How Waspi debacle could have been avoided

Women who were born in the 1950s have faced repeated increases to their state pension age, which were poorly communicated by government, according to former pensions minister Ros Altmann.

These issues have been brought to light by the Women Against State Pension Inequality (Waspi) campaign. In 2004, government sent out pension forecast letters.

'In their infinite wisdom they wrote to these women saying this is roughly the state pension you will get, and nobody thought of telling them, in big red letters at the top, that their state pension age had changed and they were not going to get it at age 60,' says Altmann.

The government thereby missed a crucial opportunity to communicate the 1995 state pension ages to those affected.

POORLY COMMUNICATED DECISION

'The letter didn't tell them the age had changed - why would they call up or think they'd need to?,' she adds. 'Women were expected to somehow find out about it on their own - but how would they do that?'

Altmann mentions a survey the government conducted in 2004 to assess whether women did know about state pension ages. It found that about one quarter of them didn't. But it still didn't write to them until 2009-10, which in some cases meant they got a six-year increase in retirement age with just seven years' notice.

'This is a democratic decision; it was made by law and passed by parliament,' says Altmann. 'But equally I realised how poorly these previous changes were communicated.

'In many ways the government misled women into believing the age was still 60, partly because it sent women forecasts of what their state pension would be without stating that the age had changed, which is in my view unforgiveable.

'The coalition agreement promised that it would not do anything to change women's state pension age before 2020. That was a commitment in the coalition agreement, but within months, both Steve Webb and Iain Duncan Smith were proposing changing women's state pension age for 2016.'

Altmann says she explained to them in 2011 why older women have been disadvantaged in pensions throughout their life and don't have such good private pensions or state pensions, and therefore why such a move would be unfair.

'These women were often locked out of pension schemes when they started work, and forced to leave them if they had children or got married. Anyone who worked part-time was not necessarily included,' she explains.

'What made it worse was that all the ministers that I was dealing with were men. There were no women, and the men just didn't seem to appreciate the way these women's lives had gone.'

Altmann still maintains there should be some redress, at least for those worst affected.

But, she adds: 'There is absolutely no willingness within government to give them a penny, nothing. There were some backbench MPs who supported them, but there was nobody in the ministerial team whatsoever - the whips and everybody else were just telling me to be quiet. It was very difficult.'

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