Yesterday’s High Court ruling on the equalisation of the state pension age shone a spotlight on the issues for women born in the 1950’s. We spoke to the WASPI campaign to find out more.
Yesterday the High Court ruled against two women born in the 1950s who have been affected by the Government’s decision to raise the retirement age from 60 for women to 65 – the same as men. The retirement age will rise to 66 for both genders by 2020 and to 67 by 2028. The Women Against State Pension Inequality [WASPI] campaign are one of the key groups supporting affected women. We spoke to them about how the campaign got started, what it is for and what the impact of the pension changes has been.
Workingmums.co.uk: How did the WASPI campaign come about?
WASPI campaign: The Campaign began in 2015 by five women who were affected by the State Pension increases. They started a campaign about the injustice of the way this was brought in.
WMs: What are the implications for women from the 1950’s who did not receive adequate notice about their pension changes?
WASPI: We are 3.8 million women all affected by the State Pension age increase but in many different ways. As a campaign we’re not against equalisation; we are against the way it’s been implemented which has adversely affected the women.
We were not adequately informed by the Department for Work and Pensions of the changes. This has left women little or no time to make any alternative pension arrangements. To this day many women report they received no communication whatsoever from the DWP.
Many WASPI women started work when they were 15. They have had time out of work for bringing up families, and later to look after elderly relatives or partners. Many took early retirement to provide care not knowing they would be required to work longer, for some up to an extra six years.
Their financial State Pension losses are huge, in many cases up to £46,000. Women have had to live on their retirement savings, and in many cases depend on their husbands and partners, who didn’t expect that either. WASPI women are more likely to be dependent on their State Pension than younger women. Single women who worked and saved have no-one to provide back-up in later life. We are less likely to have a full NI contribution record than men and therefore less likely to qualify for a full State Pension. The NI contributions required for a full State Pension were increased from 30 to 35 years in 2016 which meant that women who thought they had paid sufficient contributions found that they didn’t.
WMs: How has it affected their lives in terms of their financial independence, their difficulties finding work, their health?
WASPI: Women report they are struggling to carry on working in the jobs they have been doing due to health issues and find little support from their employers. We hear of women being depressed and relying on painkillers to enable them to get to work and keep their jobs.
Some are finding it difficult to find work in later life and find the job centre humiliating and demeaning. Some report having to change the kind of work they do because they are unable to continue in their jobs.
The loss of financial independence is felt very keenly. Women feel let down and betrayed and anxiety about their future and how they will manage is something we hear regularly.
WMs: Are there any women who still don’t know about the changes?
WASPI: There are still women who are unaware. We are a Facebook based campaign with 106,000 supporters. However many women of our generation don’t do social media. Many have just accepted the injustice and think there is nothing to be done. We rely on friends and family sharing the information with them.
WMs: What do you want the government to do?
WASPI: We are lobbying the Government to provide a bridging pension between our original State Pension age and our new one, to see us through the transition. It shouldn’t be means tested, and there should be compensation for women who have by now reached their State Pension age but have been disadvantaged.
WMs: Is there anything employers could do, for instance, in terms of being more understanding of the related health/caring etc. issues, offering more good quality flexible options, etc?
WASPI: Being aware of the issues for women as they get older is a step towards greater understanding. Menopause and the issues of arthritis and other ailments which affect women in later life all add to changes being required in workplaces to help women continue to work into later life. A working life MOT, which checks how they are doing and allows for adjustments and modifications would be a significant step. A recognition of the physical changes that affect us would help.
WMs: How are you going to take things forward with this government?
WASPI: WASPI are not a political campaign however we seek genuine cross-party support and continue to meet with representatives from all the major parties. Boris Johnson stated he would look again at our issue, and we will be pressing for this to happen.
Meanwhile thousands of women have made complaints of Maladministration to the Department of Work and Pensions about the lack of notice we received, which we hope will ultimately be dealt with by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.
WMs: What advice would you give to women now in their 50’s and younger with regard to preparing for retirement?
WASPI: Pay into a private pension as soon as you are able. Check regularly your National Insurance contributions record, and never take anything for granted.
WMs: How does the situation for WASPI women affect the workplace in terms of not being able to help out with the care of grandchildren or facing pension problems because they have been caring for their grandchildren?
WASPI: WASPI women feel very keenly how the changes to their State Pension age have affected their own financial position and how much time is available to them to offer childcare or spend time with their grandchildren. Some families rely on grandparents providing childcare, and some will feel compromised about working themselves or supporting their own children to work.
WMs: Does there need to be more intergenerational work on these issues since the links between the gender pay gap, caring responsibilities, the gender pension gap and those that lie behind the WASPI campaign are linked?
WASPI: Most definitely. Working life for young people today, especially women is a very different landscape to the one that we had. We are pleased for that. There is no intergenerational argument for WASPI women. We want the best for our children and wider families, and they want the best for us too. Nevertheless, women have not achieved equality yet and there is still much work to be done to ensure parents are more able to share the responsibilities and that women’s financial independence isn’t compromised.
Picture credit: WASPI campaign