The state pension age for women rose between 2010 and 2018, reaching 65 in November last year. Now, the state pension age is rising for both men and women, with this set to reach 66 in October 2020. The group Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) are calling for fair transitional state pension arrangements for all WASPI women, following the changes by the 1995 and 2011 Pension Acts. Debbie de Spon, the Communications Director for the WASPI campaign and local group coordinator for Norfolk, spoke to Express.co.uk in an exclusive interview.s
“As a campaign, we’re not opposed to equalisation,” she explains. “We think it’s quite fair that men and women retire at the same age.
“It’s just the way it was introduced that has caused such a problem and created so many difficulties for women who were working at a time when the working environment was completely different.”
She thinks back to the time when the nearly 3.8 million women born in the 1950s began work, often in their mid-teenage years.
“Lots of us didn’t have any further education opportunities and that was just how it was,” the WASPI campaigner continues.
“Women worked. We were always paid less than men, and still are of course,” she says of the gender pay gap.
The campaigner points out different expectations of the time, such as how many women would take on the unpaid role of being a main carer for children in the home.
Whatever their paid and unpaid working life looked like, “all of us expected we would be receiving our state pension at 60,” Mrs de Spon says.
Many of these women are entirely dependent on their state pension, she adds, as, in the past, those working part-time weren’t able to join a company pension scheme for many years.
In fact, according to The Guardian, it was between 1986 and 1989 when UK employers gradually withdrew the ban on pension scheme entry for part-timers.
Mrs de Spon told Express.co.uk about the impact these different factors had had on women: “Women weren’t afforded the same opportunities to accrue a workplace pension so many WASPI women are entirely dependent on their state pension – which is very low anyway.”
The WASPI Communications Director says that some women were told about the changes to the state pension at short notice, with some already having decided to retire, with the assumption that it was only a matter of months until they reach state pension age.
“And then, when they’ve made that decision, they’ve then got a letter out of the blue that said, ‘Guess what, you’ve got to work for an extra three, four, five or six years’, and they had had no notice of that whatsoever,” she says.
She thinks about its impact on the financial independence for women, and adds: “The rug was pulled out from under their feet.”
Some WASPI women have had to rely on savings in order to support themselves until they reach state pension age, she says.
“Lots of women report that they’ve lost their financial independence.”
For WASPI, it’s not the changes to the state pension age that’s the issue, it’s how the process was handled.
“All of us have been affected by the state pension age changes,” she says of those born both in the 1950s and later on.
“The difference is that we just weren’t told.
“Nobody told us, and nobody gave us the opportunity to make alternative arrangements, even if that had been possible.”
Mrs de Spon, who has spent four years of her life as a WASPI campaigner, adds: “It’s a huge financial loss for women. It’s taken away their independence.”
Reentering the world of work as “older women” has proved difficult too.
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“If you can imagine going for an interview where there are people in their 40s looking bright as a button and you stagger in on your arthritic leg,” she says.
“Lots of women of our age don’t use computers, they’re not on Facebook, God forbid they’re on Twitter, and so as WASPI women some of us are grasping these things.”
It’s not just 1950s women that WASPI is concerned about.
Mrs de Spon continues: “We’re worried for our own families. We know that if it can happen to us, it can happen to you.”
The impact, she says, is widely felt – in couples, and among families and friends.
Some friends who are slightly older may have reached their state pension age, but the changes mean that others are yet to be able to claim their state pension.
The lack of income puts some WASPI women in a position where they can’t afford to do the same things as their peers who are just a few years older, she says.
“We don’t resent our friends but it’s just not fair.
“You know the unfairness is just highlighted every day of our lives now, which is, you know we’re all wishing our lives away.
“We’re all saying, ‘Ah in two years time I’ll get my pension. Then I can start doing the things that I hoped I’d be able to do’.”
In the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s March 2016 report on Communicating State Pension age increases, the Committee concluded that: “We will never know how many women did not know, or could not be reasonably expected to know, that their state pension age was increasing.
“What is apparent with hindsight is that previous governments could have done a lot better in communicating the changes.
“Well into this decade far too many affected women were unaware of the equalisation of state pension age at 65 legislated for in 1995.
“While the last and current Governments have done more to communicate state pension age changes than their predecessors, this has been too little too late for many women, especially given increases in the state pension age have been accelerated at relatively short notice.
“Many thousands of women justifiably feel aggrieved.”
The 2011 Pension Act was amended so the maximum increase was 18 months, costing £1.1 billion according to the government.
WASPI argue that these were not transitional arrangements, but rather an amendment to the Act, which affected both men and women.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson has said: “The government decided more than 20 years ago that it was going to make the State Pension age the same for men and women as a long-overdue move towards gender equality, and this has been clearly communicated.
“People are living longer so we need to raise the age at which all of us can draw a State Pension so it is sustainable now and for future generations.”
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