In March, which has been declared Women’s History Month, it is time to consider the complaints of women born in the 1950s who expected to claim their UK State pension at the age of 60, only to find that they now have to work until the age of 66. Have they been unfairly treated? Some 3.5 million women are affected.
The Government has stated, starting with a report in 1993, that as people are living longer the costs of pension years for women (which could amount to 40% of their lives) was unaffordable. It is a question of generational fairness too as the cost of pensions falls on the younger workers who are contributing into the system. Thus in 1995 the Pensions Act stated that, from 2010, the pension age for women would be raised to 65, the same as the age for men.
Historically, before it was changed in 1940, men and women both had the same pension qualifying age, at 65. The reason for the change in 1940 was that the extra allowance for married men had had to wait until the wife turned 65, so by making the women qualify at 60, more households got the extra married allowance. This was still in the era when working wives was not the norm, so households were likely to be more dependent on the earnings of the male.
The change envisaged by the 1995 legislation was specifically tapered, from April 2010 onwards, starting with those born in April 2050 having to work only one month extra up until qualifying for pension, with each monthly cohort behind them having to work more months until pension age of both men and women would be equal by 2020. At the time of the legislation there was not much protest but as the first dates of implementation were reached in 2010, the Coalition (of Conservatives with the LibDems) announced that:
“We will…hold a review to set the date at which the state pension age starts to rise to 66, although it will not be sooner than 2016 for men and 2020 for women.”
But this was counter to EU rules which allowed the pension equalisation at 2020 but not further discrimination between men and women. So, in the Pensions Bill of 2011, Women’s state pension age would rise to 65 by November 2018 and then men and women’s pension age would rise together to reach 66 by 5 April 2020. Five million men and women would face a later state pension date. But while men would have to wait at most another year, 500,000 women would have to wait longer than a year.
The wait for 300,000 would be 18 months or more and 33,000 would have to wait for two years. There were many complaints from these women. So, in response, the Government ruled it would cap the delay for women at 18 months. It kept the rise to 65 by November 2018. But would then stretch out the transition from age 65 to 66 for both men and women by an extra six months. It would be completed in October 2020. The concession would cost £1.1 billion (at 2010/11 prices). The Pensions Bill became law in November 2011.
The 50s women crowdfunded for a Judicial Review of this law which went to court in 2019. The media summary of this states:
“The essence of the Claimants’ case was that there had been discrimination because the legislation had been intended to equalise the position of women and men, but it had not had that effect because it had exacerbated pre-existing inequalities suffered by women when compared with men. Further, the Claimants argue that there was inadequate notice given of these changes, which frustrated their legitimate expectations and was procedurally unfair.”
The judges’ summary runs through the arguments of sex discrimination with reference to EU Equality law but finds no basis, nor did they agree that not enough notice of the change was given. Their conclusion was:
“The Court was saddened by the stories contained in the Claimants’ evidence. But the Court’s role was limited. There was no basis for concluding that the policy choices reflected in the legislation were not open to government. In any event they were approved by Parliament. The wider issues raised by the Claimants about whether the choices were right or wrong or good or bad were not for the Court. They were for members of the public and their elected representatives.”
Meanwhile, their elected representatives, nearly all Labour, were promoting an Early Day motion in Parliament:
- That this House welcomes the positive interventions from many Hon. Members from across the House on behalf of women born in the 1950s who have lost their pensions; welcomes the equalisation of retirement ages between women and men;
- recalls that women born in the 1950s were subject to discriminatory employment and pension laws;
- recognises that this included being excluded from some pensions schemes;
- recognises that this had the negative effect for them of losing the opportunity to have the same level of pension as their partner or spouse;
- further recognises that this has had the consequence of women in this position never being able to have equal pensions to men;
- further notes that this has negatively and profoundly impacted on them including increased poverty, deteriorating health and homelessness;
- notes that at least 3.8 million women have been impacted by the loss of their pensions from the age of 60 in three separate age hikes;
- and calls on the Government to enact a temporary special measure as permitted by international law to provide restitution to women born in the 1950s who have lost their pensions from the age of 60 because of the impact of the rise in retirement age.”
The motion was not supported by a majority, so there has been no further compensation.
However, there is further activity by human rights lawyers in a People’s Tribunal presided over by Dr Jocelynne Scutt in July 2022, and her report concludes:
“The singling out of 1950s born women to bear the full brunt of the “equalisation” plan raising State Pension Age Accrual from 60 to 65 for women is irrefutably discrimination against 1950s born women on grounds of age, sex and potentially marital status.”
She also explains that:
“The proposition here (State Pension Age increases) was that this was an ‘equalising’ measure – yet it ignored equalities principles.
“This measure was and remains one of substantive inequality imposed upon 1950s born women”
The report calls for the only legal, ethical and moral redress for 50s women, which is full restitution.
And my view, as a woman who now claims the State pension? I think the argument that women were not sufficiently informed is just sad. Surely most women in UK are literate enough to follow information that will concern their household finances. I knew about this from 1993!
However, the view that many of these women were affected by discrimination in employment and pensions through most of their working lives is true. The gender pay gap in the UK is still more than 5%. Many women still have to take career breaks to raise children, and this is not improving because the cost of childcare is forcing even more mothers away from the workplace.
But compensation for just the 50s women will not remedy this.
The rules for receiving the full State pension are 35 years of contribution. Years as a full-time student are credited as contribution. But even so a woman who started work at 20, but who needed 10 years off to raise family, but who also unfortunately then became a carer for three years would struggle to achieve the full 35 years. Thus, the contribution rule is inherently unfair to women.
However, rather than tinker with contribution calculations, what the UK national welfare system does is to provide the safety net of “pension credit” for those households which fall below minimum income needed, for whatever reason.
Thus, I would prefer to shift the argument to whether pension credit is enough, and for women, more money for carers and more affordable places for child-care would be the most important steps for equalizing income.
Further note: There is currently much political unrest in France where the government have put forward plans to postpone the age at which citizens can qualify for the State pension from 62 to 64.