Reality Check: The fight over women’s state pensions

During the election campaign politicians have been keen to pledge support for women born in the 1950s who have been angered by raises in the age at which they qualify for a state pension.

In thousands of cases women have seen the age for which they can claim moved back by 18 months.

They have been caught up in government efforts to cut the mounting costs of paying for the state pension and to equalise the age at which men and women receive the state pension.

That effort goes back decades, so to help understand the issue here is a little history.

How did we get here?

From 1948 for more than 60 years men received their state pension at 65 and women at the age of 60.

But over the years it was argued that the difference was unfair, as women had a longer life expectancy than men.

So under the 1995 Pensions Act a timetable was drawn up to equalise the age at which men and women could draw their state pension.

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The plan was to raise the qualifying age for women to 65 and to phase in that change from 2010 to 2020.

But the coalition government of 2010 decided to accelerate that timetable, arguing that the state pension was becoming increasingly unaffordable.

Under the 2011 Pensions Act the new qualifying age of 65 for women was bought forward to 2018.

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

Those changes were expected to save £30bn.

Who’s affected?

In total around 2.6 million women were affected by the 2011 changes. While many of them had plenty of time to adapt to a longer working life, for some the change came as a shock.

In particular around 300,000 women, born between December 1953 and October 1954 and getting close to their state pension age, were made to wait an extra 18 months.

The changes sparked dismay and anger. Women complained that they had not been given time to adjust to the new retirement age and also that the changes in 2011 and 1995 had not been clearly communicated.

Women Against State Pension Inequality (Waspi) emerged to campaign over those issues.

Waspi wants compensation for the “unfair” way the changes of 1995 and 2011 were implemented.

It wants payments for those who have already reached the state retirement age, plus extra income for those still awaiting their state pension.

But it is not asking for women’s retirement age to return to 60.

Critics of Waspi say it is not clear how much their demands would cost.

The government has said it has already committed £1bn to mitigate the impact of the changes, ensuring that no one would see their pension date move by more than 18 months. It has said consistently that there will not be any further changes to the policy.

SNP plans

The SNP has icommissioned research to look at five options to compensate women affected by the changes.

It has been promoting one of those options – a return to the 1995 timetable of pension changes.

The SNP says that change could be made for £8bn, however pension experts dispute that calculation, pointing out that the figure only includes costs to 2021. The manifesto is to be published shortly.

In its manifesto Plaid Cymru highlighted their constant campaigning for fair pensions for women.

Pension policy is not devolved, so both parties will have to use their influence in Westminster if they want to see any changes.

Labour, Lib Dem UKIP

In its manifesto the Labour Party said that women affected by the 2011 pension changes deserve “some kind of compensation for their losses”.

“Alongside our commitment to extend Pension Credit to hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable women, Labour is exploring options for further transitional protections,” it said.

The Liberal Democrats did not mention the issue in their manifesto, however, in March Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron made a broad commitment to helping the women.

He backed calls for “the government to implement fair transitional arrangements for women affected by the State Pension Age changes”.

In its manifesto, UKIP notes that the raised retirement age for women has been “hugely unpopular”. It does not suggest any compensation for Waspi women, but proposes a “flexible state pension window”.

Under UKIP’s plan everyone would be able to opt for an earlier retirement for a lower pension, or work longer for a higher pension.

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