Women hit by change in state pension age on the physical toll of working
Women who were affected by the increase in the state pension age have warned about the physical toll of working in older age as they raise concerns that millions more could be forced to work until they are 68.
Campaigners condemned reports this week that the retirement age could increase to 68 as early as 2035, arguing that it is “completely wrong“ for the government to force people to “work until they drop”.
A phased increase in the age at which women are able to claim a state pension – from 66 to 67 by 2028, and eventually to 68 – is already planned, but there has been speculation that the increase to 68, which is currently pegged for 2046, could be brought forward to some time during the 2030s.
The announcement, which would affect those born in the 1970s and later, could be made in the March Budget, according to The Sun. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has said that no decision has yet been made. Pension experts said the government faces a “tricky balancing act” in supporting an ageing population.
It comes after almost 4 million women were affected by a controversial state pension change that saw the age of retirement for women born after March 1950 increase from 60 to 66.
The increase was accelerated in 2010 and saw women reach parity with men, at 65, in 2018. BackTo60, a campaign group calling for women to be reimbursed for pension payments they have missed due to the changes, lost its landmark High Court battle against the government in 2019.
Angela Madden, chair of Women Against State Pension Inequality (Waspi), told The Independent that the government “needs to learn from past mistakes”.
“As 1950s women approach retirement, they are still suffering financially from the effects of DWP maladministration due to a failure to inform those affected by the last set of state pension age hikes in time,” she said.
“Many had already given up working, in anticipation of a pension at 60, and then found it difficult or impossible to get back into the workplace. Before making any proposed rises to the state pension age, the government needs to show they have learned from their past mistakes.”
Age UK said speeding up the rise in the state pension age “will condemn millions to a miserable and impoverished run-up to retirement – and often beyond, too”. It added that many people are in poor health by the time they reach even the current state pension age.
Here, three women who were hit by the rise in the state pension age tell The Independent how their lives were changed and why they fear for the next group of women who will be similarly affected.
‘Life is not good’ – Julia Jacobs, 63, former retail worker
As a result of the changes to the state pension age, Julia Jacobs, who lives in Solihull, won’t receive her state pension until 2025. Despite this, she gave up work in 2019 because of the physical toll it was taking on her body.
Ms Jacobs spent most of her adult life bringing up her four children, but also worked in retail, something she describes as “physically draining”.
Talking about her retail job, she says: “It was hard, physically draining work, involving climbing ladders, pulling and pushing heavy stock in the service lifts, and standing all day for shifts up to 12 hours.
“My body could not cope with the work, and it has caused back pain and problems with my feet, knees and hips which last to today. I gave up this job with medical advice to do so by my GP in 2019.”
Ms Jacobs says raising the age to 68 would force people to “work till they drop”, adding: “I physically and mentally could not work to age 68.”
The 63-year-old, who looks after her three grandchildren, also worked as a part-time exam invigilator on a zero-hour contract prior to the coronavirus pandemic, but is now living off her life savings ahead of drawing her state pension.
She says: “Of course, this money is reducing rapidly. I haven’t been on holiday since 2017. I have got rid of my freezer. I heat my home only for an hour in the morning and two hours in the evening. I try to buy ‘yellow-stickered’ food where I can.
“I live a very quiet life. I have never had a takeaway delivered to my home. I rarely meet friends to eat out or socialise, and even tend to refrain from a coffee out because of the cost.
“I cannot afford to join an exercise class or a gym. Life is not good. It is a case of limping through each month, just about coping but constantly worrying over money.”
‘My body found it difficult to carry on’ – Michaela Hawkins, 67, former carer
Michaela Hawkins, from South Wales, says she had no official notice from the DWP that the state pension age was being raised, and only heard about it through colleagues.
The 67-year-old, who previously worked as a carer supporting adults with learning disabilities, ended up retiring at 66 but says she found it “difficult” to carry on and would not have been able to work any longer.
“I retired at 66 because the job I was doing was physically and mentally demanding. My body found it difficult to carry on,” she says.
Ms Hawkins now helps with childcare to enable her daughter to go out to work. She also used to help her daughter, who is a single mother, with money, but can no longer afford to do so in the same way as she struggles to pay her own bills during the cost of living crisis.
Ms Hawkins also argues that any further hike in the state pension age will “100 per cent” mean women are “adversely affected” as a result of the physical nature of the jobs that many of them do, particularly in the care sector.
‘It’s soul-destroying and there’s no end in sight’ – Gill Grout, 69, former nurse and midwife
Gill Grout worked for the NHS for her whole working life and says the previous rise in the state pension age “completely derailed” her retirement plans.
The move put unexpected pressure on her finances and she ended up having to return to work, although she had to embark on a new career as a carer due to no longer being on the nursing and midwifery register.
She says: “I was in my mid-sixties. I cannot explain how exhausted I was, my back was killing and my legs and feet swollen. To expect people to work until almost 70 is ridiculous.
“It’s fine if you have a sedentary job, and are in good health, but so many people – firefighters, ambulance staff, nursing and midwifery, hospitality, plus [those who do] manual labour – are already struggling at the current age limit.
“Add that to the many workers on zero-hour contracts or minimum wage, who are having to work excessive hours already. It’s soul-destroying and there’s no end in sight.”
Ms Grout retired at the age of 67 in January 2020, but returned to work to help on the front lines of the Covid crisis, finally stopping in August last year.
She says: “One of the big things I noticed was how much slower I was in absorbing all the training needs that were required to ensure safe practices.
“The brain takes longer to retain information, another reason it’s not good for older workers. I got a lot more tired – a danger [if you are] driving home after a long shift.”
Commenting on the potential changes, she says: “The raising of the state pension age yet again, [to] the highest age out of many European countries, is a terrible idea. Not only are people who are older more likely to be suffering a health condition – I myself, despite being quite fit for my age, developed atrial fibrillation in April 2021 – they are also slower and possibly less productive.”
Ms Grout explains that her husband, who is seven years her senior, has potentially “life-limiting” health issues.
“Had I been able to retire at 60 or even 65 years, we would have had time to actually enjoy our retirement together when he was well, as opposed to constant hospital appointments,” she adds.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “The government decided over 25 years ago it was going to make the state pension age the same for men and women. Both the High Court and Court of Appeal have supported the actions of the DWP under successive governments dating back to 1995, and the Supreme Court refused the claimant’s permission to appeal.”
On the latest reports, they added: “No decision has been taken on changes to the state pension age. The government is required by law to regularly review the state pension age, and the second state pension age review is currently considering, based on a wide range of evidence including latest life expectancy data and two independent reports, whether the rules around state pension age remain appropriate.
“The review will be published early this year.”
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