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ON Tuesday January 30, the pressure group We Paid In, You Pay Out presented Downing Street with a collection of real-life testimonies from women in their sixties affected by the hike in pension ages.
We Paid In, You Pay Out is made up of members from a plethora of different organisations, including the Women Against State Pension Inequality (Waspi) campaign.
All of its participants are fighting for the same goal: pension fairness. The campaign has evolved from one in which information was shared to a place where vigorous debate and polling on contentious questions or policy ideas takes place.
One of We Paid In, You Pay Out’s organisers, Trudy Baddams, realised how strongly women felt about being silenced.
“They needed their voices to be heard, with everyone having a different story of how the hike in pension age has affected them,” she told me.
Listening to the stories of women affected by the increase in the state pension age reminds you of the caring responsibilities previously taken on by women in their sixties after they had retired, such as elderly relatives and young children.
As one woman describes: “My son lost his wife to breast cancer and has to bring up my grandson on his own. Then my daughter lost her husband and has to look after my two grandchildren on her own. She is disabled and gets very minimal help from the benefits system.
“It just makes me despair that I still have to work until I’m 66 years old. If I had been informed earlier about my state pension age then maybe I could’ve got a plan in place to save for my later retirement and also help my kids.”
At this age, women may also be dealing with serious disabilities or health conditions but find themselves with no choice but to work.
“I am nearly 62 years of age, with heart problems, severe osteoarthritis, and a prolapse that means I can be incontinent at times,” says another woman involved in the campaign.
“I’ve had 11 operations and need another one on my wrist due to a fracture when I had a fall. The stress of knowing that despite my poor health, I can’t retire until I’m 66 is awful. I was due to retire in 2015, aged 60.”
Of course not everyone can find suitable work. This leaves many women in the hands of the cruel and hostile welfare benefits system. They’re forced to attend work capability assessments and are frequently penalised for not being computer literate enough to negotiate universal credit.
“I have spent a whole afternoon online trying to complete the [universal credit] form. But getting it verified at the post office seems to have stuck the application,” says one distraught woman.
“Claiming universal credit online is a minefield; there is nobody I can phone. I don’t feel fit or fast enough to be out there in the workplace anymore. I should be on state pension at 63 years, not on universal credit.”
What’s very clear throughout these women’s stories is their deep level of anger and feelings of injustice.
“I was always financially independent but not anymore,” another woman tells me.
“I have lost three years’ pension and I am finding it very difficult to live. This is not what I thought would happen in my 60s. I feel cheated. Cheated out of my pension that I thought I would have.”
Baddams says a few of these women’s stories have leaked through the media and in Parliament but they were largely ignored. That is why her campaign group has published an online booklet — We Can’t All Be Wrong — collecting the testimonies of women denied their pensions.
“We needed these stories all in one place, so we could show this is happening to the many not the few. The Prime Minister and others in her government are saying no-one will wait more than 18 months to collect their pension, but this is simply untrue, as this book can show.”
Earlier this month parliamentary undersecretary for the Department for Work and Penions Guy Opperman told MPs that there wouldn’t be a rethink on the planned ages of retirement for women.
This drew angry responses from Waspi women and all the other groups campaigning against pension inequality.
The Labour Party proposals mean that women born in the 1950s would be able to retire from 64 years of age. They’ve already pledged to extend Pension Credit to these women, which will mean those affected by the chaotic mismanagement of state pension equalisation have the option to retire earlier.
Along with these proposals The Labour Party will continue, while in opposition, to urge ministers to bring forward transitional protection for women affected.
Baddams acknowledges what Labour is proposing and is due to find out more information when she meets with shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams in March.
She is hopeful that the publication of the book will bring this issue the political and cultural attention it deserves.
With social care under extreme pressure, Baddams feels it’s time that these hikes in pension ages are acknowledged as “not simply affecting the individual, or their family, but ultimately communities and society as a whole.”
Ruth Hunt is author of The Single Feather. You can read We Paid In, You Pay Out’s booklet We Can’t All Be Wrong here: mstar.link/2sWBCHq.
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