Scottish Waspi women call for pension justice

By Andrew Kerr
BBC Scotland political correspondent


Women affected by the accelerated changes to the state pension age have been telling the BBC of the hardship and inequality they say they face.

In the same week that marked the centenary of some women gaining the vote, the so-called Waspi women say their modern-day campaign is not going to go away.

image captionChristine was born in 1953 and had expected her state pension in 2013

At a café in Inverness, I caught up with four campaigners from Women Against State Pension Inequality (Waspi).

As babies born in the 1950s, they are the generation of women who are affected by changes to the state pension because of rising life expectancy.

Christine Sewell, the lead campaigner of the Waspi Inverness branch, explained what they wanted.

She said: "What we're really fighting for is some fair transitional arrangements for women born in the 1950s.

image captionChristine Sewell is due to collect her pension next month

"That's women who got little or no notice that instead of getting their pensions at 60, they were going to have to wait up to six years before they got it."

Christine was born in 1953 and had expected her state pension in 2013 - but is now having to wait until next month to collect it.

How did we get here?

The Conservative government passed the Pensions Act 1995 which would raise the state pension age for women from 60 to 65, over the period 2010-2020.

This would equalise it with men.

But then the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government passed another Act in 2011, which accelerated the timetable to 2018.

Also, the qualifying age for men and women was to be raised to 66 by October 2020.

So, the Waspi women say they have been hit hard - with significant changes imposed on them with a lack of notification.

Age change

image captionEllen Lindsay was born in 1955 and expected her state pension in 2015

Ellen Lindsay is sitting with her Waspi colleagues at the café. She was born in 1955, expected her state pension in 2015 - but will now receive it in 2021.

She told me: "I don't actually remember getting the letter at any point from the Department for Work and Pensions telling me that my pension age would change.

image captionEllen Lindsay does not remember being told about the pension age change

"I vaguely remember it being talked about - perhaps at work but I don't remember the detail of it.

"However, because I wasn't told directly and didn't believe it was going to affect me until it was too late, like some of my colleagues, I made life decisions that may now have been different.

"I may have gone different ways had I had that knowledge at the time."

That's the key point here - different life decisions could have been taken.

image captionLiz Millar was born in 1954 and expected her state pension in 2014

For someone like Liz Millar, the change has had a huge impact.

Born in 1954, she had expected her state pension in 2014 - but is now waiting until 2020.

She took early retirement from her civil service job, saying she "fell foul" of the government efficiency scheme - but she had wanted to help her mother get over a cancer operation.

image captionLiz Millar says she is in financial difficulty because of the change

Sitting across the table, she said: "I've run out of my savings, I'm probably in what you call financial difficulty and I am one of the ones who has got to sell their home to cover the costs until I reach pensionable age in 2020 now.

"It makes me feel very sad, but I'm angry and that's why I'm fighting with Waspi to get some recompense."

And that's what the women are after.

But the UK government says they have listened - and they have acted already.

It said it had committed £1bn to mitigate the impact of the changes, ensuring that no-one would see their pension date delayed by more than 18 months because of the 2011 changes.

Pensions Minister Guy Opperman MP was not available to be questioned about the government's position.

However, we put the points raised by the Waspi women to Andrew Bowie, the Scottish Conservative MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine.

He responded by saying: "The fact is the government has looked at this and has made the transitional scheme fairer.

"We've actually decreased the length of time people will be waiting from two years to 18 months and that's cost the Treasury over £1bn.

"So we are taking action to mitigate the worst effects of the state pension increase but - at the end of the day - these changes are necessary, they are right and they are fair."

image captionSNP MP Mhairi Black says the government should return to the original timetable

Also at Westminster, SNP MP Mhairi Black explained her party's idea to help alleviate the situation.

Ms Black said: "The government should return to the original timetable of the 1995 Act because - at the very least - that would give breathing space to people.

"It would allow those who are not yet affected to plan ahead and it would give some relief to those that are already finding themselves affected by this.

"We found that would cost about £8bn over the course of five years. Now, I know that's a lot of money but this is pensions, this is their right.

"In a week where we're celebrating women earning their rights, I think it's quite ironic that we're finding ourselves in this predicament."

image captionCatriona Kerr was born in 1957 and will now have to wait until 2023

That's a point not lost on Catriona Kerr.

Born in 1957, she expected her state pension last year but is now having to wait until 2023 when she'll be 66.

She admits that she maybe didn't do the maths, retiring at 59.

image captionCatriona Kerr says the campaign is not going away

Mrs Kerr is having to borrow money from her husband.

He doesn't mind, of course, but for women growing up in the 1960s it's an important point of principle.

Mrs Kerr says: "It doesn't rest easy, I do not like taking money when I would like to be using just my own.

"I do feel that for my own generation of women we have stood up and fought for what we believe in and this is one more situation.

"We are not going away and we are not going to go quietly back to the kitchen sink."

If you want to check when you'll be able to claim your state pension, the UK Government's calculator is here:

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