- 1950s women disappointed as High Court says Government did not discriminate against them.
- Equalising pension AGE does not mean pension equality – women still get much lower pensions than men.
- Many women have been pushed into poverty and did not know about the changes.
- Government should help those in hardship – perhaps allowing early access to State Pension or Pension Credit for those hardest hit.
In a landmark ruling today, the High Court has dismissed the claim brought on behalf of 3.6million women whose state pension age has been increased sharply, often without their knowledge. The judges ruled that the Government was correcting a past inequality against men, rather than discriminating against women, and was entitled to change pension ages at short notice and without due warnings.
This may not be discrimination, but it has caused real hardship: It was always going to be difficult to prove that a policy intended to equalise men and women’s pension age was discriminatory. But many of those affected are suffering real hardship because successive Governments failed to properly inform women of the original 1995 Act changes, so they were expecting their State Pension at age 60 and had inadequate chances to prepare. That is perhaps more like maladministration than discrimination.
Equalising pension age, does not deliver equal pensions: They may start their State Pension at the same age, but this is far from pension equality as women generally have much worse pensions than men. Not only do older women have lower State Pensions, those in their early 60s are estimated to have just one third of the private pension wealth of men too.
Women lose out in pensions due to social norms and past disadvantage: Social norms caused women to lose out in pensions throughout their lives. When they were younger, they were often excluded from occupational schemes, were paid less than men and had to take time out for childcare. That meant their lifetime incomes are lower than men’s and the increase in divorce rates also means women have lost the husband’s pension they might previously have relied on.
State pensions are a state benefit, not a property right: The High Court concluded that Government can change State Pension rules, with Parliamentary approval, just as it can change other National Insurance benefits. Adjustments to social policy and controlling benefit expenditure are valid policy decisions. Of course, with an aging population, rising longevity and pay-as-you-go pensions, the Government needs to control state pension costs, to protect younger generations of taxpayers.
Increasing State Pension age saved huge sums to Exchequer: Estimates suggest the rise in women’s State Pension age between 2010 and 2016 saved over £5billion in public spending. There is a three-fold benefit for the Treasury. Firstly, not paying their pensions. Secondly, higher tax and national insurance receipts as women keep working while waiting for their State Pension. Thirdly, the additional should boost the economy.
But rising State Pension Ages have increased poverty: Many of the women waiting longer for their state pension have been pushed into poverty. Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies found one in five women aged 60-62 were in income poverty when their state pension age was increased to 63 by 2016. The study showed that men have been affected by rising poverty too, as the starting age for receipt of means-tested Pension Credit has increased in line with rising women’s state pension ages.
Governments failed to properly inform people about their state pension age rising: Obviously, policy changes of such magnitude need to be communicated well in advance, so the women are given time to prepare for delays in starting pension receipt. Unfortunately, as the BackTo60 and WASPI campaigns highlight, the failure to communicate clearly and effectively has caused real problems for many of the women affected.
Continued rise in pension ages makes no allowance for those who cannot work: If older women can stay in work, they can probably manage without their state pension, but many are caring for loved ones, or in poor health, or facing ageism in the workplace so they are unable to do so. There is a stark cliff-edge between the benefits available to people below state pension age and those above it. Although this is designed to encourage more people to keep working, it makes no allowances for the significant minority of older people who genuinely cannot work. If they have no private pension or other savings, due to being disadvantaged throughout their lives by lower earnings and pension rights, then will be struggling.
I believe Government should help – perhaps with early access to state pension and pension credit if needed: Although it is not realistic to give all the 1950s-born women their State Pension back to age 60 – the cost would be over £150billion – I do believe Government has responsibility to help. As Pensions Minister, I proposed allowing early access to State Pension for those in poor health. This would finally recognise the significant differences in healthy life expectancy across the country, which mean some people genuinely cannot work. Also, those who are caring for others may need to retire. Yet, under current rules, even if they have paid decades of National Insurance, they cannot get a penny of their State Pension early. Another potential reform would see Government allowing people to claim Pension Credit before State Pension age, to help the poorest who would otherwise be in poverty. In light of the cost savings from increasing the State Pension Age, it should surely be possible to offer some mitigation for those worst affected. This could help both men and women.
I do hope the Government considers these proposals seriously.