Almost 4 million women born in the 1950s will not be compensated for the money they lost when the pension age was raised from 60 to 66, the high court has decided.
Two claimants took the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to court, arguing that raising their pension age “unlawfully discriminated against them on the grounds of age, sex, and age and sex combined”.
Lord Justice Irwin and Mrs Justice Whipple said in their judgment on Thursday that they were saddened by the claimants’ stories but that the court’s role was limited.
In a judgment dismissing the claim on all grounds, including age discrimination, sex discrimination and lack of notice, they said: “The wider issues raised by the claimants about whether the choices were right or wrong, or good or bad, were not for the court. They were for members of the public and their elected representatives.”
But the campaign group BackTo60, which bought the claim on behalf of women affected by the pension changes – many of whom who only found out their pension age had increased when they applied to draw it, or shortly before – said they would appeal against the decision.
Joanne Welch from the group said: “They can’t knock us back. We’ve got a fierce and powerful armoury behind us. As well as the 3.8 million women affected, we have the support of 215 MPs, Unite, Unison, TUC and others.
“If we were a political party, we would be the third biggest, so come on Boris Johnson: you pledged during the Tory leadership campaign that you would look at this issue with fresh vigour. There’s a general election coming up. You need our votes and we are holding you to that undertaking.”
Marcia Willis Stewart of Birnberg Peirce, which represented the claimants, said: “We are deeply disappointed by this decision.” She added that the aim of the “arduous legal process” was “to rectify a substantial and far-reaching injustice”.
“Sadly, today that injustice remains,” she said. “The struggling on behalf of those beleaguered women, whose stories saddened the judges but for whom this judgment provided no relief, will continue.”
The shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, tweeted: “Disappointed to hear about today’s decision. I will continue to support campaign in their fight against pension inequality.”
The Green party MP, Caroline Lucas tweeted: “Deeply disappointing that the courageous and unjustly treated women have lost their judicial review in the high court. The gross pensions injustice for 1950s women remains – I will continue to support their fight.”
The Unison general secretary, Dave Prentis, called the judgment “perverse”. He said: “This is a terrible blow for the millions of women who will have been hoping for a very different outcome today. The decision to hike the state pension age with next to no notice didn’t just throw their retirement plans up in the air, it also left many women on lower incomes really struggling to make ends meet.
“It seems perverse that the Department for Work and Pensions had no obligation to inform these women of this significant change.”
The judgment found that there had been no discrimination by the DWP based on age “but even if there was, it could be justified on the facts. This legislation operated in the field of macro-economic policy; the underlying objective of the change was to ensure that the state pension regime remained affordable while striking an appropriate balance between state pension age and the size of the state pension; an important consideration was the need to secure intergenerational fairness between pensioners and younger taxpayers; the fact that people live longer is important alongside other demographic and social changes.”
The judges also ruled that EU member states were allowed to discriminate on the basis of sex in determining pensionable age. “There was no direct discrimination on grounds of sex, because this legislation does not treat women less favourably than men in law, rather it equalises a historic asymmetry between men and women and thereby corrects historic direct discrimination against men,” the judgment read.
The claimants also argued that they had not had sufficient notice of the changes and that this was contrary to the requirements of public law. This was rejected by the judges because “the claimants had no legitimate expectation that the government would not alter the state pension age without prior consultation; in any event it was clear that successive governments had engaged in extensive consultation with a wide spread of interested bodies before the legislation was introduced”.
The two judges had to consider both UK and EU law, and the UK’s ratification by Margaret Thatcher of the UN convention for the elimination of discrimination against women (CEDAW), which specifies that women who have been discriminated against must be fully compensated.
Women in their 50s and 60s were hit by the government’s decision under the 1995 Pensions Act to increase the female state pension age from 60 to 65. The change was to be phased in between 2010 and 2020.
The coalition government of 2010 accelerated the timetable. The 2011 Pensions Act brought the new qualifying age of 65 for women forward to 2018. The qualifying age for both men and women will be raised to 66 by October 2020.
BackTo60 argued that women were not given time to adjust to the new retirement age and also that the changes in 2011 and 1995 had not been clearly communicated.
The DWP has been approached for comment.
— to www.theguardian.com