Last week in parliament we debated how to equalise the state pension age for men and women. The UK Government’s dreadful handling of this change has been very unfair to women born between April 6, 1951 and the early 1960s – with those born in the mid-50s worst affected. Not only is their retirement age being raised to 66, but it’s happening over a very short period of time.
The transitional protections promised by previous administrations are now being reneged upon, leaving some women with a few years’ years notice that they will have to wait a further 18 months before being able to draw their state pension.
This is causing huge distress and anxiety for many women – creating a sudden gap between the money they need to live and the pension arrangements they thought would cover it. It also flies in the face of the Pensions Commission’s recommendation that at least 15 years’ notice should be given for major changes to the state pension age.
My SNP colleagues and I recognise that the state pension age must increase over time. Thankfully people are living longer than ever and that of course means that working lives need to be extended too. And eventually women and men should retire at the same age – that’s only fair too.
But this change needs to be made fairly and over time. Some other EU countries are phasing in equalisation up to 2040 to ensure no-one loses out. Here, a whole generation of women are being cheated. Many of them have spent a lifetime working, often in low-paid occupations which have poor private pensions, and they have paid their stamp all their lives.
Thousands of local women are being hit by these changes. Here are two examples.
Wilma is the youngest of three sisters – born in 1955. She will not get her pension until she turns 65 as a result of the 1995 Finance Act. She knew this from the end of the 90s and tried to plan. Then, recently, she was told her retirement age had been pushed back to 66 with no time to plan for that extra year.
Andrea gave up her job in August 2009, just before reaching 56, with the expectation that she would work freelance until she reached 60 and received her state pension.
In September 2010, she found out she wouldn’t get the state pension until the age of 63 years and seven months. This was buried in a pension forecast she had requested. To this day she has never received official notification from the Government of that change. Three months after her 58th birthday she did receive notice that things had got even worse – now her retirement had been put off to 64 years and nine months.
The Tory coalition made these extra cuts in women’s pension in 2012 for one reason only. To save money. The raid on pension funds was yet another example of their austerity programme. No wonder people like Wilma and Andrea feel cheated and robbed – as I said in parliament they are being made to pay for a financial crisis not of their making. Parliament voted unanimously last week to look again at how these changes are being made, with the opposition parties united and the Government abstaining. Now we must keep the pressure on the Government to bring in transitional arrangements that prevent a generation of women being victimised.
WASPI (Women against State Pension Inequality) has been fighting for equalisation to take place in a way that doesn’t cheat people. Find out more on their Facebook page.
Tommy Sheppard is SNP MP for Edinburgh East