Swansea East MP Carolyn Harris, who chairs the State Pension Inequality for Women, has described how thousands of Welsh women could find themselves destitute following changes to the state pension scheme (1).
The change in question relates to the 1995 Pensions Act when the government decided that the pension ages of both men and women would be equalised by 2020. Previously, women retired at 60, while men retired at 65 (2).
In 2011 state pension ages were raised at an even faster rate which means that some people born between April 1951 and 1960 will not qualify for a pension until the age of 66 (2). It is estimated that some two-and-a-half million women in the UK are affected by the situation with approximately 135,000 in Wales. The issue was debate in Parliament in February 2016 when MP’s voted against easing the transition for those affected (3).
A Department of Work and Pensions spokesman has responded to the renewed criticism by pointing out “The decision to equalise the State Pension age between men and women was made over 20 years ago and achieves a long-overdue move towards gender equality. There are no plans to change the transitional arrangements already in place.” (1) The spokesman went on to say that “Women retiring today can still expect to receive the state pension for 26 years on average – several years longer than men.” (1)
However in many quarters it is the lack of awareness raising rather that the decision which is attracting criticism (4). Previous Pensions Minister Baroness Altmann has said that that the way women born in the 1950s were told of the changes was “a massive failure in public policy” (2). Her predecessor Steve Webb has also said that it was “surprising that they were not given clearer information” (2).
Ms Harris described the seriousness of the situation as follows; “Some women are selling their homes in order to be able to survive, living off savings which are rapidly running out and I don’t think it’s fair, having in some way shape or form contributed to society all their lives,” she said.
On International Women’s Day, hundreds of women from across Wales are travelling to London to take part in a rally to highlight their concerns (1). Sisters Lesley Stubbs and Sheila Porter, 62, are part of a campaign protesting the changes.
Ms Porter, who worked in the public sector for 45 years, said she stands to lose £42,000 if she does not get her state pension until November 2019 (1). Ms Stubbs, who also worked in the public sector, said: “I don’t disagree with the equality agenda but when you’ve been faced with inequality for a period of time in your life, then to suddenly feel victimised or discriminated against now on the basis of your age” (1).
The value of pensions and the income they produce can fall as well as rise. You may get back less than you invested.