Meet the women fighting for pension justice

Given little to no notice of the six-year increase to their state pension age, a generation of women are fighting back against inequality, ageism and institutional mismanagement.

The WASPI campaign protests in 2016. Image @WASPI_Campaign

“The abrupt and poorly implemented change in the state pension age for women from 60 to 66 has severely and unconscionably penalised those who were on the cusp of retirement and who had well-founded expectations of entering the next phase of their lives”.

The words of Philip Alston, the United Nations rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, whose damning report on the state of poverty in Britain laid bare the shocking impact austerity has had on women in the UK.

In the report, published in November, Alston discusses how recent government policies have “perpetuated rather than tackled the gendered aspects of poverty”, acknowledging that women in the UK “earn less than men, shoulder a greater amount of unpaid labour and are more likely to experience poverty”.

The UN rapporteur points out that even in 2018 women were paid 17.9% less per hour on average than men, made up 60% of low pay workers and were disproportionately engaged in part-time work with little wage progression.

“Given the structural disadvantages faced by women, it is particularly disturbing that so many policy changes since 2010 have taken a greater toll on them,” Alston states, in a report where he suggests women, particularly poor women, have been “intentionally targeted” by the government.

His recommendation? To review and remedy the “systematic disadvantage” inflicted on women by current policies.

This view is endorsed by WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality), a nationwide movement established in 2015 to fight for justice for the generation of women penalised by the “poorly implemented” rise in their state pension age from 60 to 66.

Today a judicial review begins, brought on the basis of sex discrimination by separate campaign group Back to 60. The landmark review in the High Court will examine the government’s handling of the rise in the pension age for women born in the 1950s, who were the first to see their pension age fall in line with men.

The Pensions Act 1995 stated that the state pension age for women would increase from 60 to 65 from April 2010 to 2020, however the coalition government accelerated the timetable with the Pensions Act 2011. Under the new act the state pension age would reach 65 by November 2018 and 66 by April 2020, to reflect life expectancy.

While the government claims to have paid for articles in newspapers and TV advertising to communicate the changes, WASPI research suggests that these were mostly in the financial sections of broadsheet newspapers and not aimed directly at the generation impacted.

“The government knew that it would be unpopular and nobody voluntarily chooses to draw attention to something that they know is going to be very unpopular,” states Debbie de Spon, WASPI communications director.

“As a campaign we also suspect that successive governments thought we were an easy target and that we wouldn’t make a fuss about it.”

They were wrong. Some women did notice and in 2011 complained about the changes, which resulted in the coalition government agreeing to push the rise to 66 back from April 2020 to October 2020. 

WASPI branded merchandise by long-time supporter and cartoonist, Steve Bee.

“As a result the 2011 Act didn’t increase the state pension age as much as it was intended to do, which meant the government didn’t save as much money off the backs of WASPI women as they had hoped,” says de Spon.

“It’s also a question less about equalising the state pension age, which is what it’s been dressed up as, but rather it was about the government saving money that it very badly needed to save.”

Some four years later in March 2015 the Work and Pensions Select Committee concluded that “more could and should have been done” in communicating to these women.

The decision not to inform the 1950s generation goes right to the heart of government. Writing in the I newspaper in October 2018 Baroness Ros Altman, who served as pensions minister between 2015 and 2016, claimed that the then Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith refused to engage with the women adversely affected and that she was “instructed not to speak to them”. The feeling at the time was that the women would go away sooner or later.

Altman goes on to state: “The Department for Work and Pensions had failed to properly inform those affected by the huge 1995 changes. Indeed, the DWP inadvertently led these women to believe their state pension age was 60.

“It wrote to millions of them between 2003 and 2005 about their state pension, without bothering to mention that they would not be getting it at age 60. Even in 2015, when women’s pension age had already risen to 62, some pages on the Government’s website said women would start their state pension at age 60.”

Achieving financial security

The far-ranging impact the change in pension age has had on the generation of 1950s women cannot be overstated. Finding themselves with a six-year gap in their savings has, in many cases, taken financial independence away from women who expected that when they reached 60 there would be money put aside.

For those women who have partners and husbands the changes have often meant relying on them to make ends meet, while de Spon explains that others feel like they are on the brink of disaster.

