The cost of changing women's state pension age: have women born in the 1950s been short-changed?

20 February 2019
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In 1995, the government announced plans to increase women’s state pension age from 60 to 65 in line with men’s. As a result, many women in their early 60s now are facing financial hardship. We hear from the campaigners seeking redress

Valda Marks, 64, was devastated when she discovered the state pension age had risen.

Just before her 60th birthday, she asked for a state pension forecast but, to her horror, found out she would have to wait another five years before she could claim.

“I felt absolutely robbed when I found out about the age change. I was looking forward to a comfortable retirement, but when you find out you are not getting a pension it can be quite difficult,” Valda says.

Valda, who lives with her husband in Suffolk, says the decision to raise the state pension age has cost her £44,000 and that, as a result, they have had to sell their home and rent.

“Our house is now our pension fund. We could have stayed but we would have had very little income. Without selling it, we would have found it more difficult but we should not have had to do it.”

After leaving school, Valda started working in the unemployment benefit office and then became a self-employed bookkeeper.

“I felt robbed when I found out about the age change”

She adds: “After I turned 60, I had to carry on working because of the pension changes but, last year, I had to go down to two days a week for health reasons. I work part-time as a bookkeeper, but this will be ending soon and I will have to look for a new job, which will be a worry.”

Like millions of women in their early 60s, Valda has had her dreams of a relaxing retirement crushed by the government.

Having experienced a lifetime of inequality, women entering retirement are finding they are even getting a raw deal when it comes to pensions. Changes to the state pension have left millions of women born in the 1950s poorer, with many now having to wait up to a further six years before they can claim.

Some, who have worked for decades and were expecting to retire have found they are now years away from receiving a state pension.

Many of these women are also unable to work because of poor health. Some are having to claim universal credit and have been forced to use food banks, while others, like Valda, have even had to sell their homes.

Changes to state pension age

The Pensions Act 1995 increased the state pension age for women, bringing the qualifying age in line with men by 2020.

The government then decided to accelerate its plan to increase the state pension age in 2011, so that men and women were on an equal footing by 2018. Women who thought they would receive a state pension at 60 suddenly found out they would not get it until they were 66.

The state pension age for women was raised last November to 65 – the same as men – for the first time.

It has been steadily rising from 60 since 2011 and in 2020 the age for both sexes will rise to 66.

This means that 3.8 million women born in the 1950s (on or after 6 April 1951) who thought they would be able to retire at 60 have had to wait another five or six years.

However, the increase in the state pension age has drawn widespread criticism.

Campaign groups such as BackTo60 and Women Against State Pension Inequality (Waspi) argue that many women born in the 1950s were not warned of the changes and have suffered financial hardship as a result.

While the government insists it did enough to notify affected women of the changes, many disagree.

Debbie de Spon, a spokesperson for Waspi, says: “Women who have worked hard all their lives and thought they would be retiring at 60 are suddenly finding out they can’t work and are having to live off the money they saved for retirement.”

Ms de Spon says that some women who stop work can struggle to return to the workplace.

She says: “Many women often give up work to look after elderly parents or sick partners and then find they have to return to work to finance themselves. Entry back into work for women in their late 50s and early 60s is not easy. Despite legislation, older women still face discrimination in the workplace.”

Fighting back

While the increase in women’s state pension age has been debated in parliament on a number of occasions, the government has refused to budge.

Last year, work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd said the government would make “no further changes to the law on this issue”.

However, women hit by the changes to the state pension age are refusing to be silent on the issue and are fighting back.

Waspi was set up in 2015 to campaign for compensation for women affected by the state pension age change.

Since its launch, thousands of women have taken part in rallies across the country and last year they marched at Westminster.

While Waspi agrees with equalisation of the state pension age with men, it is unhappy with the way it has been implemented.

The group is calling for a bridging pension to help women born in the 1950s, with compensation for those women who have reached state pension age and lost out.

Ms de Spon says: “Equalising the state pension age does not give women born in the 1950s equality. The government needs to do more. There are women claiming benefits each week when they thought they were going to be on the state pension. There needs to be some kind of compensation for all women who were not given adequate notice and time to make new arrangements.”

The decision to raise the state pension is now set to be fought in the High Court.

BackTo60, which claims to have 738,000 supporters, has won the right to judicial review to determine whether recent increases to women’s state pension age were lawful.

This case will be heard this summer, and the campaign group is hoping the government will reverse its decision.

The group is calling for the state pension age to be kept at 60 for women born in the 1950s, but the government has ruled out this idea as it would cost more than £70 billion.

Patrick Connolly, a chartered financial planner at Chase de Vere, says: “Based on everything the government has said so far, it seems unlikely that it will revise its plans for the state pension age, although it would be good to see the government making some steps to help those people who need it most.”

Valda is equally pessimistic.

She says: “I would like to see my pension backdated, but it is not going to happen. The government can’t afford to do it for all of us as the money isn’t there.

