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'A slap in the face' - women hit back at 'immoral' High Court state pension age ruling

PUBLISHED: 19:35 03 October 2019 | UPDATED: 12:01 04 October 2019

Norfolk Broads PAIN group leaders, pictured from left, Lynn Nicholls, Annette James, and Lorraine White. Photo: Archant

Norfolk Broads PAIN group leaders, pictured from left, Lynn Nicholls, Annette James, and Lorraine White. Photo: Archant

Archant

This is just the beginning.

The Norfolk Broads PAIN group held a rally to protest changes to the womens state pension age in Norwich city centre. Picture: JESSICA FRANK-KEYESThe Norfolk Broads PAIN group held a rally to protest changes to the womens state pension age in Norwich city centre. Picture: JESSICA FRANK-KEYES

That was the defiant message from campaigners in Norfolk battling sweeping government changes to the women's state pension age as a landmark High Court case was dismissed earlier today (Thursday, October 3).

A hike in women's retirement age saw those born in the 1950s waiting up to an additional six years to receive state pensions - with 3.5m women across the country thought to have lost out on payments worth up to £40,000.

Two women from the Backto60 group sued the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for age and sex discrimination, saying they and thousands like them were given no time to plan their finances as the government failed to notify them of the change.

But High Court judges today ruled there was "no direct discrimination" against the women affected, and described the state pension age increase as "equalising a historic asymmetry between men and women".

The Norfolk Broads PAIN group held a rally to protest changes to the womens state pension age in Norwich city centre. Picture: JESSICA FRANK-KEYESThe Norfolk Broads PAIN group held a rally to protest changes to the womens state pension age in Norwich city centre. Picture: JESSICA FRANK-KEYES

Up to 45,000 Norfolk women born in the 1950s are thought to have been affected, with campaign groups in the county highlighting the effects on a generation who say they "never had equality".

And now campaigners have hit out at the High Court's decision, describing it as "frustrating", "disappointing" and "immoral".

Rosie Willis, from Fakenham, who had to downsize her home after her husband's death ten years ago, said changes to her pension age have left her battling to live on just £350 a month, after back problems and severe anxiety saw her unable to work.

"I'm so frustrated," she said.

The Norfolk Broads PAIN group held a rally to protest changes to the womens state pension age in Norwich city centre. Picture: JESSICA FRANK-KEYESThe Norfolk Broads PAIN group held a rally to protest changes to the womens state pension age in Norwich city centre. Picture: JESSICA FRANK-KEYES

"Morally the whole thing stinks.

"I pray to God nothing goes wrong like the boiler blowing up because that will be it for me.

"We are literally living from hand to mouth."

Mrs Willis, 63, added: "To say we have no legal right to be told - what are they going to do next?

"Women were facing inequality and we still face it - there's still no equal pay and still no equal rights.

"We didn't have rights to private pensions. We couldn't even have a bank account when we were younger.

"It's a slap in the face. It feels like we don't matter."

And Joy Scott, from Great Yarmouth, said the result was "unbelievable" and added: "I'm so disappointed."

Mrs Scott, who worked in education for 20 years, said: "I thought we were going to get it - I'm really shocked by the outcome.

"I don't understand why the government didn't have an obligation to let us know.

"I've lived at the same address for 20 years. There's no excuse for not putting a leaflet through my letterbox.

"I've never had equality - if I wanted a loan in the 1970s I had to get a man to sign for it.

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"The decision doesn't make sense."

And the 61-year-old added: "I think we've really got to step up our game and do something a bit more drastic.

"More demonstrations are needed - there's a lot of radical ideas like chaining ourselves to the House of Parliament."

And Sue Quayle described her reaction to the news as "so angry".

While she said she was "waiting to see a full copy of the judgement", she criticised the court for "using the excuse that they were righting the discrimination of pension age against men", and added: "[It] says that they have no comprehension or interest in the decades of discrimination against women that clearly continues to this day."

While the organisers of campaign group Norfolk Broads PAIN (Pension Action in Norfolk) say the fightback is just beginning.

Lynn Nicholls, co-founder of the group, said: "Quite a lot of us are making complaints to the DWP.

"Lots of the women are very fired up by the decision - we're hoping to plan some more demonstrations."

In a statement, organisers Mrs Nicholls, Annette James, and Lorraine White said: "We are very disappointed the judicial review brought to court by the Backto60 campaign group has been lost.

"3.8m women in the UK have had the rug pulled out from under them when their state pension age was changed without notification.

"Many struggle to find employment or carry on working in ill health; some use food banks and sell their homes in order to survive the extra six years wait.

"The court said women had not been subject to discrimination and there is no legal obligation to inform people of changes to their state pension age."

They added: "As a group we are not giving up.

"We understand it will now go back to Parliament and meanwhile we will encourage members to resume pursuing complaints against the DWP for maladministration.

"We will keep fighting on and supporting our members until justice is done."

And Debbie de Spon, co-ordinator of the Norfolk branch of Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI), said: "There are going to be a lot of very disappointed women today who has high hopes for some kind of recompense for their loss.

"WASPI have pursued a different legal route and we've been going down the route of maladministration complaints to the DWP.

"The ombudsman wanted to wait to see what the judicial review outcome would be.

"We have been waiting and we hope once they have had a chance to look at the judicial review, the processing of our complaints will start again.

"Another month that goes by is a month when women don't get any compensation."

A DWP spokesperson said: "We welcome the High Court's judgement. It has always been our view that the changes made to women's state pension state pension age were entirely lawful and did not discriminate on any grounds."

- Have you been affected by the change to the state pension age? Email reporter Jessica.Frank-Keyes@archant.co.uk

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