“I speak to women who often say ‘I’m frightened that tomorrow I’ll be too ill or my condition will be too bad for me to actually go to work and I have to munch on painkillers in order to get me through’,” she recalls.

“Even if you put to one side the financial situation of people who are most struggling which obviously we consider all the time, we also consider the women who did plan, who did make arrangements.”

De Spon cites one of her oldest friends who carefully planned for her retirement, only to find out a few years prior that a huge chunk of her expected state pension – up to £45,000 – would disappear.

The WASPI campaign

While WASPI celebrates flexible working, enhanced parental leave and auto-enrolment being offered to younger generations as they are passionate about women achieving financial security, such opportunities were not open to them. In fact, the government’s decision to equalise the state pension age fails to take into account the significant societal factors affecting this generation.

Not only did they have to contend with the persistent gender pay gap, but these women did not have the ability to access enhanced maternity leave packages, nor were the majority offered flexible working, which invariably meant that having a baby or taking time off to care for a family member would see their career effectively stop.

“We’re also more of a generation where the woman was expected to stay at home and look after the children and husbands went out to work. That was much more normal and it certainly couldn’t be called normal today,” de Spon points out.

“That was the way it was so therefore, if women did work, they probably only worked part time and if you work part time you couldn’t join a company pension scheme which meant that women of our generation had less opportunity to have a private pension and are therefore more dependent on their state pension.”

The upshot is that women, sometimes after years out of work, are being forced to get back into the workforce in their early 60s or sign on for Universal Credit. In other cases these women are being pushed into unstable zero hours contract work to pay the bills. 

“The government claims that [zero-hours contracts] offers greater flexibility, but my only experience is that they offer a complete lack of flexibility and security, and a lot of anxiety with people not knowing until the morning or the evening before if they are going to work. What kind of life is that for anybody?” de Spon questions.

While there is far more information available now and the Department for Work and Pensions has been consistently promoting its workplace pensions scheme, she believes far more emphasis needs to be put on how people are going to support themselves financially in later life.

“We suspect that successive governments thought we were an easy target and that we wouldn’t make a fuss about it.”

Debbie de Spon, WASPI 

Such an approach will be crucial going forward as life expectancy rises. By 2028, for example, the state pension age is expected to reach 67. This means that as a society – and particularly employers – we will need to find new ways for people work into older age.

De Spon believes fundamental change is needed to help people make adaptions through their working life. “Will HR sit you down and say well, how is it for you, how are you managing, how can we consider what your working life is going to look like for the next five to 10 years?,” she questions.

“I don’t think in most circumstances that happens yet and is that going to happen in the future? Are we going to really look at the needs of the workforce if we’re all going to have to work into our 70s?”

Bridging the gap

WAPSI does not oppose equalising the pension age, but it is asking for compensation for a generation of women who were given little to no warning of the changes and therefore were unable to make up the six-year financial shortfall.

The group is calling for a ‘bridging’ pension to provide an income until the women reach state pension age – non-means-tested and with recompense for losses for those who have already reached retirement. 

To date WASPI has taken a two pronged attack. The first was a political campaign, lobbying MPs to gain support for the bridging pension. However, while the group has received genuine cross-party support, de Spon argues that the government has no will to give the group any money as it needs to save – not spend more.

Simultaneously WAPSI lodged a complaint of maladministration with the Department for Work and Pensions, which is now with an independent case examiner. The goal is to push the complaint all the way through to the parliamentary ombudsman who could, in theory, decide this generation of women should be put back in the position they would have been had the “maladministration” of their pensions not occurred.

The judicial review brought by Back to 60 has, however, put the WASPI maladministration complaint temporarily on hold.

“Even at the end of the judicial review we probably won’t know immediately because DWP and the ombudsman will want to consider what the ruling was and how that affects the way forward for our complaints process, so it’s a real wait and see at the moment,” says de Spon.

“We’re all marking the days on our calendar until we get an idea of how we move forward.”

The experience of the WASPI women is an example of what if feels like to realise the safety net you always thought would be there to catch you has disappeared and time has run out to do anything about it. A generation of women have been – in the words of the UN rapporteur –  “severely and unconscionably penalised” in a bid to recoup money to the public purse.

