Hundreds of women are planning to travel to Westminster today to complain to the government and their MPs about unfair changes to their state pensions. Major changes made through successive Pensions Acts in past years mean that women born in the 1950s have seen several changes to the date at which they will receive their pensions. These changes mean that the date a woman can start to claim her pension may be quite different from that of a woman who is just a little bit older or younger. These women could legitimately think government policy on pensions is unfair and the way the changes have been communicated to them has been a shambles.
We support the WASPI women and their efforts to draw attention to the situation they find themselves in, indeed we campaigned hard against planned government increases to state pension age (SPA) in 2011. Age UK research and comments from those who contacted us directly showed that some who were affected had not been aware of the 1995 legislation (which raised state pension age) and were facing a wait of up to 6 years later than they had been expecting. As a result of our campaigning the maximum increase in state pensions age for women made by the 2011 Act was reduced from 2 years to 18 months but this still left many women in very difficult circumstances.
In 2013 the Chancellor said “I found [the policy to increase SPA] actually one of the less controversial things we have done, and yet it has probably saved more money than anything else.” The WASPI women remind us that there are losers in such radical changes to public policy, and there is no doubt that the policy has now become controversial.
The WASPI women want the government to seriously consider options to mitigate the impact of this unfair policy and have called on Pensions Minister Ros Altman to review what transitional arrangements or retrospective changes could be made to help them. The Work & Pensions Select Committee for example has suggested a cost neutral solution to allow these women to choose to take their state pension sooner than scheduled in return for lower weekly payments for the duration of their retirement.
The case the WASPI women make is particularly relevant at the moment when Sir John Cridland has been asked by the government to review state pension age, ahead of a government announcement in 2017. He will make recommendations about further increases to state pension age after 2028 early next year.
Whilst it is true that on average, we are living longer, many people face challenges to staying in work perhaps because of caring responsibilities or because good health has not kept pace with longevity, so many of us will live longer in poor health or with disabilities which make working difficult. And there are significant differences in life expectancy across the country.
Undoubtedly, unless policy changes take into account the particular needs of disadvantaged groups, increasing state pension age (and with it Pension Credit age) will have the greatest impact on those with limited financial resources in addition to their state pension.
The WASPI women are forcing the government to think about the impact of people having to wait longer for their pensions. At the very least we all need to know with certainty and with plenty of advance notice about the date that we can expect to receive our state pension. We wish them well and we may find that we are all grateful to them if they encourage government to think again before any future rises.