Brexit will make it harder to help 1950s women, says Pensions Minister

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The Pensions Minister, Baroness Altmann, says that the decision to leave the European Union means that it could be much harder to implement transitional arrangements for women born in the 1950s so they can get their state pension early.

Earlier this week I was at a journalists’ dinner where Baroness Altmann was the guest of honour. I mentioned that I’d been at the WASPI demo last week and asked her if there was an update, following her meeting with the WASPI campaign group on June 29th. The event was ‘on the record’ which means everyone knew that what they said could be reported. This is – word for word – the Pensions Minister’s response:

Baroness Altmann said: “Basically, I have huge sympathy for them I told them that I wish they had been there with me in 2011 because I needed enough women there to persuade the government what I could see at the time, which is that this was going to cause a problem – and it has caused a problem.

Anything that we want to try and do, and I do want to try and help them, is going to cost money and we are competing against a number of other policy objectives.

I do believe that many of them will be facing hardship and I do want to try work for them, but I don’t have my own budget. I am fighting for a budget with other competing issues in the department. And this law was changed five years ago and it is already coming into effect.

It is difficult, for me as someone who was championing that cause in 2011 to come along and try to demand money for one of the causes of mine. However, I’ve been trying to do that. I’ll continue to try and do whatever I can. But I don’t want to make false promises.

Women have had a raw deal on pensions for far too long. This particular group of women who are already in later life, they didn’t have a chance to earn as much, and in many cases they didn’t have a chance to join a pension at work and many of them don’t have as much state pension either. So I understand the issues, but you are talking about a policy that was designed to equalise the pension ages. And indeed much of the issue was already done in 1995, not in 2011.

So, you’re talking about something as far as government policy is concerned has been in place for a long time. And what new arguments can I put to them especially when the whole point of the process originally was to equalise the state pension ages. And what I do want to stress is that anyone reaching state pension age now will be getting more state pension than any average woman reaching state pension age before. And even with the new state pension, over her lifetime the average woman will get 10% more state pension than the average man of the same age.

Now I know that doesn’t cut much ice with the ladies who are affected, and of course in particular there are those who are at the bottom end of the scale, who will feel very aggrieved. They are comparing themselves to other women. Another perspective is to compare yourself to a man in the same age group. I am trying to make all these arguments. I am trying to make people understand that there is a real case for helping this group of women to some degree at least. But I’ll be frank with you, it has been really unhelpful – exceedingly unhelpful – that the demands made were to take women back to age 60. The cost of that is just so off the scale, and most people thought that was just so unreasonable that it became very difficult for me to say well, actually, let’s try and find something.

I’ve been trying and still am but given what’s happened over the last week or so and given the effect that there’s likely to be on public finances and the departmental finances in particular – if the forecasts prove correct – makes my job even harder. And I say that very sadly and I understand and sympathise with way that many of these women feel – I mean I’ve championed the idea of better pensions for women for years. It’s only now for younger women really that we’re improving the situation but that doesn’t help them. I’m sharing in all honesty how I feel.”

Sarah’s view: “I do understand that the Brexit vote has increased uncertainty, however, I believe it’s vital that a package of transitional measures is agreed as quickly as possible. These women have waited long enough for some action and, in a number of cases, are facing real financial hardship. Government spending is all about priorities and these women who weren’t properly told about their state pension age rise should not be overlooked.”

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History of the state pension – 10 things you need to know about how it affects women

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