Simon Read: Women are still set to be unfairly hit by raising the retirement age

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The Independent Online

There was a small victory for pension campaigners this week when the Government backtracked slightly on plans to raise the state pension age.

The Department for Work and Pensions announced that a plan to raise the state pension age to 66 in 2020 will now be delayed by six months from April 2020 to October 2020. That's important to the 33,000 women who had been facing an extra two-year wait for their pension under the original plans.

But it still leaves women born between 6 March and 5 April 1954 facing having to work for an extra 18 months than they had expected.

And it's estimated that they'll still end up with £7,500 less than if they had been able to claim the state pension when they had been told they would be eligible. Sure, they have a few years to make some adjustments to their finances; to cope with the change in dates and anticipated income, but adequate pension planning needs to be done over a lifetime of work, not mucked about with when you're approaching retirement.

But worse is the fact that many of these woman may not simply be able to work for another 18 months to make up for the lost state pension. Many, for instance, have been busy raising families rather than concentrating on their career and so would find it nigh-on impossible to find work now, with unemployment soaring.

There are also those women who have physically demanding jobs, points out Chris Ball, chief executive of Taen, The Age and Employment Network.

"For these women to be asked to wait for their pension without making adequate provision to allow them to change roles and ease down in later life is harsh at best," he says.

"While some good employers recognise this and have made flexible working and retirement available, there are huge numbers of jobs where this is just not possible and, with part-time roles in free-fall, people will be asking: 'Are you really expecting us to work until we drop?'"

It's hard to quibble with the economic and financial need to raise retirement ages, but it should not be done without regard to the negative effect it will have on some. It's clearly unfair that 33,000 women will end up penalised, simply because of when they were born.

This week's tinkering with the pension age proposals is a step in the right direction, but the Government should recognise the unfairness of the process and ensured there is no injustice.

E nergy companies are making £125 profit per customer in a year. Of course, the firms have a right to make a profit, but that figure sounds close to profiteering. Bear in mind that the recent round of price hikes has seen the average dual-fuel bill increase by £175. The average annual gas and electricity charge has now soared to £1,345. That's enough to push more people closer to being in fuel poverty, when 10 per cent of their income goes towards paying for home energy. And once people are in fuel poverty, they can be forced to make the stark choice between eating and heating their home.

Ofgem plans to reform the energy market, starting with simpler charges so we can more easily compare rival deals. The regulator's chief, Alistair Buchanan, conceded that consumers don't have confidence that the market is truly competitive. He's right. The big energy companies sometimes appear to be acting as a cartel, raising prices together. We need to see proper competition return to gas and electricity prices.

Energy: Now could be the time to switch

In just five months the profit margins for energy companies have climbed from £15 per customer in June, to a staggering £125 per customer, per year – an increase of more than 700 per cent. "If bill payers ever needed encouragement to make a stand against the energy giants then now they have it and it's going to be up to the individual to make a difference to their own energy bills," said Scott Byrom, energy manager at MoneySupermarket.

He said that, despite the recent round of price hikes, the majority of UK households are staying loyal to their energy provider. More than half of households have never switched and are therefore paying over the odds for their gas and electricity.

"Those who aren't shopping around for the best deal, are simply burning money," says Byrom. The cheapest online tariff available is nPower's Sign Online 24, with annual bills of £1,050 on average.

Alternatively, you can fix prices to safeguard against future increases with deals from EDF Energy (Fix for 2012) or OVO Energy (New Energy Fixed), although the latter is not available in all regions.

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