Calls made to help East Devon WASPI women facing pandemic hardship

East Devon District Council is calling on the government to provide financial help for women born in the 1950s who lost out on thousands of pounds of income due to state pension age changes and are now in further hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Beth Sharp exmouth.nub.news

In the 1990s the government increased the female state pension age from 60 to 65. It’s meant that women, born in the 1950s, who expected to retire at 60, suddenly found themselves facing a wait of up to at least five years before they could receive their pension. Further changes in 2011 accelerated and increased the State Pension age so some faced a hike of six years and most had absolutely no idea this had happened.

Nationally, 3.8 million women have been affected by the changes with more than 7,500 women living in East Devon.

Campaigners for the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) say that the pandemic is now adding to the financial strain that the women born in the 1950s are facing. Many affected by the changes have had to continue working towards their new state pension age in order to make ends meet as the decision meant that many were financially ill-prepared for the future.

As jobs are being lost due to economic pressures triggered by the Covid lockdown, many in this group are now finding that their jobs – their financial lifeline – are being cut and they are finding it hard to find new work.

Following a motion to support the WASPI group, put forward by Cllr Fabian King and seconded by Cllr Val Ranger, East Devon District Council unanimously agreed to lobby its three MPs urging them to promote the plight of the women in Parliament.

The council is backing the WASPI call on government to take urgent action to support the women. It wants Parliament to give WASPI women early access to Pension Credit and give those women due to reach state pension age this financial year early access to their state pension.

At the council meeting, Cllr Ranger highlighted the devastating repercussions for the women resulting from the pandemic which had removed their means of earning or saving money.

She said: “It is very easy to forget that many of these women were well into their 40 and 50s when the changes to pension ages were announced.

“The national minimum wage was not introduced until 1999 and many women prior to that were in very low wage jobs, secondary to their partners.

“Many of these women had career breaks to raise children or care for family members or worked part-time sometimes with multiple jobs around those responsibilities.

“If they found themselves raising children or caring for partners alone, employers did not automatically put part-time workers into pension schemes at that time and where there was the choice to enrol in a scheme, many had to choose between feeding the family that month or putting money into the pension pot for later life.

“It is one thing to be told at the start of your career that you will need to plan long term for your retirement and another to have the goal posts changed as you approach retirement.

“Things are very different now with compulsory employer pension schemes.

“Low paid jobs are often high energy, unsocial hours and physical and this becomes increasingly challenging over the years.

“Given the competition in the job market now at a time when many younger people are seeking work, it seems nonsensical to pay young people to be on unemployment benefits so harmful to their self-esteem and long term mental health and yet continue to insist older women who have worked hard all their lives must carry on pursuing whatever means they can to get by.

“The government could easily address this imbalance with no ill effect on the public purse.”

Carol Bray and Sandra Broadbent, Devon co-ordinators for WASPI, thanked the council for supporting their cause.

They said: “The arrival of the Coronavirus pandemic has led to even further financial strain for us. Many were unable to take advantage of emergency government measures and many lost their jobs.

“Those who have lost their jobs are finding real barriers in gaining new work.

“The World Health Organisation has identified those over 60 as being at greater risk from the virus – many WASPI women are continuing or seeking employment in a state of fear but have no option as they cannot afford to be unemployed.

“The emergency measures the council is supporting would be of immense help and it is a testament to East Devon council that it is the first council in the country to support its residents in this Call to Action and to do so unanimously.”

WASPI has made it clear that it is not asking for pensions to return to 60 for women, but say that the government decision was maladministration as women were not properly informed of the changes and led to many being financially ill prepared for the future.

Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of the council, was asked by the council to write to the district’s three MPs Simon Jupp, Mel Stride and Neil Parish.

In his letter, Cllr Arnott told the MPs that the women were already suffering from a pre-existing state of poverty and financial deprivation and government action on Covid had hit them exceptionally hard, throwing them into a pension trap.

He said: “These women were deprived of any means by which they could rescue or revise their financial plans – in the time available at the end of their working lives – to replace the pension provision that had been taken away.

“Just because this issue continues to be neglected does not mean it has gone away. Men have never had to put up with this treatment and this intolerable gender discrimination is happening today in plain sight.

“The repercussions of Covid have been financially devastating for the cohort caught in this penalised age group.

“It is irrefutable that the manner of pension age transition has caused significant financial damages for women born in the 1950s.

“Many have had to tread very carefully through life to make ends meet. Yet now this has been exacerbated by Covid pulling the rug from under them.

“The government’s Covid lockdown measures have caused the collapse of the penny-pinching ways of life to which so many East Devon women born in the 1950’s have had to resort.

“Covid has broken apart the fragile state of their financial make-do-and-mend approach to life.

“The remedial measures and little ways of making and saving a penny or a pound here or there have become an impossible challenge.

“That Covid lockdown has been easing recently has not undone the damage nor resolved the economic deprivation this cohort of women continue to face – and it may yet return.

“I can summarise by saying that the common theme is that so many means and ways of earning an extra few pounds, or making savings here and there have now gone. And, as so many men will know, when they approach retirement age, the ageism prevalent in our society closes nearly every door to improving their financial lot.”

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