Northamptonshire women's pension campaigners 'let down' after court verdict

Campaigners outside the Houses of Parliament earlier this year.
Campaigners outside the Houses of Parliament earlier this year.

Northamptonshire women who have helped campaign for a change to women’s pension ages were hoping for a different verdict from the Supreme Court today (Thursday).

Earlier this morning, the Supreme Court ruled that women are not entitled to compensation after the state pension age was successively raised.

The judges said: “There was no direct discrimination on the grounds of sex, because this legislation does not treat women less favourably than men in law.

“Rather it equalises a historic asymmetry between men and women and thereby corrects historic direct discrimination against men.”

Women had argued the increases in state pension age had happened too quickly for them to prepare for a later retirement.

Helena van Vuuren, 65, from Wicken in the south of the county, and Jo, 60, who does not want to be fully identified, have both been part of the campaign group Back to 60.

Helena, who has been on marches and lobbied MPs, said: “I have lost four years and nine months of my pension, they stole it.”

Helena was present at the court cases in June when the campaigners won the judicial review, the result of which was announced today.

Jo, who is still working as a teacher and donated to the costs of the judicial review, said not being able to draw a pension at 60 has had an enormous impact on her.

She said: “I was suicidal at one point.

“I feel very let down, I did everything I could to get myself out of unemployment when I was a single parent. I did everything right."

The Back to 60 group has been campaigning for women’s pension ages to revert to 60 years old for those born in the 1950s.

In 1995, the Pension Act changed the state pension age for women from 60 to 65. It did not come into effect straight away, but it was accelerated by the Pension Act in 2011.

Women’s state pension age reached 63 years in 2016, then 65 in 2018 and will be 66 in 2020. It is set to rise to 67 by 2028.

Jo, who had worked expecting to retire at 60 but now faces another six years working, said: “The coalition put it up another year. Theresa May said it wouldn’t be more than a year, but it’s been more like six years.

“In 1995 when they put it up to 65, it wasn’t announced, we didn’t get any notification. It was apparently reported in the Financial Times but I was a single parent and my mother had just died, I wasn’t going to be looking in the papers.

“I was totally, totally unaware until my sister told me.”

Jo said she struggled to get by as a single mother but then got her degree and started teaching, but that time out of work means she did not build up a private pension and is reliant on the state pension that she thought she would get at 60.

Jo said many women take time out of work to raise their families or care for their elderly parents and women are more likely to work part-time or in lower paid jobs, so they are less likely to have private pensions than men.

“We didn’t have such a thing as child care payments, nobody was helping me. I would have lost money if I worked, I couldn’t go to work. I couldn’t get a full-time job,” Jo said.

She added that because she is now at the top of the teacher pay scale, she thinks by not being able to retire that the government will be losing money.

Jo said: “They could have paid a newly qualified teacher and my pension and have money to spare.”

Helena also feels the changes disadvantaged women.

She said: “Back in the 1970s, I couldn’t get a bank account without a man.

“We have lived through all that and then you get to 58 and then I get a letter to say, with 18 months notice, sorry [your state pension] will be taken away.”

Helena said the sudden rise in state pension age has left many older people struggling to get by and struggling to work, something not everyone can do.

She said: “I have got a friend who is 58 and won’t get her pension until she is 67 [after the further planned rises to state pension age]. She has got dementia and her family are panic stricken.

“How are they going to live?”

Helena also said she had put away for a private pension, but when the fund collapsed she was left reliant on the state pension.

Helena said: “I got 22p compensation for every pound they stole.”

Her private pension collapsed in about 1999 and Helena said she had really worked hard to save up a fund that would allow her to spend six months in the UK and the rest of the year in South Africa, but that dream was never realised and she is still working.

Helena said: “There’s a lot of people worse off than I am.”

Jo said just this week she had been involved in fundraising to support a 64-year-old woman in rent arrears.

Helena added: “It’s scary. If it’s that easy to do this to a group of women and it’s accepted, imagine what they will do to the youth of today, they have hit them with loans to study and they have sold off those loans.”

Jo said: “It’s completely messed up my life. It has destroyed my life.”

The judges said they had been saddened by the stories in evidence, but said the court’s role was limited.

They said: “The wider issues raised by the claimants about whether the choices were right or wrong or good or bad were not for the court. They were for members of the public and their elected representatives.”