Pensions minister claims he can’t believe ‘Waspi’ women didn’t check state pension age.

The PAIN-WASPI group at the last demonstration in London. Picture: PAIN-WASPI

The PAIN-WASPI group at the last demonstration in London. Picture: PAIN-WASPI - Credit: Archant

The pensions minister has sparked an angry response after claiming he finds it hard to believe that 1950s-born women could have planned for retirement at 60 without checking that was when they would get their state pension.

Questioned about the dozens of women in Norfolk who travelled to London on Budget day to protest about not being told their pension would rise, Richard Harrington said there was no point giving the women in their 60s 'straws to clutch onto unnecessarily' - saying they were not in a position to do anything because it was 'unaffrodable'.

The Women Against State Pension Age Inequality campaign - which has a Norfolk branch called PAIN - argues that successive increases to state pension age, first made in 1995 and accelerated in 2011, were too rapid and weren't fully explained, leaving many with too little time to save elsewhere. Many women will not get their state pension until they are 66.

A leading campaigner in Norfolk said she felt really let down my Mr Harrington's comments.

He said: 'This was all announced in 1995, so if you believe that someone who was 35 in 1995 just assumed their state pension age was 60 and never bothered to check for all those years until a few months before they retired when they were suddenly then told 'well you can't retire at 60 and you will retire six or seven years later'...given all the advertising and all the articles there were then, I can't believe, I don't know how people could have spent their whole life planning for this 60 date without even checking? I actually find it very difficult to believe that people did. But if they did and they suddenly found the day before 'well I have to work for six or seven years later', I have to reply that is what has actually happened in the world.

'People like my Dad's generation would leave school at 14 and work until they were 65. If they lasted six or seven years they would be lucky. Thankfully now people are. They are retiring and spending very happy years and I think most people accept that is the way things have evolved with longevity, and that women are not pieces of property for men anymore.

'Hardly any of them ever worked - I am talking about when the whole thing came about - so it was always accepted that the old man would retire at 65 and if they were to have a few years to go, your wife would have to retire five years before that. But things are completely different now.'

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But Mr Harrington added: 'In the end it is down to money. Depending on who you believe and how you calculate it, this is between a £7.9bn and £30bn problem, and it is just unaffordable. Really that is what it boils down to.'

Mr Harrington said there had been some transitional relief which had cost £1.1bn.

'When I joined this job I looked into it and spoke to the Treasury and everybody about this and thought there is no point giving people straws to clutch on to unnecessarily. We are not in a position to do anything so I thought it better to tell people, which I have been criticised for. But I find it is easier to tell people straight as it is.'

Debbie De Spon, one of PAIN-Waspi campaigners, said she felt really let down by Richard Harrington's response.

'If you had not been notified by the Department of Work and Pensions directly that your State Pension Age had risen, why would you need to check? This is what has happened to women born in the 1950s who are paying the price for State Pension age increase, which was too steep, too fast and without adequate notification.

'He's right that most people prepare for their retirement, but many WASPI women did not have that opportunity as they were not adequately informed of the changes to their state pension age. In fact, this is the whole point of our campaign. We will be seeking to meet with Richard Harrington with other local women affected by these changes.'