Pension change with sting in its tail for women

There's going to be a loud buzz at Westminster
There's going to be a loud buzz at Westminster

There’s a loud buzz coming from every corner of the country. It’s on social media, the TV and every MP will be well aware of it.

And as it’s about to swarm Westminster today at noon for a national demonstration, that buzz is getting louder.

The Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) campaign will descend on Parliament today in response to changes that affect when they get their pensions.

As well as WASPI representatives from across the country, over 70 MPs plus Baroness Joan Bakewell and Glenys Kinnock are coming out in support.

The WASPI campaign mobilised last year after more women born in the 1950s discovered they would have to wait longer for their state pension.

It’s the result of pensions legislation changing over the years, bringing the age at which men and women receive their pension into line and taking account of longer life expectances.

But it is not the equal playing field women are quibbling with, it’s the lack of notice.

At least two million women have had their pension age delayed, meaning some will be 66 before they get their pension – after expecting it at 60.

For these women, the change will mean working longer, relying on their husbands or partners, or facing financial hardship.

But they are not taking it lying down. For more than 12 months, WASPI has been attracting support from women born in the 1950s and has become a powerful pressure group.

Local sub groups have been set up across the UK with activists lobbying their MPs and spreading the word any way they can.

It’s had many successes, including an online petition which attracted almost 200,000 signatures, and it’s encouraged four Parliamentary debates.

It aims to have “fair, transitional arrangements” for those affected by the rise in the national retirement age.

In Scotland, women are very active, with groups in the Borders, Lanarkshire, Dumfries and Galloway, Falkirk, Glasgow and Livingston all registered on the WASPI website.

Lorna Binnie, from Falkirk, got involved in the campaign early on.

As chairwoman of Falkirk Trades Union Council, she is no stranger to activism.

Co-ordinated by Lorna, Falkirk Area WASPI has 108 members on its Facebook page and has met local MP John McNally.

“I’m turning 60 in October this year,” said Lorna, “so I got on board when this campaign started last year.

“I enjoy social media so I was keen to support the campaign, tweet, and raise awareness.

“I’m also a divorcee so there is that impact too.

“I am still working and am in good health, but the big thing is the lack of notice.

“ The majority of women I have spoken to say they were not aware of these changes.

“The fact is women of our generation didn’t work the way women do now. They may not have worked at all, or they may have worked part-time or in between raising their children or looking after elderly parents.

“In that way, women didn’t have the same opportunity to build up an occupational pension.

“So 1950s women think this is unfair. It’s terrible as many are now struggling and physically tired.”

For Lorna and others, being part of WASPI has been immensely empowering.

She said: “I feel very strongly about it and am hopeful something will happen.

“This campaign has been uplifting and dignified.

“But the women in this campaign are tenacious and they are strong.”

Lorelei Welsh, from Biggar, is a member of the South Lanarkshire group. Aged 61, her life has been deeply affected by the change.

After working for most of her life and with 43 years of National Insurance contributions, mum-of-two Lorelei took early retirement at 59 after suffering from stress but, as she turned 60, her husband Tom suffered a stroke.

She said: “I’m now a full-time carer for my husband so can’t work, so we are living on his state pension and his work pension.

“I found out at 58 that I wouldn’t get my pension until 64, then last year I heard it would be 66.

“It’s Victorian to rely on your husband’s income, and my lifestyle is totally different. I was not notified about this.

“I don’t care what the Government says, if I had received this information, I would have remembered. The majority of people I have spoken to didn’t know; they were gobsmacked and are angry about it.”

The Department of Work and Pensions said it sent out 1.2 million letters in 1995 when the decision was first taken to equalise pensions and a further five million between 2011 and 2013.

Anne Potter (61) is co-ordinator of the Glasgow and Lanarkshire WASPI group which has 80 members.

She said: “I never received anything officially saying my pension age had changed, I had to go looking for the information.

“It’s very complicated but my employer first told me I would be around 62 before getting my pension.

“When the Government speeded everything up, I then learned I would be 66.

“It’s frustrating and makes you angry and that’s why I got involved with WASPI – to try to bring about change.”

How WASPI has flown higher

Women Against State Pension Inequality started when five ordinary women got together last year to fight what they believed was an injustice for hundreds of thousands of women.

Anne Keen, Linda Philips, sisters Marion and Doreen Smulders and Celia Johnson were all personally affected.

WASPI was conceived in April 2015 and, prior to the 2015 General Election, attended local election debates, taking part in radio interviews, writing and meeting MPs, contacting newspapers, posting on social media and more.

The group’s focus was and is to raise awareness about the changes to the State Pension Age and how it affects women born in the 1950s.

There has since been four Parliamentary debates that have added more pressure on the Government.

The CrowdJustice campaign reached its monetary target within three days to fund initial legal research and this is ongoing.

The WASPI Facebook page has over 34,500 ‘likes’, and there are local campaign groups all over the UK.

An online petition attracted 193,185 signatures and an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) has been formed.