The judicial review hearing into the rise in women’s state pension age

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The long-awaited judicial review into the rises in state pension age, and how they affected women, gets underway today and continues on Thursday. I hope it will bring about change for millions of women born in the 1950s.

Why we’re here

It’s almost ten years since the state pension age for women started rising from 60 to 65. The decision to equalise women’s state pension age with men’s was taken in the early 1990s, and became law in 1995 under the Pensions Act.

At the time, many thousands of married women relied on their husband’s state pension record, and most didn’t get the full state pension in their own right. Government figures for 2009 showed that fewer than 45% of women received the full basic state pension, compared to around 95% of men.

The so-called ‘equalisation’ of pensions

The decision to equalise the state pension age over a ten-year period didn’t attract a huge amount of attention at the time. And, although there were articles and media reports in the 1990s and early 2000s, I don’t recall that there was a huge concern that this was unfair to women.

The very word ‘equalisation’ implies a sort of fairness. Men and women will get their pensions at the same age in the future. The problem is that women haven’t (and still don’t have) the opportunity to build up the same workplace pensions as men. Recent figures show that the average 65-year-old married woman has a pension that’s a fifth the size of the average 65-year-old married man.

You can read more about why men’s pensions are so much bigger than women’s in my article. And the state pension system itself was sexist. Women who didn’t work for money, but looked after their children or cared for elderly relatives, weren’t able to build up their state pension in the same way that women and men who worked were able to. You can read more about this in my article called the history of the state pension and how it affects women.

The lack of notice

The issue is as much about the fact that many women weren’t told that their state pension age was rising, as it is about the decision to raise the state pension age. Although there were some adverts in newspapers, and some people who received state pension forecasts did also receive a leaflet explaining that the state pension age was rising, many women didn’t see the adverts, or didn’t understand how they were directly affected.

A number of employers, divorce courts, financial advisers and solicitors were also unaware of the rise in women’s state pension age or what it actually meant for women. This meant that some women had maintenance arrangements that would end at 60, rather than 65 or 66, income protection plans (that pay an income if you’re too ill to work) that stopped at 60 and/or mortgages that had to be repaid at 60, rather than when they actually received their state pension.

You can read about how the lack of notice affected one woman, Mariana, in my article.

Governments ignoring 1950s women

There were protests against the government plans to speed up the rise in state pension age to 66, before it was debated in parliament in 2010. In response, the government took six months off the timetable, so that women’s state pension age would reach 66 in October 2020, rather than April 2020, as originally planned.

This still meant that hundreds of thousands of women would not get their state pension until they were 66, rather than 60, which many of them had expected and planned for. On top of that, I (and others) didn’t realise that women hadn’t been told about the 1995 rise in state pension age.

The real campaign against the state pension age rise (led by WASPI) kicked off in 2013/14. Since then, despite numerous debates in parliament, the current and previous governments have not shown any interest in seriously addressing the consequences of the rises in state pension age.

Other groups, principally Backto60, have campaigned to have the state pension age for women reversed to 60. Backto60 has been instrumental in getting the judicial review. Some women have asked me what the judicial review can achieve. I have to be honest and say I don’t know. But I really hope it does bring about some change.

Related articles:

Adding up the cost of the state pension age rise for women

How generous is the UK state pension?

Ep 23: The state pension; an interview with Steve Webb

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