As we celebrate International Women’s Day, and pay tribute to the millions of women still fighting to achieve gender equality, let us not forget the struggles being faced by women every day – who refuse to parade their poverty in public and fight for the right to dignity in retirement.
The attack on women’s pensions is a national disgrace. It comes at a time when women in general and this group of women, born in the 1950s, have borne the brunt of the harshest austerity in modern times as well as past and present inequality.
Women born on or after 6 April 1951 are facing hardship in retirement as a result of the government’s changes to their state pension age. The 1995 pensions act increased women’s state pension age to 65, the same as men’s. Letters were only sent out 14 years after the 1995 pensions act.
Unison believes it is totally unacceptable that WASPI women are heading for financial hardship as their retirement age increased because the government failed to communicate the changes with them effectively. Indeed many of the women affected are just finding out about it now.
Unison is supporting the WASPI campaign for pension justice for the 2.6 million affected. Until the 1990s many women were locked out from joining company pension schemes. They joined the workforce when there was no right to equal pay, no maternity leave and no right for part timers to join a pension scheme. Many are unable to work because they are caring for elderly or ill parents or are unwell themselves.
Unison is fighting to defend women’s pension rights and give women dignity in retirement. We are also campaigning to close the gender pay, on average still over 18 per cent and at present rate unlikely to be closed until 2069. The gender pension gap is not different, which on average is over 30 per cent. Inequality in the labour market leaves women on low pay, on zero hour contracts, in insecure jobs and unable to save for retirement. Economic justice for women is long overdue and it is imperative that governments take action to improve the economic status and role of women in all spheres of public policy and public life.
WASPI women face huge challenges in the battle for justice. The challenges are formidable but they are not insurmountable. The reality is that there are no jobs for women in their early sixties and women struggling to find work are being put through humiliating and inappropriate processes at job centres or to take zero hours contracts.
This generation of women, born in the 1950s, have had their fair share of injustices compounded upon injustices. Unison will not let the WASPI women fight this battle alone. It would not be easy but WASPI women are mobilising across communities and in trade unions. Unison have been lobbying MPs on International Women’s Day to do the right and press the government to implement fair transitional arrangements for WASPI women. Women did the right thing – worked hard, saved and paid their taxes. We do not deserve to be treated in this way. Women deserve better.
Gloria Mills is Unison’s national secretary for equalities.