Just as some people can remember where they were when they heard that President Kennedy had been shot, I can still recall where I was when I heard that the state pension age for women was to rise from 60 to 65, incrementally between 2010 and 2020. The year was 1993 and I was standing in the kitchen of my first-ever house, listening to the one o'clock news on Radio 4. The change was then widely debated and incorporated into the Pensions Act 1995. More recently, the move to a retirement age of 65 for women has been speeded up, but only slightly so that it will now be in force two years earlier, by November 2018. That, too, was widely advertised.
I admit that I have an unusual memory but I still fail to comprehend why so many seemingly intelligent and switched-on women can claim to have been unaware of this change until recently. After all, the change doesn’t affect me. If it did, the change would be stamped even more indelibly on my mind – as is the knowledge that, on current policy, I will be able to collect my state pension on my 67th birthday in September 2033.
How come, then, anyone takes seriously the pressure group known as WASPI, which claims to represent 'almost 3.5 million women born in the 1950s who are suffering because they weren’t told by the Government that their state pension age would be increasing, and who now have no time to put in place alternative financial arrangements to see them through to the new state retirement age'? Yes, they were told. We were all told. Ken Clarke announced it in his first Budget. It was all over the news. There is no excuse for any woman in her 50s not to be aware of the change, and to have had ample time to prepare for it. And if any have had their heads buried in the sand the consequences are not exactly dire: they will either have to dip into their personal pension pots or else do what men have been doing since 1925: work until 65.
What is most irritating of all is the acronym WASPI, which stands for Women Against State Pension Inequality. What this group is demanding is the exact opposite: in this case they want inequality to be maintained. In an age of equal pay audits and sex discrimination laws it is indefensible to have an earlier retirement age for women than for men. It is also fiscally irresponsible for any government to be paying out state pensions at age 60 when life expectancy for women is now over 81 years.
Needless to say, Labour has jumped on the WASPI bandwagon. The party claims that women have ‘lost up to £45,000’ and should be compensated. You can just imagine how Labour, as well as the WASPI women, would be reacting if it were the other way round and men were collecting their state pensions at an earlier age than women. We would never hear the last of it – and quite right, too, as it would be outrageous discrimination. Labour wants equal pay and equal representation on company boards. Why it won’t accept an equal retirement age is utterly bizarre.