This isn’t pension equality. This is a clear injustice to older women

It’s gender equality day today, the day when women finally catch up with men; but don’t worry, you haven’t missed the party because there wasn’t one. All it means is that as from this date, 6 November 2018, women and men must both be 65 before they can claim their state pension. Naturally, it is important that women and men be treated equally, except that’s not what’s happening. Equality in pension age will not magically deliver equality in pay or lifelong earnings power – or even access to a full state pension. And if you want to understand how class and gender inequality intersect to create a double whammy of disadvantage, you need only consider how a prized universal benefit like the state pension offers least help to those who need it most.

This would be much less well understood without the tireless efforts of Women Against State Pension Inequality (Waspi), the campaign at the forefront of the defence of that generation of women who planned their lives around retirement at 60 – only to discover that the government had moved the goalposts. Some women will now have to wait six extra years before they qualify for their state pension.

No mathematical skill is required to see why change is necessary: according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, the breathtaking bill for state pensions last year was very nearly £94bn. That’s already about 12% of total public spending, and with a rapidly aging population, pensioners will only take more and more of a pot generated (unless immigration controls are loosened or it suddenly becomes affordable and desirable to have half a dozen children) by fewer and fewer taxpayers. It’s not the change itself that’s the cause of the injustice, it’s the way it was done.

Getting old is hard to imagine until you’re there. Planning for getting old – spending less now in order to be able to have more later – is even harder. (It’s an unaffordable luxury when there’s barely enough for essentials.) But blithe careless youth gifts politicians and policymakers the freedom to look only at the sums rather than think about the people whose interests might be damaged by consequences. That’s the kindest explanation for why it didn’t occur to the Department for Work and Pensions that it actually needed to warn the women affected to adjust their expectations. On the other hand, maybe they did think of it, but then said to themselves, it’ll just be a bunch of old women: no problem.

Without Waspi’s sheer bloody-mindedness, they could have been right. But it was clear from the coverage of the protest after the chancellor failed to mention pensions in his budget last week, that the sense of injustice has gone mainstream. A chancellor not overwhelmed by the implications of Brexit would have realised long ago that the relatively small amount of cash needed to compensate the worst affected women was fair and just. But even if he had, he would not be able to ignore the extent of pension injustice for women that has become clear.

In a blog this week, Ros Altmann, one of the handful of actual women who has been pensions minister, detailed all the little ways women lose out. Starting at the top with the decision to increase women’s state pension age by more than men’s with less notice, Altmann spells out how gender inequality is perpetuated by the state pension system.

It’s not that the thought processes of pensions policymakers are entirely furred up by residue from the patriarchy. The last Labour government introduced ambitious reforms such as the “carers credit”. Some of the sources of gender inequality are not easily remedied. But it should not have come as a surprise to the Whitehall actuaries sucking their teeth over the future pensions bill that for the generation of women born in the 1950s, less likely to have worked all their lives, much less likely to have had a well-paid job, and very much more likely to have had work and contributions interrupted by kids or other caring responsibilities, the abrupt change of pension age was all too likely to come as a devastating blow.

And it should also be clear now that without really serious intervention to tackle wider inequalities, pensions inequality is only going to get worse. The interim report from John Cridland proposes increasing the pension age to 68, creeping up in line with life expectancy. Except while the pension age goes up for everyone, life expectancy doesn’t. The gap between women and men is narrowing, and increasingly the distinction stems from where you live, and how you live: the life expectancy gap between Britain’s poorest and richest neighbourhoods has got wider in the last two decades. The unjust state pension is becoming the mirror of an unequal state.

Anne Perkins is a former deputy political editor of the Guardian

Source: Read Full Article