Back in December 2020, Yorkshire Bylines reported on the plight of millions of women who had been severely disadvantaged by the Pensions Act of 1995, which sought to equalise the pension age for men and women. This was achieved between 2010 and 2020 by a process of gradually increasing the state pension age for women born in the 1950s. This increase was then accelerated by the 2011 Pension Act, such that the pension age is now 66 for both men and women.
Women given little notice of increased pension age
Significantly, though, 1950s-born women were given little notice of this change. Women born on or after 6 April 1951-5 April 1953 did not receive letters notifying them of the change until 14 years after the 1995 Pensions Act, with some women not being notified until their 59th birthday. This despite recommendations that between 10 and 15 years’ notice should have been given.
It was this lack of notice that is at the heart of many of these women’s anger and frustration and in 2015, Women Against State Pension Injustice (WASPI) was formed to campaign and protest on their behalf. This week I caught up with Catherine Dwyer and Carol Lyons, two of the members of the Castleford and Yorkshire group of WASPI, who were featured in the original article to discover what progress had been made over the last fourteen months.
WASPI campaign gains in strength and takes to the media
Catherine is the leader of the group which now has more than three hundred members, and she was delighted that the last few months had seen an increase in membership and interest in general. The pair put the increase down to the group’s regular campaigning in high streets and shopping centres throughout the district. They have also become reluctant media spokespersons and in one day alone were featured on two TV channels, a radio show and in the press.
Carol is an eloquent and passionate advocate for the group and is happy to share her own situation on behalf of the group as a whole. She has calculated that the changes have cost her over £52,000, not to mention additional thousands in the rise in the age limit on bus passes.
Lack of proper notice adds to long-standing pension disadvantage
Carol, like most of the group, is firmly in favour of the equalisation of pensions; the problem was the fact that notification was at best patchy, at worst non-existent. This meant there was no time to make any preparations for the changes, even if they had the jobs, the finances and the family circumstances to be able to do so, which the majority of women did not. As was stated in the original article:
“For many women born in the 1950s, state pension disadvantage was a factor from the outset. Life for a lot of women was about raising small children and running the home… In addition, many women returning to work had a restricted number of available hours. In the absence of free childcare places, women were obliged to fit their working hours around the family’s main earner and around the availability of family members to look after the children.”
In the case of Catherine, a psychiatric nurse, this resulted in her working nights for nine years whilst family looked after her children. Both Catherine and Carol were eager to stress that this was not about women not wanting to work. But in many cases, it had resulted in many of those caught in the trap having to take poorly paid or zero-hour contracts.
“Many people have sold houses to raise funds, but this has left them at the mercy of often high rents and poorer housing. In some cases, you have had the situation of 60-something-year-old women sofa surfing or sleeping in their car.”
Optimistic signs: pensions injustice officially acknowledged
There was, though, optimism in our conversation, as the last year has seen positive developments. In July last year, following large numbers of complaints, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) found that WASPI women had been mistreated by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). In stage 1 of its ongoing investigation, the PHSO found that DWP had committed maladministration, a verdict that confirmed what 1950s-born women had always known was the case.
In January, the state pension inequality for women all-party parliamentary group (APPG) published its submission to the PHSO’s investigation into communication of changes to women’s state pension age. The submission was quite devastating in its findings and concluded that:
“The impact of DWP maladministration on 1950s-born women has been as devastating as it is widespread. The APPG believes that the case for category six injustice is overwhelming and clear. Women have had their emotional, physical, and mental circumstances totally obliterated by a lack of reasonable notice. These impacts must be addressed, if we are to reach any kind of conclusion regarding this injustice.” The APPG also called for “1950s-women to be given fast and proper compensation”.
The WASPI campaign continues
I asked Catherine and Carol what happened next. They confirmed that the current stage 2 enquiry requires the ombudsman to establish that injustice did indeed take place with the third and final stage and then to consider what to do if injustice was found. The women are determined that their fight will continue and are currently planning their spring campaign in the streets of Yorkshire:
“We’ve got loads of plans for the next few weeks. Next week we’ll be back out protesting on the streets, getting other people on board, and making more people aware of this injustice, many of whom are still not aware of what has happened”.
Carol told me about a Facebook post she had seen which said, “It comes to something when your granny has to go out on the streets in the freezing cold weather to protest”. But it’s something that the WASPI women are determined to continue to do.