An attack on austerity: the 30bn cuts leaving women in the lurch

Ellen Layzell critiques the changes to pensions for women and government expenditure.

Edited by Isabel Aruna.

Heard about the changes to pensions for women born in the ‘50s’? No? Those women haven’t either. This issue all too often falls under the radar but not anymore. Recently this issue has been pushed to the forefront of the national political agenda, particularly due to a petition by the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) and a stunning speech by Mhairi Black in a House of Commons debate. The changes consist of an adjustment to the state pension age for women born after the 6th of April 1951 from 60 to 65 (which is the state pension age for men). The plans came originally from the 1995 Conservative Government’s Pension Act, where they planned to increase the age by 2026; however, plans were accelerated with the 2011 Pension Act to ensure the age was increased by 2020.

While these changes to the state pension age are sensible, WASPI have stated that these changes were not sufficiently broadcasted; thus many women have been left in the lurch after either retiring early, or making plans dependent on them receiving their state pension. While women are being told they should be happy because they’ve finally achieved certain equality, it is easy to see why many may be bitter. Due to poor communication many didn’t know of the changes till it was too late, this means they have no option but live off their savings for years after their retirement. As Black succinctly pointed out in her speech in the Commons, WASPI are not against the equalisation of the state pension age, despite what has been misleadingly spread by certain Conservative MPs. WASPI just want ‘transitional’ measures put in place to lift the burden from women whose retirement plans have been “shattered”.

Pensions Minister, Baroness Ros Altmann insisted that letters were sent out to inform women and adverts were also placed in papers and magazines about the changes. However, many disagree. Now a petition asking to “Make fair transitional state pension arrangements for 1950’s women” has reached almost 160,000 signatures to date. As Black stated, the House of Commons voted 158-0 in a debate on this subject, yet there has been no move by the government to change existing arrangements to give some 2.6 million women, an easier – and some say fairer – transition into retirement.

Many including Mhairi Black have connected these changes to austerity. As Gaby Hinsliff from The Guardian points out, the rise in the women’s state pension age actually saves the state £30billion. This saving may sound great, but the changes are leaving some women exceedingly poor. The government has a responsibility to protect its’ citizens and admit their failure in not publicising the changes enough. These changes will have a ripple effect specifically affecting certain poorer members of society. The welfare state has arguably been hit the hardest by austerity, but surely the contractual nature of pensions should protect those who have paid into them?

While the government will argue that they do not have enough money to aid those in trouble after the changes, Black is right in arguing “pensions are not a benefit; they are a right”. Her speech touched upon “austerity of choice”, she stated: “I have yet to hear of a general or a defence minister say: ‘we can’t bomb that country because we’ve exceeded our budget, we can’t find the money’. When we want to bomb Syria we can find it. When we want to refurbish Westminster we can find it, but when it comes to giving our pensioners their pension we cannot do it?” WASPI aren’t even asking for early pensions for these people, they are simply asking for help. Surely it is not too much to ask.