Alston clearly points to the way women, particularly the WASPI generation, have been put at a “systematic disadvantage” by the state, suggesting not only a right to compensation, but also the need for the government to address how it treats the most vulnerable in society. Furthermore, this should be a wake up call for future generations to redefine our career trajectories as we prepare to work well into our 70s.

53 thoughts

  1. Best article I have ever read explaining exactly what has been done to 1950’s women. Thank you Debbie. Thank you Jaded Media.

    The mental effects are also severe. Every day the anger rages at the way we have been treated.


    1. Not only the monetary aspect, it is the fact that our bodies do not have the same abilities to be able to stand up or bend or lift if your job is manual or things get done slower in general. One of my great regrets are all the hours and days I cannot be with my young grandchildren, after a hard week I find it hard to be there for them, they grow up so quickly and I cannot forgive that! My partner has already retired and all those special days we were planning to spend together are also no longer viable. I feel robbed not only of money but of life!


      1. Totally agree with you. I can’t plan anything major, like a holiday with my grandchildren as I not only Don’t have the finances, but the motivation isn’t there.


      2. Yes I agree some of us have physics jobs and working till 66. Is just so unfair we sent to choosers work not have to in retirement


    2. Totally agree I’m 62 in August this year and live on my own how do you buy half of anything with only one wage….?
      Heat half an oven…..?
      Use only half a room for heat..?
      Half fill a bath….?
      Half see the TV…?
      Half a car even
      Half the petrol
      Half the mot
      Half the insurance
      It just goes on……
      How is a single person going to cope with a single pension….
      Not everyone has a partner!!!!


  2. Very informative.
    I was born in 1961 and feel just as aggrieved as my 50s friends.
    Everyone of us has been duped by this change. I cannot speak for others but from a personal perspective I only had my new retirement age confirmed not so long ago.


  3. I feel cheated and am forced to work on in a job that my mental capabilites are tested to the limit, while My brain is rapidly slowing down.
    I am stressed with trying to keep the mental capability at the required level for my job, which is manifesting itself in other health areas, ie heart issues, incredible fatigue and general feeling of being “under the weather”
    I reduced my hours to help within financial constraints of daily living, however life is becoming a,chore for me when I should be retired.
    This article is excellent and informative.
    Hoping for a foid outcome!!


    1. I only recently became aware of the full impact of these massive changes. The impact is immeasurable. It’s not just the theft of the £45,000 + pension, it is also all the income tax I will be paying for the next 7 years and council tax and bus fares, the list goes On and on and on and on ! Grrr…
      However not only are there severe financial consequences to me but also major emotional issues to consider for my health and the health and well being of my family.
      I no longer will be available to contribute to the care and well being of my grandchildren, picking them up from school for them till mum comes home and doing normal things that grannies do because they’re now will be working and the fact that I will be over 60 doing this so I presume I will be extremely tired.
      The consequences of these decisions will resonate for years to come.
      I just hope and pray that someone comes to their senses before it’s too late !


  4. I was sent a letter by the DWP, stating my pension was fully funded, this was back in 2003. I still have that letter. I was then made redundant in 2010, at the age of 57, thinking I only needed a job for 3 years, I was lucky to be employed within a few months. I was then made redundant again in early 2013, now knowing I would not receive my state pension until 2019/2020! All this time I was in fear of losing my house as I still had a mortgage, after working all those years to owning my own home.
    During this time I have had both my hips replaced and working this last 6 years has certainly taken its toll both physically and mentally.

    I look forward to the outcome of the challenges to the way the 50’s generation have been so unfairly treated and victimised.


  5. I took out a private pension, it was to be paid out when I was 60, only later was I told that I would have to wait until I was 65, then mmy government pension has been deferred to 66.How do they expect people to work when they’re physically ill after working all their lives plus bringing up a family. It’s despicable.


