'It's not equality' - Yorkshire woman forced to sell home to plug gap caused by state pension age changes

A Yorkshire woman has told how she had to sell her home after changes to the state pension age left her with years longer to work than she had expected.

Tuesday, 1st September 2020, 5:45 am

Members of the Women Against State Pension Inequality (Waspi) group, a voluntary UK-based organisation founded in 2015 that campaigns against the way in which the state pension age for men and women was equalised, spoke to The Yorkshire Post’s political podcast Pod’s Own Country about the issue.

And Melanie Ndzinga, from the village of Thornton in West Yorkshire, told of the pressures changes had put her under.

The 1995 State Pension Act included plans to increase the state pension age for women to 65 from 60, to bring it in line with the age at which men could claim their payments.

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Leeds Waspi group. Photo: Jan Egan

And campaigners have said it is not the equalisation they disagree with, but the way in which it was done, as they claim many women did not get appropriate notice, if any, and had been left unable to work and in financial hardship.

Ms Ndzinga told Pod’s Own Country: “I only heard about this when I was 59. I was at a dinner party and I mentioned that I was due to retire next year, and the person I was talking to said ‘oh no, your lot have got to go on until you’re 65.

“I looked it up the following day because I thought it was some sort of weird joke and found out that it was actually true.”

She said: “I had no letter at all. The impact is that I’ve been obviously paying in through taxes through many years.”

She added: “I’m just trying to muddle through as best I can. I sold my house and bought a place that is basically a ruin, so I’m just trying to sort of cobble that together so hopefully I will have somewhere warm and dry to live in.”

Some 3.9m women born in the 1950s have been affected by the changes and the Waspi group has made several high-profile protests including blocking a road outside Parliament.

Under the 1995 Pensions Act, a timetable was drawn up to equalise the age at which men and women could draw their state pension.

The plan was to raise the qualifying age for women to 65 and to phase in that change from 2010 to 2020.

But the coalition government of 2010 decided to accelerate the timetable, arguing that the state pension was becoming increasingly unaffordable.

Ms Ndzinga said: “You get people saying to you, ‘well, welcome to equality ladies’. It’s not equality, we’ve never had equality, we’ve been paid less than men since we started work, we’ve been passed over for promotion in favour of men, we’ve been expected to care for children and parents and other family members it’s assumed that we will step into that role.”

Jan Egan, co-ordinator of the Leeds Waspi group, said more than 40,000 women in the city were impacted.

She said: “As Melanie talked about having to sell her house, women are being forced to stay in violent and destructive relationships because they can't afford to leave, they're juggling several low paid jobs with caring for elderly parents and grandchildren.

“One of our Leeds members was told in order to get a job she should lose weight and dye her hair. She cried for hours.”

The Government has consistently said any issues with changes to the state pension age were debated in Parliament, and that it will make “no further changes to the pension age or pay financial redress in lieu of a pension”. Previous governments have also said further changes would create inequality between men and women, and cause younger people to bear a greater share of the cost of the pension system.

After a High Court battle by a similar group called Back to 60 failed last year, Pensions Minister Guy Opperman said in March this year that “full restitution would cost something in the region of £215bn […] a case was before the courts last year: on all grounds, these ladies lost their case.”