Women born in the 1950s who are campaigning about increases in their State Pension age suffered a setback last week, when they lost a High Court case against the government.
The Government must be breathing a sigh of relief, as compensation for the 3.8 million women affected would have run into billions of pounds.
The case against the government
Two claimants, Julie Delve and Karen Glynn, took the Department for Work and Pensions to court, seeking judicial review of the decision to hike up their pension age as it “unlawfully discriminated against them on the ground of age, sex, and age and sex combined”.
State Pension age for women was hiked up further and faster than expected between 2010 and 2020, up from 60 to 66 and beyond. The State Pension age for both men and women is now 66, but is set to rise to 67 by 2028, and potentially to 68 by 2039.
The court case, supported by campaign group Backto60, also argued that the women affected were given inadequate notice. Some women have experienced severe financial hardship, when they received less than a year’s personal notice about significant delays to their State Pension and did not have time to make alternative plans.
Women affected were given inadequate notice
Meanwhile, lawyers for the Department of Work and Pensions argued that the changes equalising State Pension age for men and women were necessary due to increasing life expectancy and that the cost of reversing the changes would be hideously expensive. The Government denied there was any duty to notify the women individually about changes to their State Pension age.
The judgement in the Backto60 case
Lord Justice Irwin and Mrs Justice Whipple dismissed the claim on all grounds. Far from finding that the 1950s women had suffered discrimination based on age or sex, the court found that moves to equalise State Pension age actually corrected direct discrimination against men. The judges also insisted that they were not in a position to conclude steps taken to inform the women were reasonable.
The judgement finished by saying that while the court was “saddened by the stories contained in the claimants’ evidence”, the court’s role was limited: “There was no basis for concluding that the policy choices reflected in the legislation were not open to government. In any event they were approved by Parliament. “The wider issues raised by the Claimants about whether the choices were right or wrong or good or bad were not for the Court. They were for members of the public and their elected representatives.”
Disappointment for 1950s women
The decision is disappointing for a generation of women who were already massively disadvantaged by the pension system and gender pay gaps. The pension system was based on the underlying principle that women would get married and could therefore rely on their husband’s earning power and pensions. This has been particularly damaging for the single, separated and divorced.
After the ruling, Dave Prentis, the Unison general secretary, said: “This is a terrible blow for the millions of women who will have been hoping for a very different outcome today.
This is a terrible blow for millions of women
“The decision to hike the State Pension age with next to no notice didn’t just throw their retirement plans up in the air, it also left many women on lower incomes really struggling to make ends meet.
“Now, almost a quarter of a century later, justice and the State Pension that was so cruelly snatched away from them remain disappointingly out of reach.
“It seems perverse that the Department for Work and Pensions had no obligation to inform these women of this significant change.
“But despite today’s decision women born in the 1950s will not give up their campaign to get back what they are rightly owed.”
What next after the Backto60 court case?
The Backto60 and Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) groups have both vowed to continue campaigning. WASPI complaints of maladministration to the Department for Work and Pensions and the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman were put on hold during the judicial review process, but can now be reviewed.
Looking ahead, women born in the 1950s are not the only people who may experience hardship in retirement. Pension experts warned that millions of people in their 40s and 50s are still heading towards a nasty shock, when they find out what retirement has in store. Younger savers may face further increases in State Pension age, if we do continue living longer. The combination of longer life expectancy, static wages and low interest rates mean we all need to save longer and harder before being able to leave work.
Automatic enrolment will go some way to bridging the gap, but at current contribution levels will not provide adequate income in retirement. Individuals will need to plan many years ahead to take care of their own pension provision.