“I wouldn’t have minded if it had phased in fairly, but I had no notice whatsoever. The government made a mistake and we should be compensated.”

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Members of Waspi (Women Against State Pension Inequality) protest outside parliament

Why is there a pension gender gap?

Millions of women experience a gender pension gap and face poverty in retirement because of low pay and taking career breaks to raise children.

A recent report from Fidelity International suggests a 25- to 34-year-old woman’s pension would be worth £126,784 at the state pension age of 68, compared to £142,836 for men – a gender pension gap of over 10%.

One of the main reasons why women face a pension shortfall is that men earn, on average, more than women during their careers, so they contribute more to their pension.

To qualify for the full state pension you need a total of 35 qualifying years of national insurance contributions or credits (NICs).

However, as women take time out from work to raise children or become carers, they are more likely to have gaps in their NICs. Taking time out means women have lower lifetime earnings and end up with smaller workplace pensions.

Women who work part-time are also being penalised. If they earn below £6,032, they will not receive NICs for their state pension.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) estimates that as many as three million part-time women workers are excluded from workplace pensions because they do not meet the minimum earning criteria.

Employers must enrol staff earning above £10,000 into a pension as part of auto-enrolment rules. However, as many women work part-time and do not earn this much, they don’t qualify for automatic pension contributions.

Divorced women can also miss out on pension money. During a divorce, pension assets often get left out of settlements, leaving women worse off in later life.

Mr Connolly says the best approach to retirement is to start saving early.

“While part-time workers may not earn enough for auto-enrolment, that does not mean they can’t have a pension. Their employer can still pay into a pension for them.

“Maternity rules have also improved over time. so women who have children can still pay in, although you need the finances to do this.”

Mr Connolly adds: “While women are still getting short-changed in many cases, we do now have a culture where many doing the same careers as men and are getting better opportunities, so over time you would expect the gap to close.”

Have you been affected by the state pension age changes for women? We'd like to hear your story. Please email editorial@moneywise.co.uk

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

In reply to Peter I'm sorry to hear about your wife this same thing happened to my dad who died at age 64 and never claimed any of his pension ,he had paid in all his life, my own problem was I was in the Nhs pension but was denied any contributions from 1990 until 1997 as we were told we were privately employed by g.ps however I had to work to boost my pension up then because I didn't know at the time I had to work on decided to stay in the old nhs scheme so I could retire at 60 then I had to work until nearly 65 before I could get my pension and as a result of not changing to the newer scheme lost again, I'm still working as a nurse at age 66 and I'm bloody tired , I love my work but I've just not got the same stamina I had but need to boost my income up to ensure decent level of comfort in my old age

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

My wife is a child of the 1950s. She is 62 and has paid the maximum national insurance contributions but cannot draw her pension until she is 66. This is especially unfair on her/us because she has Alzheimer's and cannot now work anyway.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Bleat, bleat, bleat bleat.I have no sympathy for people who do not apply thought to things that are likely to have an impact on their lives.Of course the equalisation of pensions was signalled in advance. My wife and I were certainly aware in the 1990's that she would not be able to retire at 60 in 2011, and would have to wait until the transitional age of 61 & 5 months,, well past my retirement date, plus her works pension age would be progressively increased until 65. She had the opportunity to increase her contributions to enable her to receive a compatible works pension at 61 & 5 months, so started the extra contributions in the '90s.. Yes it undoubtedly constrained our lives at that time, but hey ho, it was worth the sacrifice.

In reply to by Roger Nicholls (not verified)

Retirement age increase

In reply to Roger Nicholls' comment about he and his wife being aware of the changes in the 1990's. Many of us did not receive any notification until much later. I have to say: "bully for you and your wife" for increasing your/her pension payments-most single women were unable to as we didn't and still don't have pay parity with men-I've never been in a position to increase my payment and also, I've suffered four redundancies in my 47 years of work. stick that....

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Were these woman 'who didn't know their pension wouldn't be paid when they turned sixty' living on a deserted island in the middle of the Atlantic. I've known I would get my pension when I was sixty-six since the mid nineties, when it was all over the press. Suck it up ladies, you wanted equality and now you've got it.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The worst part is that women now have to have 35 years of NI contributions to be eligible for a full pension, instead of 30 as required previously. My wife had to stop work, but felt "comfortable" because she had just over 30 years of contributions. Big mistake!

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Every woman who was paying National Insurance and who was born between 1950 and 1955 received (in 1995) notification of their pension age. This was a cardboard sleeve with windows. Inside was a 'slider' with their month of birth on one side and the new pension age on the other. (This was of course before the internet). I was born in 1950 so I had 15 years notice. Those born later had more notice. We have to accept that the majority of pensioners are living longer now and the tax-paying population is shrinking.

