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How Waspi Women faced pensions sting

By Pete Madeley | Features | Published:

A ruling tomorrow will determine whether millions of women around the UK were sold short by the state when the retirement age was changed.

Waspi women took the campaign to London earlier this year

It is a landmark court case that could change the lives of thousands of women.

Tomorrow morning the High Court will announce its ruling on a judicial review into claims that the Government acted unfairly when raising the retirement age for women.

It has increased from 60 to 65, in line with men, and will rise to 66 by 2020 – but women born in the 1950s say they were not given enough time to adjust to coping with years without a state pension.

The court case was brought by lobby group Backto60, which wants to see the repayment of all the pensions that people born in the 1950s would have received if they had been able to retire earlier.

It has been backed by Birmingham’s Waspi women – Women Against State Pension Injustice – a 250-strong group with members across the Black Country, Staffordshire and Shropshire.

Waspi campaigner Bridget Green

Bridget Green, 64, from Great Barr, founded the group in 2016 after becoming alarmed at the impact the changes were having on women in the region.

“So many women have been put in a dire situation by what’s happened,” she says. “Sometimes the stories are so bad that we just sit down and cry together.

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“Some women simply don’t have enough money to live on. They have got themselves into thousands of pounds of debt because they are too proud to ask their families for help.

“We come from an era where there was no equality of pay between women and men at work. Now women are having to sell off their homes and in some cases have to attend food banks. Some are forced to continue in work despite ill health.

“It is a terrible situation and we are hopeful that tomorrow’s ruling will give as some light at the end of the tunnel.”

'Lack of warning'

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Ms Green says she went though a deep depression after she was retired from her job at the Royal Mail through ill health at the age of 62, with no access to her pension.

In 2015 the state pension age rose to 63, then to 65 in 2018. By next year it will be 66 for men and women. It will go up to 67 between 2026 and 2028, before rising to 68 between 2044 and 2046.

When do you retire?

“These initial changes have been brought forward too quickly and with a lack of any warning,” she continues.

“I was 58 when I found out that the retirement age would be pushed back so I had no time to plan. Like a lot of women, somewhere down the line you then find yourself without a job and are left thinking, ‘I’ve got so many years left before I can claim my pension, what am I going to do for money?’”

It is estimated there are 220,000 people affected by the pension changes in the West Midlands, while across the country 3.8 million have missed out financially.

The Waspi women have politicians from all sides fighting their corner, including Labour deputy leader Tom Watson. And the Liberal Democrats have pledged to push for compensation if they won a general election.

Natasha Allmark, a Lib Dem campaigner, said: “These women have worked all their life, paid their national insurance and saved for their retirement, and now have to work into their older years. Their life today is very different from the one they anticipated. The Government must act now.”

Some of the region’s WASPI women did have a recent victory to celebrate, when around 9,000 of them were made eligible for free bus and tram travel with National Express West Midlands.

Ms Green said it was “a small victory, but an important one”, and said she was hopeful of more positive news tomorrow.

The Backto60 case has argued that by raising the pension age the Department for Work and Pensions had “unlawfully discriminated against women on the grounds of age, sex, and age and sex combined” and that they were not given adequate notice in order to adjust.

They hope the court ruling will lead to them getting compensation, although ministers insist the rise in pension age was a “clearly communicated” move towards gender equality.

“The government decided more than 20 years ago that it was going to make the state pension age the same for men and women as a long-overdue move towards gender equality, and this has been clearly communicated,” a spokesperson for the DWP said.

Star comment: Will people power win once more?

Whether you agree with last week’s bombshell Supreme Court decision or not, it proved one thing – that people power can win the day.

This particular case was, of course, highly unusual and the fierce debate about whether the ruling was right or wrong continues, but it nevertheless proved that it is possible to take on the Government and win.

Tomorrow sees another landmark case, this time before the High Court.

The so-called Waspi women have fought for their rights for years after falling foul of ministerial efforts to even up the gender imbalance.

Campaigners want to be compensated for changes to the retirement age that have left many women who were born in the 1950s on the breadline.

For its part, the Government says it is simply making good on its long-term pledge for gender equality.

But there is no doubt that whatever ministers’ intentions, their changes have had a dire impact on the lives of tens of thousands of women across the country.

We hope an amicable solution can be found in the near future.

Pete Madeley

By Pete Madeley
@P_Madeley_Star

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.

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