    1. I feel for all the ladies that still have to work I am lucky I have a husband which allowed me to retire early.I suffer from depression and know how it affected my working I hate to think what situation I would be in if I was on my own.I just feel it is such an injustice that these women had their pensions stolen by some rich fat cat in government who have never struggled in their life.How do they sleep at night.Thankyou for all the good work you are doing.x


  6. I feel cheated. I should have had my pension 2 years ago. I gave up work to look after family member with dementia (who now lives with me – 24hr care), I help my family with childcare, and have other family members at home. So, I am tired!!! When my situation changes as care giver I WILL need to find a job and work!!! I haven’t stopped working!!!


  7. Hoping to retire at the same time as my husband who is 5 years older than me, we thought at 60 and 65 we would be able to enjoy our retirement together. How wrong we were, I have had to continue working, luckily my health is okay so this has been alright for myself, although I would have liked to have made my own decision. This was however taken out of my hands when the government stole our pensionable years and changed the pensionable age from 60 to 66. I have just over 2 more years to go before I am entitled to my state pension and my free bus pass. That will no doubt be taken away also by the time I get there.

    I am hopeful that something can be done to at least compensate for the total and utter mess they have left in their wake. Good luck with the campaign.


  8. A brilliant well written article which fully and accurately describes the situation we 50’s women find ourselves in. However it is a sad reflection on life that people in the near future are going to have to continue to work until they drop basically. This reflects life in the 1800’s when there was no pension and although the overall life expectancy was lower, those that lived longer worked until their death. My son, who is in his 30’s, a university graduate, works and pays into a private pension scheme, which will be a pittance when he retires. The future doesn’t look good for the majority.


  9. We never know what the future holds for us. Unfortunately for me my husband died aged 56 and I received half of his pension. I knew from 1995 that the Govt had changed womens pension age and calculated that I could retire at 63 and 7 months. I was a bit aggrieved but reckoned I could manage till then to retire. But then when the Govt changed it again I was furious. I retired from work but knew I had to wait 6 years. With my lump sum I paid off the mortgage but family circumstances meant I needed to support my daughter and her children financially through a very challenging four years or they would be homeless. As a result I can only just manage on my husband’s pension and my work’s pension. My situation is not as bad as some stories I have heard but that £48,000 certainly would have helped make life more comfortable. I wholeheartedly support WASPI and the Back to 60 campaign. Hoping the Judges award us what is due.


  10. 48 years working full time and now the fun part trying to manage on £1.97 a day Feeling angry and bitter, thank you WASPI for all the excellent work you do for us x


  11. Thank you Debbie and Jaded Media. A well explained article. I noticed inequality in my employment. When I worked in a bank the young men were pushed forward in their careers. While I was kept back in the remittance room. It was assumed that I’d soon be married and having babies. I didn’t stay long in that job. But it’s true I had to take work that fitted in with the family and even gave up one job to take of elderly relatives. This effected my pension. No regard was given by the government for these women. I am now 65 and had my OAP at 64 and 7 months. So I’m quite lucky. But I certainly would have liked more time to prepare myself. I had one letter that said I had to work until 63 and another saying 64 and 7 months. The women who were effected should have compensation for the mismanagement of it all. If it was men in this position firstly they would have been notified in good time and definitely would have been compensated.


  12. My husband and I had such plans, we were going to sell our house and move to the coast. I was going to cut back and get a little job, which did not involve me running around 8 hours a day , lifting and carrying. I was going to retire before my husband now he is going to retire before me. He is not happy as he will have to do every thing at home. They changed my age three times 60 62 66 his changed one year 66. Our retirement dream is In shatters. Our health is poor.


  13. Born January 1954. Worked in the NHS from being 16yrs. Had two children then worked a further 24 years. Fully expected to retire at 60 yrs old with my pension. No notice of the changes by DWP. It is outrageous that after paying in all those years my generation have been denied our dues.


  14. Yes a total disgrace. How could any one possibly plan for their retirement with all the changes to when they receive it, and also the numbers of years to pay in, as swung from 35, to 30 and now back to 35. In my case I have 32 years, and I am certainly not going to pay any further voluntary contributions again. The whole system cannot be trusted.