In reply to by Jean (not verified)

Sorry you are wrong everyone…

Sorry you are wrong everyone did not receive notice I was one of people not informed, I agree the age should be the same as men but we have had a lot of disadvantages regarding not being able to have work pensions and having time out to have children, I think it should have been phased in better.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Notice to change SPA, was given in the 90''s. It was in the media at the time and has been frequently reported since. How can you suddenly wake up to the fact at age 60 that it has moved! Sorry but take some personal responsibility. Also seek some comfort that as a female you statistically live longer, so under the new SPA you will still receive more than men, assuming all else is equal in terms of NI history and earnings.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I was born July 1954 I received nothing from the government regarding my pension just thought when I was 58 , only 2 more years for my pension, was I wrong !!!!!!, mine went from 60 to 64 to 64yrs and 9mths in a space of a few weeks I have lost out on 6years 9mths worth of pension, which is a lot of money and more so time spent still working. It was like my world was turned upside down as I planned to wind my job down and spend more time with my friends , who had already received their pensions , and have some time for my family at last, after working sometimes two jobs since I was 15, I know I was ready at 60 never mind 64yrs and 9mths nearly 7 years more. I can still work, which is more than some of us can, but find it a struggle each day and just feel so down all the time thinking how my life could have been. The not knowing and not being given the information was a big mistake no letters, phone calls, nothing , just treated with disrespect its like oh well just get on with it, nothing you can do anyway . I joined Waspi to make me feel as if im trying to make a difference but sadly i really dont think we can fight this, as time goes on people forget and just accept that its happened but its changed so many peoples lives drastically. Its been a real sad, difficult, frustrating, hard,upsetting, stressful and depressing few years for women born in the 50s

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I was 65 this week. I get my SP in July. I was originally given 6 January 2018 as my new pension date, then suddenly they add on an extra 18 months. I don’t work as I worked full time even between children and when they were young. I have enough years but was contracted out for a while so have a small personal pension. My husband still works part time but I gave up at 62 to look after my late mum. Mum was lucky to be part of a government scheme where women were actively encouraged to retire at 59 and were given SP. how things change. I’m looking forward to getting my SP, bus pass and buying some new clothes and sandals for summer instead of 7 year old shorts/tops/dresses.We are fortunate our house was paid for before I was 60 and we manage on what we have, adapting to suit our income

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Am almost 63 homeless for 8 months.. no help from local council who say 2 years to find me a home!! If I had pension I could have gone private rental.... relying on family and friends for financial support constantly..

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Perhaps the Moneywise readers can learn something from this lady's financial skills.Whilst she has found it necessary to sell her UK home in order to to manage the shortfall in her financial expectations she seems to have managed to retain another one outside the UK. I understand she is also managing to take various holidays abroad despite this setback.I am not convinced she represents a typical example of hardship suffered due to changes in SPA and that this type of "poor me" flawed reporting is detrimental to those who may have a more valid grievance. However we all have our own standards.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Valda Marks must have had some amazing plans for her relaxing retirement. Anyone who can travel to New Zealand in the summer and then spend the winter months in Cyprus and still claim to have sold her house out of necessity is doing very well in my book. Obviously everyone has a different definition of poverty Valda

In reply to by Paul (not verified)

Exactly. Why would you only get a pensions fotecast just before you thought you were going to retire.?

In reply to by Paul (not verified)

Pension

In 1995 I was 41 years old, I have just turned 65 in July. I will not receive my state pension until March 2020. Hopefully. The government can changed it before then.

In reply to by Paul (not verified)

Pension notification

I was not notified in my 30s. I found a letter from the department of pensions dated 2004 stating that I would receive my pension in 2014 when I was 60, glad I filed and kept that. Since then I have not received any notification that I would have to wait another 6 years, during which time I have carried on working as well as looking after my mother with progressive dementia, I’ve paid into the system since the age of 16. If the government wanted the pension age to change to 66 they should have informed women in my age group giving us plenty of time to prepare for it. Also, did you know that women a year older than me got their pension when they were 62 and I will get mine at 65.5. Why???

In reply to by Paul (not verified)

In our 30’s when notified?

That’s just the point Paul. We should have been notified in our 30’s to enable us to plan more effectively but we weren’t. I received a letter in 2014 informing me that my SP would be paid on my 66th Birthday, just 3 years before I turned 60 in June 2017. I’d even been on a retirement planning course in 2007 and this wasn’t flagged up by so called pension experts. I’m in favour of equalisation but lack of transparent notification and flawed phasing has caused this fury and feeling of being treated unjustly.

In reply to by Paul (not verified)

30's

I am a 50's woman, in 1995 when I found out I would have to work beyond the retirement age of 60 I was already 44. Losing out on pension didn't bother me as I carried on working until the age of 66.

In reply to by Paul (not verified)

50s womem

Was 45 in 1995. 1995-50 =45! Am due to retire in 15 years. Many weren't told. I lost ground having family later. Many had to work part-time on lower paid jobs. Missed out on promotion on full-time work they had been in, so pension less and a recession and 10 years austerity reduced earnings. Meanwhile men continued to gain ground. Now receive £30 a week less. Also if husband died after 2002, received no widows pension but on retirement £2.40 a week from 35 years of their pension. How do you plan for that?

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