Campaign over women’s retirement age gathers pace in pension protest

“I have been deprived of my pension and I feel like I have completely lost control of my future."

The words of Christine Powell, who is one of thousands of women across the Black Country and Staffordshire who were born in the 1950s and say they have been left out of pocket by raises in the age at which they qualify for the state pension.

They argue they have been unjustly caught up in Government attempts to cut the mounting costs of paying for the state pension and equalise the pension age for men and women.

The problems stem from successive increases in the state pension age for women, which will be raised to 65 by 2018 and 66 two years later.

"The changes were brought in so quickly that we have been unexpectedly left unable to claim a pension and with no time to prepare for the future,” Mrs Powell said.

The issue has become one that politicians – particularly those of a Labour persuasion – have been keen to highlight during the current General Election campaign.

Its awareness has been raised by members of the WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) campaign group, which in the last two years has grown to have more than 64,000 supporters in the UK.

It is an issue that goes back decades.

Back in the mid-1990s there was widespread support for a move to equalise the age at which men and women received the state pension.

For more than 60 years men received their pension at 65 and women at 60, but as women had a longer life expectancy than men campaigners argued that the difference was unfair.

The 1995 State Pensions Act drew up a 10-year timetable to equalise the age at which men and women could draw their state pension.

The plan was to raise the qualifying age for women to 65 and to phase in that change from 2010 to 2020.

But the coalition government of 2010 accelerated that timetable, arguing that the state pension was becoming increasingly unaffordable.

So in 2011 it was announced the new qualifying age of 65 for women was bought forward to 2018, while the qualifying age for men and women would be raised to 66 by October 2020.

According to figures from the House of Commons library, 68,660 women pensioners in the Black Country and Staffordshire are negatively affected by the 2011 Act.

Carolyn Harris, Labour’s Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for WASPI, has been campaigning against the changes since she was first elected as an MP in 2015.

Together with Labour's Dudley North parliamentary candidate Ian Austin, she met with campaigners in Dudley earlier this week.

“I’ve seen women who have been the backbone of this country, who have worked all their lives," she said.

“In some cases they have resorted to going to foodbanks. Some have lost their homes.

“They have been cheated out of their pensions and quite understandably many of them don’t know where to turn.

“This is a gross injustice that we have to solve.”

Mr Austin has raised the issue on several occasions with ministers and has vowed to continue to fight against the ‘unfair changes’ if he is re-elected to Parliament.

Mrs Powell, aged 61, from Sedgley, was 59 when she was forced to take time off work from her job as a health advisor due to illness.

As her health deteriorated she was dismissed from her job on the grounds of capability and now says she feels she has been put in an ‘impossible position’.

“I was expecting to retire at 60 but the changes meant I would have to work to 66,” she explained.

“I feel I put a lot into the country, working my whole life in a caring profession.

“Through no fault of my own I can’t work anymore, but with no way of making an income I am forced to rely on benefits, which I think makes me a drain on the state.

“Like so many women I made no provision for having to work an extra six years.”

Lynn Tranah, founder of the WASPI group for Cannock, Stafford and Wolverhampton, has also been hit by the changes.

She says she was so enraged by the impact of the act on her retirement plans that at the age of 61 she dressed up as a suffragette and attended her first ever protest march at last year’s Conservative Party conference in Birmingham.

“I had the expectation that I could finish work and receive my state pension only to find that I have to wait another six years,” she said.

“There are a lack of jobs available for women who were born in the 1950s and don’t have work. What are we supposed to do?

“We are not against the equalisation of pensions. All we are asking for is fair transitional pension arrangements.

“Everyone has a mother, daughter, sister, aunt, niece or friend who is affected by this injustice and the impact of whether WASPI lose or win this campaign will have an effect on everyone else’s pension tomorrow.”

In its manifesto Labour says women affected by the 2011 Act should get ‘some kind of compensation for their losses’.

The party has also pledged to extend Pension Credit to vulnerable women and says it is ‘exploring options for further transitional protections’.

UKIP has proposed a ‘flexible state pension window’ enabling people to opt for an earlier retirement for a lower pension, or work longer for a higher pension.

But Conservatives say the issue is far more complex than Labour are making out. "Labour are conveniently forgetting that they were in power for 13 years knowing the state pension age for women was increasing.

"It is hugely opportunistic on their part. They knew the state pension had to go up because people are living longer."

More details on WASPI groups can be found here: Cannock, Stafford and Wolverhampton - csqwaspi@gmail.com Sandwell and Birmingham - birminghamwaspi@gmail.com Wyre Forest, Midlands and Worcestershire - wyreforestwaspigroup@gmail.com

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