Never mind WASPI, just look at Back to 60
The Back to 60 Campaign is attracting the attention of some high-profile people. Michael Mansfield QC has publicly endorsed it. And now the journalist David Hencke has written a blogpost about the campaign.
The sole source of Hencke's information about the campaign appears to be this video, in which a number of women complain about the effect that not receiving state pension at 60 has had on them and their families. As is all too often the case with 1950s women's pensions campaign material, the video is littered with gross factual errors, such as the talk of "earned dues" being wilfully withheld, and the notion that the government is in breach of contract. There are also some frankly ridiculous claims, such as Yvette Greenway's assertion that "millions of women....are basically left destitute, I mean literally destitute, and that's not an exaggeration". You're right, Yvette. It's not exaggeration, it is fiction.
Nonetheless, Hencke was convinced enough to put the video up on his website.
Quite why Hencke, who describes himself as an "award-winning journalist", so abandoned his journalistic principles that he made no attempt to check the women's claims - or indeed any facts at all about the state pension age rises - is a mystery. I wouldn't want to insinuate anything, but in my experience, pulling the strings of anyone who seems to swallow the sob stories of 1950s women whole is often a 1950s woman. But I suppose Hencke could genuinely feel sorry for them. Or perhaps he is swayed by the presence of Michael Mansfield. If so, he really needs to remember what his job is. Journalists are there to speak truth to power, not to accept tamely what power tells them.
Here is Hencke's description of what the women are campaigning about:
They are angry at both the coalition and present Tory government decided to change the pension age without any notice so they can plan.No, just no. The Coalition and present Tory government did not raise women's state pension age from 60 without notice. Indeed the present Tory government has not changed the state pension age for 1950s women at all. The Coalition government did, but what the Back to 60 Campaign wants goes far beyond reversal of the Coalition government's legislation.
Here is a summary of the facts.
- Legislation to raise the state pension age for women to 65 was announced in the November Budget of 1993 and passed by both Houses in 1995. It was reported on prime time TV and radio, and on the front pages of newspapers, in both years. You can find the announcement in the Budget speech here.
- The legislation provided for a gradual rise of the state pension age to 65 over ten calendar years 2010-2020, and five birth years April 1950 to April 1955. You can find the original timetable here.
- Both the Conservative Government in 1995, and the subsequent Labour government, produced copious leaflets and conducted public awareness campaigns. However, neither wrote to women individually. The WASPI campaign criticises the government for this and is encouraging women to pursue compensation claims for maladministration because they did not receive personal notification. However, the Government has no legal duty to inform personally and does not do so for other legislation. It has nonetheless admitted that communication of the change could have been better. You can download a comprehensive Commons briefing paper which covers this here.
- In 2007, the Labour government enacted legislation to raise the state pension age for both men and women to 68 by 2046, with a long transition starting in 2024. The youngest women born in the 1950s would have been affected by this even without the subsequent acceleration by the Coalition government. This legislation also reduced the qualifying years for full state pension to 30 for both men and women, to take effect in 2010. Before that, the qualifying years for full SP were 39 for women and 44 for men. You can find the original version of the 2007 Pensions Act here.
- In 2011, the Coalition government enacted legislation to accelerate both the equalisation of state pension ages and the start of the transition to higher pension ages. The equalisation of pension ages transition had already started, so the acceleration disproportionately affected women born in 1953-4, who had rises of up to 2 years in their state pension age at very short notice. Following a campaign by the Protest against the 2011 State Pension Age Increase group (which still exists, you can find their FB page here), the timetable for the acceleration was relaxed so that no woman had a rise of more than 18 months. However, many people - including me - still regard the extra rise and the short notice as unfair.
You can find the timetable for the 2011 Act here. If you scroll down to the final page, you will see that state pension age rises for women born in the 1960s and 70s are now larger than for those born in the 1950s, because the 2011 and 2014 Acts have accelerated the whole 2007 Act, not just the women's state pension age increase.
- The WASPI campaign deliberately conflated the 2011 acceleration with the 1995 state pension age rise in order to whip up demand for pensions at 60. When challenged about this, they changed the demand to "fair transitional arrangements", but subsequent communications have made it clear that they still really want pensions at 60. It is to their credit that the Back to 60 Campaign doesn't resort to such underhand tactics. However, their claim (repeated by Hencke) that the Coalition government ended the right of women born in the 1950s (after 5/4/50) to state pension on their 60th birthday is simply untrue. That right ended in 1995.
- The 2014 Pensions Act further accelerated the 2007 Pensions Act timetable. However, this does not affect women born in the 1950s. The principal objection that 1950s women have to the 2014 Act appears to be the fact that if they were contracted-out of SERPS/S2P, they could get less than the new State Pension. This has nothing to do with the state pension age rises. Indeed, if women who were 60 before 6/4/16 had received SP at 60, they would now be receiving the old state pension not the new one. The 2014 Act also raised the qualifying years for full SP to 35 for both men and women, and introduced a lower qualifying limit of 10 years below which no SP would be payable at all. A small minority of older women will be affected by this. The 2014 Pensions Act can be found here.
- The State Pension does not work like a funded pension scheme. It is legally a contributory benefit like JSA and ESA, and is paid from the same NI contributions - see section 20(i) here, Definition of Contributory Benefits. Parliament sets the eligibility of all these benefits, and is not obliged to give notice of changes. The claim in the video that these women have "earned dues" that the Government is wilfully withholding is simply wrong, I'm afraid.
- Realistically, no-one is going to restore the state pension to 60 for these women, not least because to do so would immediately attract legal challenges from men and younger women. These women have not been "discriminated against", as Michael Mansfield claims. If he had bothered to do some basic research as a lawyer, he would have discovered that a claim that raising the state pension age was sex discrimination was thrown out by the ECHR in 2012 .You can find the judgment here.
- It would be far better to upgrade working-age benefits to make them more suitable for older people than to give 1950s women early pensions. Many of these women are far from poor - the 1950s cohort as a group is the richest in history.
What makes me particularly angry is that Hencke promotes this sob story by a few middle-class women at a time when kids are going to school hungry, primary schools are washing their uniforms because parents don't have the money for electricity, parents are passing out in school corridors because they have had nothing to eat, and doctors are seeing more and more cases of rickets and other disorders related to malnutrition.
This video by ITV's Daniel Hewitt is what Hencke should have on his website. I challenge him to put his considerable journalistic talents into raising awareness of the real poverty faced by a growing number of people in this country, the vast majority of whom are not 1950s women.
Correction: the statement in the first paragraph that Michael Mansfield is not representing the Back to 60 campaign has been removed. Nexus Chambers confirmed in a tweet on 13th November 2017 that he was representing them.
Update: David Hencke has replied to my comment. I have responded in detail. You can find his comment and my response here.
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