    1. At least you will get the New State Pension amount being younger than I. My husband and I both worked until the age of 66/67 and had put in all the years needed for our full pension but we get the old pension at the lower rate. We have taken this up with MP’s etc but
      told that because the pension age has now been raised that is why the New pension is more around £68.00 per week more?? Swings and roundabouts I suppose


  15. All we ever wanted was to help our children and grandchildren, they are all struggling because of huge deposits for housing and the high cost of living a basic life. Now we can’t help them with time or money, so sad. The lack of notice to us all is appalling.


  16. I have worked all my working life I left school at 15 and while running a home and 2 children I remained working so when I retire I will have 51 years of national insurance contributions so if we only need 35 years contributions can we not retire when we were promised I am so tired working full time and can not afford to go part time. Thank you for trying so hard for us


  17. They say women wanted equal rights, and in the other hand they say people are living longer, I am 62 so I have 4 years to do it is a utter degrace what’s been done out of a lot of money am still working with aches and pains while young ones are payed in bed on benefits , I wish you the best of luck with the campaign it would be wonderful to be noticed to get our dues (we been robbed ) ?


  18. Agree totally with this. Personally I had to retire at 60 due to ill health. State gives me nothing no benefits . Should have had my pension at 60. Only have a small private pension . Can’t get anything . Worked since I was 15 the goverment has conned us all and should make up the monies they have cheated from us for 45 years of working.


  19. We need justice, totally robbed we need all the media coverage we can get, all you get people living longer with what quality of life, government needs a wake up call and quick, six years is disgraceful with no notification, we all stand together


  20. I agree with all these other ladies , this government as ruined lives. I had some off my husbands private pension for two yrs ,but had to live on that due to ill Heath and not being able to get any benefits and still can’t. I still have 10 months till my state pension and have depleted the private pension. Now I am seeing if I can try to get a job for the next 10months. We always wanted to buy a caravan and have time for us , but now we can’t afford to do this. This government have done this to a generation who were brought up to work hard for what they wanted, and claim for nothing!! Look where that got us.


  21. This is not being dealt with fast enough by DWP . I am now 64yrs 6months old so 4yrs 6months without the state pension I worked 49 yrs for. WASPI women are doing a fantastic job on our behalf and I applaud them all the way. Thank so much for all ur hard work . Wishing you great success . Hope to here some news soon. Good Luck.


  22. Brilliant informative article.. I to expected to receive my state pension at 60 after working since the age of 17, no children so no time out . My husband has had 2 cancer diagnosis so it would be good to spend retirement together.. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016 at age of 60 my expected retirement year .. but here I am 3 years on still working. As one if the ladies has said would be fine if my decision , but again taken out of my hands. I feel the situation is so unfair to the 50’s generation ladies


  23. I agree 100% with every comment. I am 59 in a couple of months, I am expected now to work until I’m 66 years and 5 months old. Apart from the financial aspect of these changes for women, I am constantly worried that I won’t be able to work til retirement, as I have several health issues, non of which the NHS is prepared to help me with. I am in constant pain, so if you really must make us all work til we drop, you need to be able to provide sufficient health care for us too.


    1. A very good detailed article I totally agree with which makes very valid points. While I am not in such a bad situation as some have written about. I could not get a job at the age of 55 despite applying for lower paid jobs. I therefore had to take a private pension early at a reduced amount. I am now 62 and friends and family older than me have received their state pension. To make matters worse I now find out that despite having 39 years of NI Contributions I cannot get the full new state pension. Because of changes to pensions made in 2016 the impact of which has not been publicised. I will have to pay extra for every year between then and 2021 when I am due to get my pension. Because I have not been paying NI during this time. This will cost £700 + for each year to get an extra £4.77 per week. Absolutely no publicity or information about this I only found out from a friend. No information from the DWP. Keep up the good work.


  24. A very informative article – showing just how badly and unfairly we have been treated. Tantamount to daylight robbery.


  25. So unfair,I was born January 1954, and was fully expecting to retire at 60. Worked all my life and have just started receiving state pension at the age of 65 and 4months. They gave us no time to prepare for the sudden changes.


    1. My wife was born same time as you, Jan 1954, just missed getting her rightful pension date by a couple of weeks, had to wait,6 years and 4 months robbed £35,000 where did it go to?


