State pension ruling 'a blow for 77,000 Northern Ireland women'
A pensions campaigner has said 77,000 women in Northern Ireland will be feeling "gutted" after the loss of a High Court challenge to controversial changes to the state pension age.
Nearly four million women born in the 1950s are affected by changes made by successive Governments to raise the pension age from 60 to 66.
Julie Delve (61) and Karen Glynn (63), supported by the campaign group Backto60, took the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to court.
They argued that raising the pension age discriminated against them on the grounds of age and sex, and had failed to give them adequate notice.
There was shock in the High Court in London yesterday as the case was dismissed on all grounds.
Wilma Grey (65) from Enniskillen is the Northern Ireland co-ordinator for Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI). Due to retire this year, she said the changes have meant she will lose out on £20,000 compared to a friend who is only nine months older.
"It's very disappointing. We were hoping we would be coming to the end of our campaigning as it's been going on for so long, but obviously we're going to have to continue," she said.
"I'm still waiting to see if today's decision will be appealed, but that would be a long way down the line."
WASPI have focused their campaign on gaining political support, which she says is backed by all 10 DUP MPs and the independent MP Lady Sylvia Hermon.
"A lot of women born in the 1950s are losing six years," she said. "A lot of women aren't getting a full state pension as well because they took time out to look after children or care for aged relatives.
"Times were different when we started our working lives. But the point is when we started working and paying in we were promised a pension at age 60.
"But the goalposts have now been moved twice. We're all gutted today."
SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon urged the campaigners to fight on.
"Today's judgment will be bitterly disappointing for thousands of women who have been campaigning hard for pension justice. Their fight has been an inspiration to so many beyond their own generation and it has to continue," she said.
"This change, accelerated by the British Government, has left thousands of women across these islands in severe financial hardship. Women made significant decisions about their career, children and their future savings based on retiring at 60.
"They have had the rug pulled from under them and some have been forced to rely on food banks as a result. How can that be fair?"
In their ruling, the High Court judges said they were "saddened" by some of the stories they heard in evidence, but their role as judges was "limited". The policy choices, they said, were open to Government and were approved by Parliament.
"The wider issues raised by the claimants, about whether these choices were right or wrong or good or bad, are not for us; they are for members of the public and their elected representatives."
In a statement a DWP spokesman said the department welcomed the judgment.
"It has always been our view that the changes we made to women's state pension age were entirely lawful and did not discriminate on any grounds," they said.
"The court decided that arguments the claimants were not given adequate notice of changes to the state pension age could not be upheld.
"This follows the extensive communications that DWP made to publicise these changes over many years."
The statement added the Government decided in 1995 to make the pension age the same for men and women to move towards gender equality.
"Raising state pension age in line with life expectancy changes has been the policy of successive administrations over many years."