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I fear the women trapped in pension limbo will end up living on dog food

PUBLISHED: 17:55 07 October 2019 | UPDATED: 17:55 07 October 2019

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

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

Jessica Frank-Keyes

After BackTo60's bid to get compensation for women affected by the changes to the pension age failed, Liz Nice feels something must still be done to bridge the gap for women now stuck in limboland

What is equality? Most of the men I know think we women have it. But we are not equal. The gender pay gap is still around 11 per cent and most of the firms in our region employing 250 people or more pay the median man more than the median woman.

When questioned about this, the usual response is 'We're improving' rather than 'We're ashamed'.

Women at work are still treated differently.

If Theresa May had carried on like Boris Johnson, she would never have got away with it. If he blusters or rants, it's endearing and a sign of passionate commitment; if she had ever done so, even once, she would have been pronounced incompetent or mad.

If her love life was anything like his - well, imagine!

Different standards apply for women around sex and 'twas ever thus; although we are allowed to have it now, which is progress, I guess.

In the workplace, it still feels as if we have to be twice as good to get half as far.

At home, if we are working, we are still judged on our parenting and the state of our house. A man can go to work, then come home and put his feet up. A woman who does not go home and spend quality time with her children, then do the washing and other housework will always feel she has let the side down.

Men don't get it all their way, of course.

For example, a woman in a work meeting who says nothing can largely get away with it. No-one expects her to forcefully enforce her view and would probably prefer her not to; if a man sits in silence, he will know that every other man in the room is judging his lack of engagement and ideas. This is why some men in meetings blast a lot of hot air perhaps?

Equality is impossible to achieve in the long run because women give birth and men don't. But to continually strive towards equality, should, of course, be each generation's goal.

This is why the current situation over women's pensions is so thorny.

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Of course, it seems right that women should have the same retirement age as men and neither of the groups campaigning against the changes - BackTo60 and Waspi (Women Against State Pension Inequality) - disagree with that principle.

Personally, I think it was probably darned unfair that we ever got to retire a full five years earlier - particularly as we live longer. We are not delicate flowers! Although of course the reasons why this happened - the domestic role was seen as more important for women and many women stopped work when they had children - were reflective of the time.

The problem has come in however because the changes to the pension age for women came before anyone was ready; and before the world of employment had caught up.

The 1950s-born women affected - who lost a judicial review last week brought by campaign group BackTo60 - find themselves in a twilight zone where they can't get the money they were expecting but can't get work because no one wants to employ a woman of that age.

Following last week's ruling, they won't get compensation either; unsurprising as it would cost the government a fortune, but nonetheless, there is an unfairness here, and the idea of women who have worked all their lives, living on value baked beans and dog food is not a pleasant thought.

But it is the reality. (Well, I made up the bit about dog food but do let me know if this is you as it is my chief concern.)

Women who don't have private wealth or workplace pensions (and remember the gender pension gap is around twice the gender pay gap because women's work lives are affected by lower earning, interrupted careers and carer duties) are left in limbo, having to claim benefits in the usual way - there are stories of women in their 60s being sent to apply for apprenticeships for example. It is difficult, and there is no safety net; they are left to struggle on alone.

For many, BackTo60 argued, this came as a terrible shock - and even though the judicial review rejected this point, saying they were satisfied that the women had been informed of what was going to happen - the fact remains that thousands of women had no contingency in place.

I would like to see a compromise here. Surely, there ought to be some sort of fund set up to help the women in real hardship who had the wind so hurricanically whipped out of their sails?

Meanwhile, I'd like to see local employers helping out.

A woman in her 60s has a lifetime of valuable experience. Don't dismiss her because she looks a bit old.

Ideally, don't dismiss older men too for the same reasons.

See, I can do equality. Why can't we all?

What do you think? Are the changes to pensions for women unfair? Have you been affected? Have you faced age discrimination in the workplace? Write to
liz.nice@archant.co.uk

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