During the General Election campaign in 2015, I was stopped by a woman who identiﬁed herself as a natural SNP supporter but said that if a party would stand up for women her age, then it would get her vote. She went on to explain that she had now seen her anticipated retiral age be raised twice; already in ill health, she had a very real fear that she would never get to see her pension and she pleaded for somebody, somewhere to stand up for her generation.
Caithness Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) was launched last week in a a effort to raise awareness and seek redress for the way in which the increase in state pension age for women was handled by the Westminster government. Inspired by the campaigning of Mhairi Black MP, the group has the backing of constituency MSP, Gail Ross and MP, Paul Monaghan.
Created as a way to have equality between the male and female state pension age, the decision was taken that women born after April 6 1951 would have to work several years longer than expected. Twenty years later it was then increased again and for those a generation down, they face an even longer wait until their retiral. Much of the disquiet around this arose because of the short notice that women received about these changes with many claiming that they were never notiﬁed. There is a sliding scale of retiral age dependant on when you were born and more changes cannot be ruled out.
The original announcement that the state pension age for women was to rise was not widely shared in 1995 and it is only recently that many women found out about it. This led to the situation where many women only found out a year or two in advance of their 60th birthday that they would instead have to work beyond this and then received a further blow when a new raised state pension age was announced further widening the gap between what they had planned for and what the reality would be. Many women had spent their adult lives in caring at home roles or in low paid part time work with some facing further hardship as they are only eligible for a reduced pension due to not having built up enough contributions.
It is an issue where everybody knows somebody who has been affected; I learnt in early adulthood that my state pension age would be at least 67 yet now watch a female relative desperately try to top up her National Insurance contributions to obtain a full pension before it is too late, years after she expected to retire. I know of one set of three sisters born over a ﬁve year period in the 1950s where the eldest retired at 60, the middle recently sister at 63 and the youngest will not retire until 66; I would not expect this to be uncommon and to me, shows the unfairness of how the system was introduced in that your state pension age relies solely on accident of birth for that generation.
Petitions have been placed throughout the UK for women to sign before being presented to the constituency MP then collated and handed into 10 Downing Street as one. A demonstration took place outside Westminster last week when thousands of women and men took to the streets to record their disquiet over the issue whilst smaller demonstrations took place simultaneously in further aﬁeld parts of the country. Heavy pressure is being exerted upon the Westminster government to re-examine the legislation from the national WASPI campaign and many MPs and I would hope that this is one situation where people power makes a difference.
Women do not mind their pension age being raised to that of a male bringing equality to another area of their lives but it is the way that it has been handled that is wrong.