It's harsh for women

By Ros Altmann, February 17, 2011
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Major state pension changes are underway.

To save money, the government wants to rapidly increase the state pension age to 66. However, its plans will unfairly hit women, particularly those in their mid-to-late 50s, whose pension age was already rising to 65 by 2020 (under the timetable set in 1995). If you were born after 1953, you will be affected.

The Coalition Agreement originally promised no further changes to a woman's pension age before 2020. Shockingly however, it has reneged on these assurances.

Starting in 2016, 500,000 women, whose pension age has already been increased by three or four years, could have their pension delayed by another two years. The pension age for men will rise by a maximum of one year, starting in 2018.

Women accept the need to equalise pension ages, but changes must be fair. It is clearly unfair that women will bear the brunt of state pension cost savings.

Between 2010 and 2020, women pension age rises by six years, and a man's, by just one. Men have eight-years notice of a one-year pension age increase, while women are given just seven-years notice of a two-year change. This leaves many women facing pension shortfalls of over £10,000, with no realistic chance to make up those losses.

I have been inundated with letters of outrage and despair from women who, having carefully planned their finances, find themselves facing financial nightmares.

They say they feel as if the government has gone into their bank accounts and stolen thousands of pounds from them. Women are already at a pension disadvantage relative to men. They earned less during their working lives, were often barred from joining private pension schemes when working part-time, had less chance to build up a private pension and they rely more heavily on state pensions than men do. The government has recently revealed that women's state pensions are much lower than for men and I hope it will rethink its plans.

If you are affected and want to do something about it, you could contact your MP to let them know how you feel. It may be possible to achieve amendments in the Pensions Bill in coming weeks.

The fairest approach would be to delay increases for everyone until 2020, which would allow more time to prepare. At the very least, no one should have their pension delayed by more than one year.

The government urges people to plan carefully for their retirement.Yet women who did exactly that have had the rug pulled from under them by the government itself. I do hope it will reconsider these plans.

Ros Altmann is the director general of Saga and a former government pensions adviser

    Last updated: 11:02am, February 17 2011