Elizabeth Latham, 68, who lives in Wolverhampton with husband Peter, expected to retire quietly when she turned 60. But thanks to moves to increase the state pension age for women, she didn’t have that option. Now she’s turned into a campaigner for 1950s’ women’s rights instead.
Liz has been fighting for the Waspi campaign, which stands for women against state pension injustice, (or inequality, depending on the campaign group).
They’re fighting a decision in The Pensions Act 1995 to raise the retirement age for women in line with men. First to 65 and now to 66.
This affected 3.8million women born in the 1950s, who had to work five or six years longer than they had expected.
Many say they didn’t know what was happening until right before they were due to retire, leaving it too late to make other plans.
Liz has suffered lifelong health problems after her kidneys stopped growing at the age of two.
She worked in a series of poorly paid jobs, mostly in shops, and had a kidney transplant in 1990. The next decade “was just a blur”, as she had constant treatment, which is why she missed news about the state pension hike.
Ill health finally forced Liz to stop working in 2018, aged 63, but didn’t get any sickness benefits. She had to scrape by on her meagre savings and husband Peter’s pension until she finally got her state pension two years ago.
“My first job in 1972 paid just £7 a month and that was full time. My last one was in 2018 and that paid just £240, also full time. Politicians like George Osborne, David Cameron, Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak will never know what life is like for many women born in the 1950s.”
Liz calculates that increasing the retirement age for women to 66 has cost her £43,000 in lost state pension.
In July 2021, the Parliamentary & Health Service Ombudsman said the Department for Work & Pensions should have written individual letters to affected women 28 months before it finally sent them out, which it called “maladministration”.
The DWP has argued in return that the Government decided to equalise state pension age more than 25 years ago, as a “long-overdue move towards gender equality”.
It said the decision had been supported by both the High Court and Court of Appeal, which found it acted entirely lawfully and did not discriminate on any grounds.
Liz says affected women needed much clearer information than the DWP supplied. “We didn’t have the internet then, or read high profile papers or listen to financial programmes on the TV or radio, so we didn’t know.”
Liz reckons politicians missed a trick and should have given 1950s women the choice between retiring at 60 as before, or working to 65 if they wished.
“This would have been so simple to implement and a generation of women would not have lost up to £50,000, with their retirement plans turned into an utter nightmare.”
Under her proposal, those who had made enough NI payments, say, 30 or 35 years, would qualify for the full state pension from 60.
“As it stands, somebody who started work at 15 – and plenty of us did – could have paid in for 50 years and still won’t have got a penny in pension.”
She added: “Everyone I’ve spoken to agrees with me. Why didn’t government offer this at the start?”
Liz says we need a new approach to get this issue resolved. “Every year we hear same old same old excuses and people are tired of waiting and also dying while this awful injustice drags on. My option could help us win the argument.”
Forcing 1950s women to work on has been disastrous, Liz added. “People well into their 60s should not have to apply for universal credit, use food banks or sell their homes just so they can enjoy a basic standard of living in later life.
“It’s not what they toiled, worked, grafted and paid their taxes for. It’s an act of robbery.”
Liz adds: “I am 68 next month and really want this injustice sorted. We’ve lost so many people, nearly 300,000 since 2015, who haven’t claimed a single penny of pension.”
She reckons Waspi has the support of more than 200 MPs across all parties and fresh thinking is now required. “We need this done now, not next year or the year after. We’ve been waiting far too long already.”
Liz says government ministers don’t understand how people live. “Many have money, and focus on giving rich people tax breaks rather than helping those who are really struggling.”
She adds: “The big difference was that with Waspi is that almost four million got hit in one go, and they refused to give up the fight and neither will I.”