  26. Great article, helped me, thankfully there is someone to stand up for us. I should of had my pension 4 years ago, I’m not working so I don’t have any money of my own, I have nothing. Thankfully my husband has his pension so that’s what we live on. In our retirement years we don’t have holidays, no luxuries, we’re just glad we have a roof over our heads. I’ve worked all my life and paid my dues, only to be robbed by the government.


  27. I have had a letter to say i have 45yrs fully paid up national insurance contributions, and cannot get any higher state pension, I am 61 and still working and paying national insurance contributions so where is this money going and who will benefit from it as it certainly is not me


  28. I was born in 1954 , I worked full time and expected to retire at 60 , it was moved to 62, then 64 within two weeks of my confirmation of a date it got moved to 66 .
    I understand people are living longer but we should have had our pension at 60 as that was the plan we we went to work . People going to work now will know at what age they should expect to retire . Still waiting for my free bus pass and my pension .


  29. Born in March 1954 I have worked as a nurse in the NHS all my working life, we were always told that we would get our pension at 60. Apart from maternity leave I have always worked and paid into my pension. Now not only do I have to wait until I’m 65 and a half to get my pension, I also find I was ‘opted out’ and get even less than anticipated. I have been robbed of £35,000 pounds of state pension. How does the government expect nurses to continue to work so long? We are on our feet nursing people, not sitting at a desk all day.


  30. Yes we moved to the coast my husband has Arthritis and l thought good l get my pension at 60 so we should be ok but then find l don’t get it till this year five years and three months later and l had to get another Job then five months before l am due to get my pension he gets heart problems not happy at all !!!!!


  31. I had 3 months in mental hospital because I could not get a job in 2013. To work I started my own business, did not have the sustainable capital and borrowed to keep myself afloat. Leading to bringing on a severe psychotic episode. Upsetting my husband then aged 73 and causing hardship. Used some of my savings lost the lot. Yes the government of the time has a lot to answer for.


  32. I was born April 1954 and have to work until I am 65and 7 mths. Worked since I was 15 . Worked for NHS for the 35 years been poorly paid but enjoyed my job. I don’t know how the other 50’s girls feel my brain is not as bright as it was I am worried that mistakes will be made . No bus pass no pension and no loyalty from government that we have paid into for all those years. Well done WASPI GIRLS LETS KEEP FIGHTING .


  33. My husband died 2002 the widow pension was stopped the year before, was told i would get part of my husbands pension when i retired, so not only do i have to wait for my pension until im 66 i have to wait until then to get this part of my husbands pension, at 64 i am very tired and find it difficult to carry on working


  34. It’s disgusting should have got my pension at 60 I’m now 66 and have only had my pension and bus pass 2 years daylight robbery I’m owed 36 thousand pounds and would like it back please 😡😡


  35. I have worked in care work for 42 yrs and to think that i have to do another 6 yrs when i should be retiring next year ,,, my husband is 70 and was looking forward to me retiring so we could spend some time together ,,, i work full time + extra hrs to get by as care work is not the besy paid ,, how im going to get through the next 7 years i do not know ,, i am one very tired woman that has worked hard for 42yrs .


  36. The same for me should have retired at 60 got made redundant no jobs in my area so had to use our savings to keep us I was born in 1953 I think it’s about 45 thousand they took from me I went to work at 15 and worked all my life even when my boys were little thanks for the work ladies and for keeping us informed


  37. I’m 60 with a load health problems been in and out of hospital were in a coma in the year 2015 with diabetes .
    Do y think employers will employ me I’m constantly tired with medication to can hardly rise in the morning.
    People’s body’s are no the same in yr 60s as when younger .
    I’d rather just had retired at 60 with my health no way would I manage to keep a job.


  38. I am one (eldest) of four sisters born in the 50s. I received my SRP at the age of 63yrs 9mth having been told I would get it at 60 then 62. My next sister born in Aug ‘54 would have received hers in July 2019 (65yr 11m) unfortunately she died in February this year not getting the chance to retire or collect her SRP. I have to question where does all the money she paid in contributions go to? My two youngest sisters are obviously still waiting. I hope for their sakes that there is a turnaround. Thank you WASPs for taking on this fight.


  39. Great article. I was born in 1961, I feel aggrieved that I’m having to wait until I’m 67 for my state pension.


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