Swansea landmark to turn purple as part of women’s campaign against rise in the state pension age
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
A group of women will gather at Swansea’s Guildhall next month to see it turn purple as part of their continued campaign against a rise in the state pension age.
Members of Pension Justice for Swansea Women said their cause received little attention, but the group is thrilled that Swansea Council will light the Guildhall purple – the campaigners’ colour – at sunset on September 6.
One of the group’s coordinators, Janet Fisk, said the lighting up was in recognition of an official finding that there were failings in the way the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) communicated changes to women’s state pension age.
It is a long-running saga dating back to 1995 when a law was passed increasing the state pension age for women from 60 to 65 to put them on equal footing with men. The change was phased in from 2010 for women born between 1950 and 1955.
A further law passed in 2011 which sped up the transition had a major impact on women – like Mrs Fisk – born in 1953-4, who discovered they would have to wait longer than expected to retire.
Last month the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman found that the DWP’s communication of the changes reflected the standards it would expect the department to meet between 1995 and 2004, but that it failed to make a reasonable decision the following year about targeting information to the women affected by these changes.
The ombudsman recorded a second maladministration finding, saying the DWP had failed to act promptly in 2006 after it had proposed writing to women individually to tell them about the changes.
Retired social worker Mrs Fisk said she was stunned in 2009 when a personal pension forecast advised she would have to work two years and 10 months more than she had expected before she received her state pension.
“I could not believe what I was reading,” she said. “I was not aware the state pension had increased.”
In her view, not enough information about the changes had been provided.
“There was no letter written to you,” she said.
Mrs Fisk, who lives in a flat in Caswell, said she was fortunate in that she was not completely reliant on the state pension, having built up a work one. But she said this was not the case for many of the 3.7 million women affected by the changes.
“They had to work on – often in labour-intensive work like caring, stacking shelves and cleaning,” she said. “It has affected their life expectancy.”
Elaine Griffiths, another member of Members of Pension Justice for Swansea Women, said she was “absolutely flabbergasted” when she discovered she would receive her state pension aged 65 – five years after she expected.
“I thought somebody had got it wrong, but it was in fact right,” said Mrs Griffiths, who was born in 1954.
She ended up teaching for another five years, retiring aged 65.
Like Mrs Fisk, she had a vocational pension, but she said other women who had worked in various jobs and paid their National Insurance and tax didn’t.
In 2020, women campaigners in a separate group lost a case in the Court of Appeal that the pension hikes were unlawful discrimination or a breach of human rights.
The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman will continue its investigation by considering what impact the injustice created by the two maladministration findings had.
Mrs Fisk said she did not expect all the pension money to be backdated to people like her, but felt the campaign must continue on behalf of the women whose circumstances were less fortunate than hers.
A DWP spokesman said the High Court and Court of Appeal had supported the actions of the department.
He did not respond to the Ombudsman’s ongoing investigation, but added: “In a move towards gender equality, it was decided more than 25 years ago to make the State Pension age the same for men and women.”