Ann Hughes, 65, says she has had to continue working as a carer after her state pension age was allegedly raised with “no warning whatsoever.” She says this has exacerbated numerous health problems, including fibromyalgia and a slipped disk.
The mum, from Wigan, Greater Manchester, planned to retire entirely until she had discovered her state pension age had increased.
Speaking to Lancs Live, Ann said: “I had been through illness and I know I didn’t want to push myself. I wanted to enjoy my grandchildren.
“It was in 2005 that I discovered that I had breast cancer. I was off for 14 months and I had nine months of chemo and radiotherapy, but when I went back to work, I had to keep going even though I was worn out.
“I have worked my loss out to £53,000 – I say it was stolen, because it was like a contract that we had paid into. And women don’t get paid as much as men, and also, someone who has never worked will get the same as me.”
Ann now supports the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) campaign, founded in 2015, which calls for the millions of women affected by the change to receive compensation.
More than 3.5 million women born in the 1950s had expected to retire at 60, only to get caught out by plans to bring the State Pension age into line with men, with many being completely unaware until the last minute that they would have to work on until age 65, and now age 66.
Campaigners calculate the average women born in the 1950s lost up to £50,000 in State Pension as a result, and last summer, the Parliamentary & Health Service Ombudsman said the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was guilty of “maladministration” for failing to give 1950s women proper notice of the change.
Ann continued: “No one got any warning whatsoever; they said they had let us know but we discovered they had put an ad in a newspaper. I found out aged 58, I thought I was heading to 60 to retire, and I had planned for it.
“A lot of ladies were not allowed to join pension schemes, and they took a hit on their careers for raising children, or for caring. What upsets a lot of ladies is the fact that we have lost out on so much of our family time because we had to carry on working. My youngest grandchild is eight and my eldest one is 22.
“I have had a slipped disc in my upper back and damaged discs in my lower back, and fibromyalgia, which is constant all over body pain and fatigue. If I had been able to finish at 60, I would not have had all of the ill health I have had since then.”
Hundreds of thousands of women of Ann’s generation have died, she says, without ever being able to claim the money that was promised to them and that they had paid into a pension pot for.
“Rishi [Sunak] says they can’t change anything – I want to be honest, I just wish someone would do something,” the gran continued.
“Over 220,000 women passed on without ever seeing a penny of their pensions; if they’d done that to men, there would be an outcry. Some ladies have ended up homeless, living in cars, or had to sell their homes; some have taken their own lives. I feel like I have been lucky because I met my partner six years ago, and I have three children and seven grandchildren – but I lost time with my mum because she passed away.
“We have the lowest state pension in Europe and we are one of the richest countries; the Government has lost billions which they could have paid us.
“I got a bank loan to help us get through this cost of living crisis and now find the energy bills are set to go over £4,200 – that is half of people’s pension! I despair.”
The Ombudsman’s finding of DWP failings concluded the first stage of their investigation into the changes last summer. It is now looking at whether the maladministration led to injustice, and whether the women affected should be awarded compensation.
A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “The Government decided over 25 years ago that it was going to make the state pension age the same for men and women as a long-overdue move towards gender equality. Both the High Court and Court of Appeal have supported the actions of the DWP, under successive governments dating back to 1995, and the Supreme Court refused the claimants permission to appeal.”
They added that it was not possible to make realistic international comparisons of State Pension levels due to differences such as tax and healthcare systems, welfare benefits and access to occupational pensions, that the full yearly amount of the basic State Pension is now over £2,300 higher than in 2010 and there were 400,000 fewer pensioners in absolute poverty after housing costs in 2020/21 than in 2009/10.
They pointed to Automatic Enrolment, saying that “since it had been introduced in the UK, more than 10 million workers had been enrolled into a workplace pension”.
They added that Automatic Enrolment (AE) was designed specifically to help groups who historically have been poorly or less well served by the pensions market, in particular women and lower earners, underlining how In 2012 40 per cent of eligible women in the private sector were participating in a workplace pension (for men this was 43 per cent) compared to 86 per cent in 2020, equal to men.
The spokesperson said there was financial support available to those with disabilities or caring responsibilities and the DWP urged people to check they are getting all the help to which they are entitled.
They added that “millions of low-income households will get at least £1,200 of direct payments this year to help with rising prices, with a £150 top-up payment for disabled people. They said the DWP was helping more disabled jobseekers to find, retain and progress in fulfilling work, offering specialist programmes such as Access To Work, paired with personal support from our Work Coaches and Disability Employment Advisers”.