Blog: Support WASPI, Support State Pension Equality

by Jeanette Smith, UNISON Hampshire Local Government branch

There have been a number of misunderstandings about the increase in women’s state pension arrangements (SPA). It has been said they were given 2 year’s notice of this change – they weren’t. Some women were expecting their pension in 2014. The first time they heard that they wouldn’t was in 2010 when they requested a pension forecast from DWP. At that point they discovered SPA had increased to 63 years and 10 months as a result of legislation passed in 1995. This was a huge shock as most women in low paid jobs had made planned well for retirement at 60. To find out this was not possible was devastating.

Then in 2011 there was another shock. Despite a government promise of no further increases, another 18 months was added to many SPA’s. Only then did Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) write to these women of the changes, so it rose again to 65 years 6 months with very little notice. In fact, it rose without the statutory notice period that the DWP itself has set for notification of any major changes like this. In 2002 the Turner Commission recommended at least a 10 year notification period – a view shared by respected pensions expert Paul Lewis and SAGA.

These are not private pensions that are subject to the fluctuations of the free market; these women are talking about a contract between them and the State, a contract to provide dignity in old age. It’s a contract they have fulfilled by working and paying into the system but which the state has reneged on. As former Pensions Minister Ros Altmann noted, the goalposts have been moved and they have had the rug pulled from under them. Not only that but the qualifying years have been increased from 30 to 35.
The Bonkers Pension table has been created to show how ludicrous this is. If a woman is born between 6th January 1953 and 5th February 1953 her retirement was 6th November 2015. If her birthday falls between is 6th February 1953 and the 5th June 1953 her retirement was between 6th January 2016 and 6th Nov 2016. From 6th June 1953, her pension was due on 6th March 2017. Women born between 1953 and 1954 suffer the most under these arrangements; being born in the same year can lead up to a 3 year difference in when you get your pension, and a 2 year difference in date of birth can lead you getting your pension 6 years later.

Bonkers Pension Table

As Baroness Altmann also pointed out, many women have taken career breaks to raise families and have returned to part-time work so they have been unable to build up their pension pots in the same way as men. Many women have been victims of the gender pay gap, which we are now told won’t be closed for another 43 years.

Despite promises of a better state pension in the future under the new flat-rate system, it now turns out that far fewer people will be eligible than we have been led to believe. Those whose occupational pensions were contracted out will have their state pension reduced. According to another pensions expert Marc Hoffman of This is Money the new system has created a situation where many approaching state pension age are likely to miss out on the headline flat rate. He says that figures obtained under Freedom of Information request suggests that just 45% of those retiring between 2016 and 2020 will qualify for the full flat-rate pension. How many people are aware of that? In any case the promise of jam tomorrow does nothing for those who need help today.

These women have been sneered at and told “you wanted equality, now get on with it”. Although there were good cultural and social reasons for originally setting the SPA for men at 65 and women at 60, I don’t know of any woman in this situation who objects to its equalisation now. It’s the manner and speed of its implementation that’s the problem.

Awareness has been raised through individuals and Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI). More and more influential people have [now] spoken out against this injustice. There have been 5 debates in the House of Commons, and an unprecedented number of petitions signed by tens of thousands of people – and a march on 8th March 2017, which coincided with  International Women’s Day.

Women believed they would have some small measure of financial security when they reached the age of 60. Now many are facing poverty and real hardship. Some have had to sell their family homes. Some divorced women settlements were based on a retirement age of 60. Many are claiming JSA and ESA. They miss out on age-related benefits including winter fuel allowance and the bus pass. Many – for those who managed to save – are forced to fall back on money saved for retirement because they have been denied their pensions.

The Government argues that it has already made transitional arrangements for these women. It hasn’t. Not going as far as the Government wanted when reneging on a promise not to raise the SPA further is not a transitional arrangement, it is yet another blow to women already struggling to cope.

This isn’t a party political issue – it hits women of all parties and none. UNISON nationally have donated £30,000 to the campaign and are asking branches to donate to their local groups . It’s a fairness and justice issue.

WASPI are not asking for special treatment but for fair treatment.