HEATHER is 56-years-old. She lives in Doncaster and recently took early retirement to care for her mother-in-law. Financially, she knew it would be difficult, but after working 40 years as a postwoman she reckoned her small private pension would see her through until she was old enough to claim the state pension.
It would have been, but under new Government proposals, which will speed up plans to increase the state pension age for women to 66, she now faces an uncertain future.
“It’s the unfairness of it,” she says. “If I’d been born three or four years earlier I would have got my pension at 60. The Government has given us five or six years notice, but for people like me it’s too late. I can’t take back the private pension I converted. There’s nothing I can do about and the lack of preparation time is incredibly frustrating.”
Heather is not alone. Originally it was decided the state pension age would increase to 66, for both men and women, between 2024 and 2026. The timetable was put in place on the advice of the Pensions Commission, which said people would need 15 years to plan financially for the new retirement age.
However, recently the goal posts have moved. In its current form, the Pensions Bill, which enters a key stage in the House of Lords later this month, recommends bringing the state pension age for women in line with men by 2018.
Two years later it will rise to 66, a full six years earlier than planned.
While most recognise the need for reform due to increased life expectancy, the rate at which the changes look set to be introduced will leave many women like Heather facing the breadline.
Age UK, which is currently campaigning against the proposals, estimates around 330,000 women born between December 1953 and October 1954 will lose out.
It will cost the worst affected up to £10,000 in lost pension income and will force millions to wait longer for other benefits, which will also go up in line with the state pension age.
“By breaking its promise on the state pension age the Government is hurting millions of hard-working people who believed their retirement was just around the corner,” says Michelle Mitchell, Age UK’s charity director.
“For a group of women who have worked in relatively low-paid jobs or who worked part-time because of family commitments it could mean real hardship.
“MPs must wake up to the unfairness of these proposals and the level of anger simmering away in their constituencies.
“We have been inundated with emails and letters from thousands of women who are furious that having already revised their retirement plans to accommodate the previous changes, they will now have to wait even longer for their pension.”
The charity is now urging those unhappy with the proposals to sign up to their campaign and email their local MP asking them to support an Early Day Motion calling on the Government to revise the timetable for change.
“Given that life expectancy is increasing, the Government is right to look at reforming the pensions system. But this is too much too soon,” adds Michelle.
“The Pensions Bill must be amended to ensure that the current timetable for equalisation remains and any increase to the state pension age beyond 65 does not start until at least 2020.
“Pressing ahead with these changes will deny millions of people the chance to plan properly for retirement. And it will condemn the very poorest in our society to yet more hardship as they struggle to manage without the stage pension and benefits they were counting on.
“The changes will affect almost five million people and will force even greater hardship on those who are more heavily reliant on the state pension whether it be because of disability or whether they are now in their fifties, unemployed and with little hope of finding work they are already stuck in financial limbo.”
One of those who has signed up to the campaign puts it more strongly.
“It’s appalling,” says Christine, who was unfortunate enough to be born in July 1954. “We’ve already accepted one change, but it’s the fact we are getting a double whammy.
“When cut backs are shared across the population that’s OK, but this is a case where a small group has been singled out because of the date of our birth and that’s unfair.”
For further information on Age UK’s campaign visit www.ageuk.org.uk/spa.