I was informed that my pension date had been changed from 60 to 62.
No- one received a letter about these changes until 14 years afterwards and then not everyone was informed. Radio 4’s Money
box presenter, Paul Lewis, has been delving into the detail after requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
I was divorced in 1996 and have cared 24/ 7 for my severely disabled son all his life, but in around 2002 I asked for a pension forecast because I wanted to know if I had sufficient NI contributions for my SP (state pension). The forecast made no mention of the age changes to 62. Since 1940, the SPA for women had always been 60. I have worked since 1971 and kept up a part-time secretarial job when my son was born, but when he was 18 and went to special school, I retrained as an artist because the onset of computers meant secretarial work was drying up.
In 2006, I spent my life savings and took out a 10-year fixed rate mortgage to provide me with business premises while converting part of the property for my autistic son to have a place to live when he finished college, in the knowledge that I would retire in February 2016 at age 62. I would then be able to close the business, sell my home to pay off the mortgage debt and convert the studio space into living accommodation for myself, next door to my son so I could continue to oversee his care while he had a measure of independence.
Tragically, my son died suddenly from a brain aneurysm in 2009 just before I had completed the flat for him. Despite the grief at suddenly losing my only child at the age of 25, and suffering a small stroke myself, I still had a 10-year business plan to stick to.
In 2009, I checked the government pension service website for an online forecast because I had heard from friends that in order to qualify for the much-hyped flatrate state pension, one would need 35 rather than 30 years National Insurance contributions. Again, no letter sent by the DWP about the change, even though I was in my late fifties.
As well as confirming the NI change, I was devastated to find out that I couldn’t retire until January 6, 2018, at almost 64. The website at the time was still saying women get their state pension at age 60. I thought the DWP was wrong so I telephoned. No, that date was correct but they didn’t know how much pension I would get, as they had not yet been informed by the government as to whether I would fall into the new flat-rate pension rules or not by this new date. It was all very worrying and confusing.
To compound matters, in 2011 the coalition government decided to speed up the equalisation process from 2020 to 2018, so I requested another forecast in 2012. This forecast said my SPA date would now be November 2019. This is a full five years and nine months longer than the 2014 date I had in mind for all of my working life and I only learned of this next change when I was 59 years old.
When I started work, George Osborne and David Cameron were still in nappies.
Because no-one had had any notice, the then coalition pensions minister, Steve Webb, managed to secure a reprieve of up to six months, but he has since admitted that he was ‘incorrectly briefed’ about the unfair effects of the changes on this group of 1950s women.
The new pensions minister, Ros Altmann, is now following government policy, even though she said this transition was unfair before the heady days of moving to the Upper House.
Huge discrepancies in the new timetable made some women wait longer than others and ‘if that were not bad enough, the increases in pensionable age for women born in 1953 and 1954 became markedly worse….’ (Ian Blackford, MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber).
I’m one of these women, born in February 1954. This slight reprieve put my SPA back to July 2019 at 65 years and five months.
Pensions are a contract between an individual and the government, and I feel it has broken its contractual responsibilities. I have paid my NI stamps for more than 40 years. The table above explains the discrepancies more clearly than words.
A school friend born just seven months earlier than me has a delay to 63 years eight months – a full year and nine months earlier than me. Where is the fairness in that?
Looking at it the other way, someone born five years later than me in 1959 has a delay to 66, just seven months longer than me but with the benefit of much more notice to make financial changes in her life.
It is the lack of notice and unfair transition that has now put me in a very difficult position with my mortgage. I have tried several building societies, banks and mortgage brokers, but I cannot extend my 10-year mortgage because I’m too old and I don’t earn enough under the tighter rules. I’m trapped between pension rules and new policy on tightening up on lending. If I sell the business premises I have no work and no income for three and a half years, and if I sell my home to pay off the debt, I don’t have sufficient left to buy locally in order to work. I am also suffering from ill-health, but that’s another story.
In a meeting with my MP to discuss this dilemma, he was delighted to tell me I would qualify for the new flat-rate pension of £155.65 per week which was at least £ 8 more than I would get on the old system. But I retorted that £ 8 per week equals £416 per year whereas the delay in my pension date means I lose out overall by £40,000.
The parliamentary undersecretary of state for pensions, Shailesh Vara, said that women were treated equally, enjoyed subsidised child care and had the same rights to equal pay and conditions as men. But that’s today’s women.
My generation of women didn’t have those benefits. We brought up our own children, were denied pension rights in the workplace and many, like me, were divorced before equal occupational pension settlements came into force.
Life was very different in the workplace in the late 1960s and 1970s and women were not treated as equals. We are a generation who help with care for grandchildren and elderly relatives, as well as working.
I urge anyone reading this article to get a written state pension forecast from the DWP. Don’t assume that because you may have had one change to the date, that there haven’t been others you don’t know about.
Join WASPI on Facebook for information and support, and please sign their parliamentary petition on this issue or see your MP.
There are many women out there in their late fifties who are still assuming that they will get their state pension at 60, especially those who don’t have access to, or are unable to use, modern technology and social media. Many will be shocked to find out that they won’t get a penny until they are 66 or older.
If it wasn’t for the charms of Parsley, the Oban ambassador cat sending a Facebook message to jerry, the ambassador cat for St Briavels in Gloucestershire, then this complicated explanation of the way in which 1950s women have been robbed of their state pensions may never have been aired.
Disgruntled cats across the UK are having to wait up to six years longer for their owners to retire from working all day in order to provide them with a warm home out of the rain and cuddles, not to mention the economic effects on cats and assumed affordability of prawns and delicious Oban scallops in retirement.