State Pension  

UN expert tells govt to remedy women state pension changes

UN expert tells govt to remedy women state pension changes

A United Nations independent expert has said changes to pension policy which penalised women born in the 1950s should be rectified to remedy the "systematic disadvantage" they created.

In his final report of his visit to the UK, published today (May 22), the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, said the government should "review and remedy the systematic disadvantage inflicted by current policies" on women, as well as on children, persons with disabilities, older persons and ethnic minorities.

This followed his initial statement in November when he noted that women born in the 1950s had been particularly impacted by a "poorly phased in" change of the state pension age. 

Mr Alston had spoken to Backto60, one of the campaign groups working alongside the Women Against State Pension Inequality group, to inform his view.

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 claim 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.

Mr Alston noted that the policy change had "severely and unconscionably penalised those who were on the cusp of retirement and who had well-founded expectations of entering the next phase of their lives".

Pensions minister Guy Opperman had previously dismissed making changes to the state pension age arrangements, as it would cost more than £70bn to do so.

Mr Alston noticed that despite the protections of the triple lock, pensioner poverty has begun to rise and by 2016/17 reached 16 per cent, with 330,000 additional pensioners below the poverty line.

Introduced in 2010, the triple lock ensures annual state pension levels rise in accordance with whichever is highest among the rate of inflation, average earnings, or 2.5 per cent.

Mr Alston said the triple lock contrasted dramatically with the freeze of benefit rates for working age people since 2016.

The UN rapporteur stated that overall, the philosophy underpinning the British welfare system has changed radically since 2010.

He said: "The initial rationales for reform were to reduce overall expenditures and to promote employment as the principal 'cure' for poverty.

"But when large-scale poverty persisted despite a booming economy and very high levels of employment, the government chose not to adjust course.

"Instead, it doubled down on a parallel agenda to reduce benefits by every means available, including constant reductions in benefit levels, ever-more-demanding conditions, harsher penalties, depersonalisation, stigmatisation, and virtually eliminating the option of using the legal system to vindicate rights."

In 2017, the Joseph Rowtree Foundation warned half a million more people would live in poverty if the government maintains its benefits freeze.

Overall, 14m people lived in poverty in the UK at the time—about one in five of the population, the study found. This was made up of 8m working-age adults, 4m children and 1.9m pensioners, with 8m living in families where at least one person is in work.