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

The Oban Times - - News -

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.

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