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Unfair pension changes leave NI women struggling to make ends meet, Assembly hears

By Noel McAdam

Published 27/09/2016

Wilma Grey
Wilma Grey
Ulster Unionists, SDLP members and Women Against State Pension Inequality campaign at Stormont

Mothers and grandmothers are being forced out to work, often on zero hour contracts, to plug a new gap in state pension provision, MLAs have been told.

The Assembly backed a campaign demanding a cushion against the impact of pension age changes affecting thousands of women.

On the first 'Opposition' day at Stormont - when the main business was decided by the smaller parties - the Government was accused of "changing the goalposts" on state pension provision.

The SDLP and Ulster Unionists joined forces on the issue - the SDLP presenting a petition to Speaker Robin Newton demanding a re-think by Works and Pensions Secretary Damien Green, and the UUP bringing forward a motion.

SDLP MLA Colin McGrath said: "Some women who have not been working in later years, and were expecting an income from the State Pension, are now at age 60, 61 and 62 and are turning to Jobseekers Allowance and zero hour contracts just to make ends meet.

"Mothers, grandmothers and aunts are all being affected - it's not good enough that they find themselves having to work zero hour contracts just to survive."

The South Down MLA said when men were asked to work an extra year to the age of 66, they were given six years' notice before the policy was implemented, while some women were given just one year's notice.

"That means that men were given six years' notice for a one-year addition, whilst women were given one year's notice of a six-year extension. It hardly seems equal," he said.

"It must be remembered too that some women were often not permitted to enter company pension schemes and other benefits of employment until the 1990s. Such changes to their plans and pensions are having a major detrimental impact." Parties later backed the motion calling on the UK Government "to re-examine its position and bring forward fair transitional arrangements for the women affected".

Under the changes, which emerged last year, women born on or after April 6, 1951 are disadvantaged. Women who paid National Insurance Contributions from the age of 16, expecting to retire at 60, learned just before their 60th birthdays that they would not be able to draw the state pension until they were 64, 65 or 66 in some cases.

Ulster Unionist Jenny Palmer said the Government was breaking its promise. "The promise that if you work hard throughout your working life, the state will take care of you in your old age is an ideal which has underpinned our society for more than 70 years," she said. "The way in which the women's state pension age has been increased by the Government has left post-retirement planning in tatters for many."

Parties backed the Women Against State Pension Inequality campaign, whose NI co-ordinator Wilma Grey stated: "(We) do not disagree with the equalisation of the state pension age, but we take issue with the haphazard way it has been implemented by the Government.

"The timetable for the increases is completely bizarre, a one-year age gap can mean you have to wait an extra three and a half years to reach pensionable age.

"The Government continue to claim that no woman will have to wait longer than 18 months to receive their state pension. The reality is that the women's state pension age will increase by six years from April 2010 to October 2020.

"The lack of appropriate notification from the Government of these changes has left thousands of women without income they had expected, with many facing financial hardship as a result."

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