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Billion Pound Judicial Review of Government Pensions Robbery

David Hencke on a key legal case challenging the government’s persistent discrimination against women with changes in the pension age.

A key legal case is challenging the Government’s persistent discrimination against women through changes to the pension age.

On Wednesday, the High Court will begin a two-day judicial review to decide whether 3.9 million women born in the 1950s are entitled to billions of pounds of compensation because of the way successive governments have handled the rise in the pension age from 60 to 66.

The hearing – which ministers frankly thought would never happen – could, according to the Government, cost taxpayers up to £77bn to rectify. But, this figure is correct is a contested issue because payments would vary enormously from just three months loss of pension to six years, depending on the age of the person and when they were due to collect their pension.

A number have attempted suicide, some have become homeless, and many are in dire financial straits and living on benefit because they cannot get jobs at their age.

The 50s women are not arguing for the pension age for all women to return to 60, but only for this particular group of women to be compensated for the way they have been treated.

A number have attempted suicide, some have become homeless, and many are in dire financial straits and living on benefits because they cannot get jobs at their age.

They say that the main reason for this situation is that, although legislation to enact this change was passed by John Major’s Government in 1995, nobody wrote to them personally until around 2011 to tell them of the phasing-in of the pension rise. By then, it was too late to plan for their change in circumstances, which began in 2015. Both former Social Security Ministers Ros Altman and Jeff Rooker, now sitting in the House of Lords, have confirmed this.

That this issue has reached such a tense stand-off is due to the remarkable action of the 783,000-strong group, ‘Back to 60’.

The ‘Back to 60’ Campaign

The group, not as well known as WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality), last year took a much more radical stand than the latter, which was divided on whether they should ask for a little money back or go for the full return of the cash.

WASPI had been working with the All Party Parliamentary Group on State Pension Equality for Women, co-chaired by Carolyn Harris, Labour MP for Swansea East, and Tim Loughton, Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham. They want to secure some compensation for the 50s women through a private members bill which has still not materialised.

The creation of ‘Back to 60’, whose director is Joanne Welch has a background in communications and a flair for publicity, changed all of this.

She organised a battle bus, demonstrations outside Parliament, a rally in Hyde Park, online petitions and commissioned research showing that people were close to suicide. The mainstream media largely ignored this.

The big breakthrough came on November 30 last year when the High Court granted ‘Back to 60’ permission to bring a judicial review against the Government.

Joanne Welch had managed to persuade the veteran human rights lawyer Michael Mansfield to take up the case, who was joined by Catherine Rayner. They convinced the 63-year-old woman judge, the Hon. Justice Mrs Justice Lang, that their cause should go to a full hearing.

The Legal Case

The Government had argued that the cost of the change, the need to equalise the pension age for men and women, and the fact that everyone was living longer meant that the challenge should be dismissed. But, it lost.

It emerged that the Thatcher Government had surreptitiously starved the national insurance fund of at least £271bn.

The lawyers for ‘Back to 60’ successfully argued that the 50s born had not been treated equally because they had a past history of inequality as they had been barred from making national insurance contributions as part-time workers and while they were bringing up children.

Both of these points have been rectified for future generations in the new state pension.

It emerged that the Thatcher Government had surreptitiously starved the national insurance fund of at least £271bn from 1988 to the present day by virtually abolishing the Treasury contribution to it – meaning that the pension age had to rise because it did not have enough money to pay out. And the long rise in people living longer has flatlined since 2011.

It has also emerged that, in 1986, Margaret Thatcher signed up to a UN convention which binds successive governments to provide compensation for women who have faced discrimination. This will be one of the key points to be raised by ‘Back to 60’ lawyers at this week’s hearing.

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