MPs have been deluged with letters from worried women born in the mid-1950s who were put on notice earlier this month that they will have to work up to two years longer as the result of the government’s decision to fast-track changes to the pension age. The retirement plans of 500,000 women have been affected by more than a year, whereas no men will have to work more than an extra 12 months.
Charities are now coordinating a grassroots campaign to put pressure on the government to amend the bill when it returns to the house next month. Labour has also launched a campaign and nerves are beginning to show among some MPs on the government benches about the weight of public feeling among women, who represent a key demographic that all parties are chasing at the polls. The work and pensions select committee is to quiz the minister responsible, Steve Webb, when he comes before them this month.
The shadow pensions minister, Rachel Reeves, said: “I understand the implications of increasing longevity, and agree that deficit reduction is a priority, but the legislation is arbitrarily hitting women born in 1954 too harshly, while making no impact on deficit reduction in this parliament.
“In the most extreme case around 33,000 of these women, including my mother, will have to work for two more years before they get their basic state pension, with only seven years to prepare.”
The state pension age for women has been gradually increasing since 6 April last year at the rate of one month for every two months the woman was born after 5 April 1950, and was intended to reach 65 by 2020. Both men and women’s pension age would than increase in tandem to 66 between 2024 and 2026.
But the government announced earlier this month that it intends to accelerate the increase so the women’s state pension age rises to 65 by November 2018, and then to equalise the pension age for men and women at 66 by 6 April 2020.
The effect is that 500,000 women will have to work at least a year longer, of which 300,000 will work an extra 18 months. Webb was forced to admit in a parliamentary question this week that 33,000 of those, who were born between March 6 and April 5 1954, will have to work two extra years.
One Tory backbencher said she had received several approaches from constituents, but she insisted the changes were necessary to help reduce the deficit. “We all believe in equality in the workplace, this is part of that,” she said.
Since the Guardian first reported the changes it has received dozens of letters from affected readers. One from Chris Ronan, 56 and facing an extra two years before her pension kicks in, said: “I am all for everyone ‘doing their bit’ to help the state of the economy, but this is blatant discrimination against women born in 1954. We are thought of as a soft touch because women like us don’t usually make a fuss or complain.”
Ros Altmann of Saga, the consumer body for over-50s, said the campaign against the changes was not opposing the equalisation of the state pension age, rather its fast-tracking which had created a disproportionate affect for women.
“My concern is that the people who are going to suffer are the most vulnerable women,” she said. “Many are single, haven’t had a chance to accumulate a private pension and will be reliant solely on the state pension.” Many women were also unaware of the changes and weren’t prepared, she added.
Anne Begg, chair of the work and pensions committee, said: “Many women feel the retirement age is wriggling away from them – I think there are a lot of women who feel very worried. You need to give people time to order their affairs. For those who are going to have to work for an extra two years, that is very unfair.”
The changes are predicted to save the government £30bn before 2025, with another £13bn generated in taxes from people working longer. Webb said: “In a country where 10m of us will live to be 100 we simply can’t go on paying the state pension at an age that was set early in the last century.
“Although women will experience the rise in the state pension age more quickly than previously planned, they will still draw the state pension for longer, and our ‘triple guarantee’ means someone retiring today on a full basic state pension will receive £15,000 more over their retirement than they would have done under the old prices link.”
Pensions by numbers
Overall, 4.9 million people – 2.3 million men and 2.6 million women – are affected by the changes. Just over 1 million will have to wait less than a year longer to receive a state pension: 500,000 men and and 600,000 women. More than 3 million will have to wait exactly a year longer: 1.8 million men and 1.5 million women. Another 500,000 women born between 6 Sep 1953 and 6 March 1955 will have to work a year or more longer – no men will have to wait more than a year. Of those, 300,000 who were born between 6 Sep 1953 and 6 Sep 1954 will have to work 18 months longer. And of those, 33,000 born between 6 March 1954 and 5 April 1954 will have to work two years more.