Waspi’s fight is the latest round in a long battle of the sexes over pensions says Teresa Hunter
We are just weeks from the new state pension and the howls of fury at its unfairness are already deafening. Yet these may sound as gentle lullabies compared to the verbal rage yet to come when individuals reach state pension age over the next decade, to receive far less than they expected.
Women are already mobilising – with good reason. Many, like myself, have lost six or seven years’ state pension because of rapidly escalating pension ages, worth even in basic pension terms alone more than £35,000. Add in additional pension and the numbers soar. What man would suffer such highway robbery in silence?
But don’t talk to me about men when it comes to pensions. I still cannot think about the famous equalisation case involving Mr Douglas Harvey Barber without feeling a splinter of ice pierce my heart. I followed the case closely during the late 1980s before it culminated in the now famous EU judgment, which stated that men and women could not be paid a pension at different ages.
For the sake of younger readers let me take you back to the workplace at that time. Women had only just begun to join the workforce in any significant way. Discrimination was rampant, career progress almost non-existent.
The Equal Opportunities Commission, set up to address these abominations, was utterly ineffectual – until Mr Barber came knocking. He had been made redundant at 52. As a man, he could not receive an immediate pension under his scheme rules unless he was already 55 – whereas a woman qualified for one at 50.
Again, context is important. At that time, almost no woman reached retirement age with a full pension equivalent to that earned by a man. You could probably count on two hands the few women working long enough to qualify for a full pension of any type. They were derided as dried-up spinsters – not something to encourage female aspiration. Even these women, held back by unequal pay and obstructed career progress, could not earn the same pension as a man.
And isn’t that what equality is all about? Same pay and pension for same work? I remain astonished that the Barber case was the cause célèbre the EOC pursued with gusto and won, thereby robbing already pension-poor females of a meagre retirement income in their own right.
And we live with the consequences today. I accepted the direction of travel years ago but am delighted to see some women still fighting on. But short of throwing themselves under ministerial limousines, they are almost certainly wasting their time. The DWP’s select committee is investigating but its interim report bodes ill. It acknowledges women are seeing their pension ages accelerate quickly and cites poor communication.
The sub-text is that women don’t open letters from the DWP and, even if they do, are too stupid to understand them. Few lay people, men or women, have my in-depth knowledge of pensions. I don’t recall getting letters apart from the pension forecasts I specifically request. And yes, they are unintelligible – probably deliberately so.
If I was vindictive, which I am not, I would take satisfaction in the fact that men too will see their pensions slashed. Post-April, abolition of Serps/S2P will cut the pension of many contracted-in with long careers. The lower paid will be badly hit having received generous uplifts previously. Those who spent even a short time contracted-out will be heavily penalised. Anyone with under 10 years’ contributions will get nothing.
The legislation only stipulates that the new pension will be raised annually in line with wages, so the triple lock is not hard-wired for the future.
Astonishingly, older-style minimum contracted-out pensions known as GMPs (guaranteed minimum pensions) will never be increased. How can this be? Or rather, do they really think they will get away with it?
It is hard to see men taking any of this lying down. If they were to revolt, it is just about possible that some of this could be unpicked.
And today’s male partners are likely to be more gallant towards their spouses’ pension gripes than those of the 1970s and 1980s, because they expect their beloveds to contribute to the family budget.
Today’s modern men need to wake up to the fact that not only are they losing out significantly in their own right but the brutal onslaught to women’s retirement incomes takes money out of their pockets too.
Never forget: all this, plus the launch of auto-enrolment, was about saving money. Tax relief could be the next sacrificial lamb.
Teresa Hunter writes for the Telegraph and Sunday Times