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In the past, the state pension age was 60 for women and 65 for men. However, the age has been rising recently, and changes are still ongoing. State pension age parity between men and women was reached back in November 2018, when the state pension age for women reached 65.
However, these changes – which came into force under the Pensions Act 1995, then accelerated via the Pensions Act 2011 – have prompted the formation of a number of campaign groups.
This includes Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) – a group which agrees with equalisation of the state pension age, but opposes the way in which changes were introduced.
WASPI campaigners are calling for “fair transitional state pension arrangements” for all women born in the 1950s, who were affected by the changes to the state pension.
The coronavirus pandemic has had a huge financial impact this year, with millions of people needing to turn to forms of support such as Universal Credit, or to emergency schemes such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (also referred to as the furlough scheme) and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS).
In an exclusive interview this month, WASPI’s communications director Debbie de Spon has told Express.co.uk about the impact on WASPI women.
Mrs de Spon explained 1950s-born women “were already disadvantaged” due to factors such as lower pay, the increased likelihood of them working part-time – often in shift work – as well as little opportunity for private pensions.
“And we know that women’s pension pots are much much lower than a man’s pension pot, and that the gender pay gap is massive,” she said.
“So women were already bumping along the bottom. We’ve been pushed into further poverty by effects of COVID-19.”
Health concerns in the pandemic have forced many to make difficult decisions – including WASPI women – as Mrs de Spon pointed out.
She said: “They’ve had all the problems of self-isolating because the World Health Organisation says that people over the age of 60 are at risk.
“So they’re in a terrible juxtaposition of being required to take extra precautions for their own well-being and also that of other family members.
“So if you’ve got a partner or husband who is ill and vulnerable, then women have had to make decisions about how they’re going to manage their own – protecting themselves and their families.
“Some of them self-isolating and some have had to go into shielding for the sake of themselves or others.
“We heard of one woman who had to rent alternative accommodation because her husband was vulnerable and she was so frightened of bringing something home to him, and she carried on doing that until she simply couldn’t afford to do it any longer.
“So women had to make quite drastic decisions. And we had messages from women who were really frightened especially in the early days.
“You know if they worked in the supermarkets, or they worked as a receptionist in a hospital department or in a doctor’s surgery, they were terrified. Particularly the women in the supermarkets.
“They were frightened for their own lives because it took a while for proper measures to be put in place, in shops and supermarkets and things. And there was a lot of fear about what was the best thing for them to do.
“So if you’re already bumping along the bottom, that has had a huge impact.”
While government schemes has helped many get by this year, others have sadly found themselves ineligible for the support.
Mrs de Spon explained some WASPI women have “for whatever reason” found they were not eligible for the government support scheme.
“There’s a campaign called Excluded UK. Well, a lot of those people are WASPI women who for example they might have a small occupational pension and in order to supplement their occupational pension to make up a living wage or at least to make their life what they expected it to be, they’ve started some kind of small business.
“But for whatever reason, it may not comply with the requirements of the government support scheme so they’re excluded from that.
“We already had women downsizing because they couldn’t afford the places that they were living in so that made that problem worse.”
For some, being furloughed via the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was an option.
However, prior to the recent extension of the scheme until March 2021 due to further coronavirus restrictions in England, this support been set to end on October 31 this year.
Mrs de Spon spoke of the fear WASPI women experienced at the prospect of furlough coming to an end.
She said: “[There was] terrible concern that when furlough finished they would be first in the line for redundancy because historically we always know that women are vulnerable to redundancy in times of recession.
“And they were genuinely worried that after furlough their jobs would no longer be there, and the prospects of them finding work.”
While remote working may have become the norm for many this year, it’s not been a straightforward option for all.
“There’s the problem of working from home because a lot of WASPI women are not computer literate so even though possibly some of their roles can be done working from home, they’re not used to working in that way,” explained Mrs de Spon.
“So a lot of women of our age will be excluded from that kind of thing. And a lot of WASPI aged women don’t do jobs which can be done from home.
“They’re far more likely to be in jobs which can’t be done from home. So therefore they’re sort of pushed onto the frontline by the very nature of the work they do.
“If they work in a shop or they work in a factory, or they clean chalets in a holiday park or whatever it might be.
“There’s no flexibility there for them to work from home. Also they are technologically unskilled.”
The WASPI campaigner added: “The Resolution Foundation highlighted that younger and older workers have experienced the brunt of the hits to both jobs and pay.
“Again for the reason that older workers are limited from what they can do from home.
“There’s also this fear that jobs won’t be there. Then there’s this competition for finding jobs, when we know that young people – people under 25 – are also struggling to find work.
“And if the choice is between employing a 64-year-old woman or a 19-year-old, for many jobs, it’s not difficult to work out what might be the more attractive one.”
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