A United Nations independent expert has affirmed the stance taken by campaign groups including the Women Against State Pension Inequality and Backto60 that certain women have been affected disproportionately by recent pension age changes.
Philip Alston's report Statement on Visit to the United Kingdom on extreme poverty and human rights, out on Friday (16 November), showed the number of pensioners living in poverty in the UK had risen by 300,000 to 16 per cent in the four years to 2016/17. This was despite measures such as the triple lock guarantee.
But he found a group of women born in the 1950s had been particularly impacted a "poorly phased in" change in the state pension age.
The Waspi and Backto60 movements claim that while the 1995 Conservative government's Pensions Act included plans to increase the women's state pension age to 65 – the same age as men's – the changes were implemented unfairly, with little or no personal notice.
The groups, which are calling for compensation for those affected, also said changes were implemented faster than promised with the 2011 Pension Act and left women with no time to make alternative plans, leading to devastating consequences.
Backto60 gave evidence to the report.
Mr Alston said: "As was made clear to me in a number of submissions and through powerful personal testimony, a group of women born in the 1950s have been particularly impacted by an abrupt and poorly phased in change in the state pension age from 60 to 66.
"The impact of the changes to pensionable age is such as to severely penalise those who happen to be on the cusp of retirement and who had well-founded expectations of entering the next phase of their lives, rather than being plunged back into a workforce for which many of them were ill-prepared and to which they could not reasonably have been expected to adjust with no notice."
He said the uptick in pensioner poverty was driven by single pensioners, which were significantly more likely to be women.
While the government had sought to protect the pension entitlements of older people, especially by introducing a triple lock in 2010—which ensures annual pension levels rise in accordance with whichever is highest among the rate of inflation, average earnings, or 2.5 per cent —pensioner poverty began to rise after decades of decline, he found.
Mr Alston said the triple lock contrasted dramatically with the freeze on benefit rates for working age people since 2016.
Poor households typically spend a higher proportion of their income on consumer goods than wealthy households and already often struggle to put food on the table after bills are paid, he said. Despite this, the government froze benefit rates in 2016, thus enabling continuing inflation to systematically reduce the value of the benefits.
Last year the Joseph Rowtree Foundation warned half a million more people would live in poverty if the government maintains its benefits freeze.
Overall, 14 million people live in poverty in the UK—about one in five of the population, the 2017 study found. This was made up of 8 million working-age adults, 4 million children and 1.9 million pensioners, with 8 million living in families where at least one person is in work.