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Editorial: The High Court's pensions ruling is an attack on working-class women

THERE is one law for them and one law for us. Consider the judgement made today in the High Court.

Julie Delve and Karen Glynn appealed against a judgement last year that found in favour of the government decision to increase their state pension age from 60 to 65. Four million women are affected. For people whose main, even sole, retirement income is their state pension this five years of forced labour is a cruel offence against any sense of justice.

No matter, the Justices on the Bench of the High Court unanimously dismissed the appeal and found again in favour of the Department for Work and Pensions.

In their “reasoning” the judges said that introducing the same state pension age for men and women did not amount to unlawful discrimination.

This naturally raises the question of what might these legal lore-masters — whose taxpayer-funded retirement incomes would keep any number of working-class women in luxury — decide if, in our ideal world, a socialist government might have reduced the state pension age for men instead of raising it for women.

It is a hypothetical question but we are inevitably drawn to the conclusion that a bench of upper-class law makers might, in this case decide that justice is best served by keeping men at work for that disputed five years.

The reasoning is a classic example of how the class outlook of judges leads them to conclusions which are manifestly unjust.

They said “in the light of the extensive evidence” put forward by the government, that they concurred with the High Court's earlier conclusion that “it is impossible to say that the government’s decision to strike the balance where it did — between the need to put state pension provision on a sustainable footing and the recognition of the hardship that could result for those affected by the changes — was manifestly without reasonable foundation.”

What is “reasonable” for a judge or a government minister committed to austerity is manifestly “unreasonable” to a working woman who has paid national insurance contributions during a lifetime of work in anticipation of retirement at 60, who may not have alternative sources of income, may not have a job and typically may have care responsibilities.

A government decision that is not “manifestly without reasonable foundation” to a judge looking forward to a career-average pension based on a salary of between £89-262,000 looks distinctly unreasonable to the rest of us on median incomes of around £25,000 if we are lucky and a lot less if we are on the minimum wage.

A generation ago we were told that new technology and rising productivity mean we would have more time for leisure and a golden age of retirement. Such is the systemic crisis of capitalism that the price of rescuing the banks in 2008 means we work longer, earn less and our pensions are under threat.

It can be argued that this is not a fair comparison as judges work until 70. However, the job description — sitting in court for 189 days a year — is mostly indoors, involves little heavy lifting and doesn’t entail handling other people’s body fluids or dealing with their incontinence problems.

Working women who typically have a fragmentary employment history involving periods of part-time work will be cheered however by a Supreme Court ruling late last year in which four claimants who had worked both full-time and part-time should not have been denied their pensions.

The ruling means that a thousand workers will be entitled to back-payments and pensions worth £1 billion. The lucky group of workers are judges.



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