Women hit by state pension age rise ‘can’t sleep’ as they await Court of Appeal judgement

'Lives have been obliterated,' says campaigner

Maya Oppenheim
Women's Correspondent
Tuesday 28 July 2020 11:24
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'They seem to have victimised a cohort of women': Victims of the state pension changes share their experiences

Women hit by the state pension age rise “can’t sleep and are beside themselves” as they await the Court of Appeal’s judgement on their case against the government, a leading campaigner warned.

Almost four million were affected when ministers raised the state pension age from 60 to 66 for women born after March 1950 – with experts warning they were not given sufficient notice to prepare for the overhaul.

BackTo60, a campaign group calling for women to be reimbursed for pension payments they have missed due to the changes, lost its landmark High Court battle after taking the government to court but appealed the ruling last week.

Women hit by the controversial pension age rise could potentially have to wait until the autumn for a decision to be announced.

Joanne Welch, founder of Backto60, told The Independent: “Across the UK, there are women born in the 1950s hit by the stage pension age rise who are living below the breadline, who can’t sleep and are beside themselves, wondering how they are going to cope while they wait for the judgement to be announced.

“Once the judgement is announced, we still have to get the remedy put in place. The lives of women hit by the state pension age rise have been obliterated. Women’s stories haunt me every day. I hear another story of someone telling me how they have been impacted every day.

“We are very confident about the court case. There is no doubt that this is discrimination. Living on the state pension alone means living below the breadline. It is one of the worst state pensions in the world despite us being the fifth-richest country. But women born in the 1950s aren’t even receiving this.”

Ms Welch argues the state pension age rise contravenes a United Nations treaty the UK signed up to 40 years ago and has set up a people’s tribunal dedicated to transferring the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) into domestic UK law.

The international treaty, described as an international bill of rights for women, was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979 before being ratified by 189 states in 1981.

“Discriminatory policies towards women have been able to evolve because CEDAW wasn’t transposed into UK law,” Ms Welch added. “Namely the state pension age change but other policies too.”

John Cooper QC, a human rights barrister, told The Independent he was “very excited” about the CEDAW people’s tribunal, for which he acts as counsel.

He said: “This is long overdue. The problem has been there since the ratification of CEDAW in the 1980s. Nothing has been done to amend our laws to cover equality as far as women and girls are concerned.”

The state pension age rise was accelerated in 2010 and saw women reach parity with men, at 65, in 2018.

The UN has previously said women affected by the state pension age change were at increased risk of “poverty, homelessness and financial hardship” – with many such women forced to work through the coronavirus crisis despite being at risk of severe complications from the life-threatening illness due to their age.

Dr Davina Lloyd, chair of the people’s tribunal, told The Independent women hit by the state pension age changes were substantially discriminated against on the “grounds of age and sex” and were not given “adequate notice” about the overhaul.

Dr Lloyd, the UN envoy for BackTo60, said: “Fifties women are the group of women who are statistically going to need their state pension more than others. They couldn’t build up a private pension in their own right because of having to do childcare, or working part-time, low pay and sexism.

“The government have effectively said men and women can both retire at 65 but we know that one group will get one-fifth of the other group. They should have chosen women who were in the workforce after the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act.”

Earlier in the month, The Independent reported the number of women aged 60 and over claiming universal credit and out of work benefits increased by almost five times in the last six years – with campaigners attributing this sharp rise to pension age reform.

The rise of women making claims for such benefits – which soared from 7,578 to 36,527 between 2013 and 2019 – was almost three times more than men who were aged 60 and older.

The pension age for women has gradually increased from 2010 as part of efforts to bring it in line with men’s, which had been five years higher for decades prior.

According to a parliamentary report, the UK government’s position “remains that the state pension age needed to be equalised”.

In response to a 2015 petition calling for “fair transitional state pension arrangements for 1950s women”, the UK government replied: “Regular consideration of state pension age is necessary to ensure the pensions system remains sustainable as life expectancy grows.”

They added: “The policy decision to increase women’s state pension age is designed to remove the inequality between men and women. The cost of prolonging this inequality would be several billions of pounds."

The Department for Work and Pensions would not comment while there is ongoing litigation.

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