WASPI Judgement: the sting of injustice

WPUK expresses shock and concern at impact of High Court pensions ruling on women’s rights.

Woman’s Place UK shares the dismay and anger of the Backto60 and WASPI campaigns at today’s High Court decision dismissing the claim against the sudden increase in the pension age to 66 by 2020, which hits 3.8 million women born in the 1950s.

We also applaud the tenacity of Julie Delve and Karen Glynn who brought the case on grounds of discrimination against them on the basis of “age, sex, and age and sex combined”.

We are very concerned that this disappointing ruling may open the door to extremely narrow interpretations of equalities law and policy that could frustrate the purpose of addressing the material and lived disadvantages women face.

The hike in pensionable age for women from 60 to 66 was always a political decision. As the court heard, it was justified by the government on the grounds of a policy of austerity, 80 percent of whose impact has fallen on women.

Women’s organisations and many women will be demanding of all politicians and parties in the expected general election what they intend to do to put right this injustice.

WPUK will be measuring those responses against our own Manifesto which we launched earlier this year.

The summary judgement also revealed the limitations in law of equalities and anti-discrimination legislation as it applies to women.

That is why WPUK is committed to extending legal protection and the scope of equalities, as well as preventing the erosion of sex-based rights.

The two judges found that the prior pensionable ages of 60 for women and 65 for men constituted “direct discrimination in favour of women which reflected the circumstances of the day and created a relative disadvantage for men.”

We say that those “circumstances” of a lifetime of generally lower pay and of the lion’s share of unpaid labour still remain. We do not accept that positive action to address women’s disadvantage creates a “relative disadvantage for men”. It is about levelling the field fairly and progressively. The government has chosen to level it unfairly and regressively – to the detriment of all with rising pensionable ages for both women and men.

More worryingly, the two judges continued: “This [the new] legislation does not treat women less favourably than men in law, rather it equalises a historic asymmetry between men and women and thereby corrects historic direct discrimination against men.”

We are deeply concerned that this may mean an interpretation of the law generally in which positive action to address women’s disadvantage, which is allowed in various areas, may be seen as “discrimination against men”.

We also disagree with the judgement that the government had “engaged in extensive consultation with a wide spread of interested bodies”.

How many of the women who abruptly found that they were not retiring at 60 but had to work on to 66 were consulted?

It is not only the pensionable age, but also the level of state and overall pension that means Britain has some of the highest levels of pensioner poverty in Europe, especially for women.

Our Manifesto calls for the introduction of:

as a right, a Citizens’ Pension based on the Dutch tax-funded model, payable at state pension age to each long-term resident and set at the Minimum Income Standard.”

That must be part of a package of urgent measures to address women’s economic status.

We outline those here:

  • Take action to achieve equal pay, such as compulsory equal pay audits, the collection of sex disaggregated data and better enforcement of the Equality Act 2010.
  • Introduce, as a right, a Citizens’ Pension based on the Dutch tax-funded model, payable at state pension age to each long-term resident and set at the Minimum Income Standard.
  • Reinstate universal child benefit for all children.
  • Value the caring work done by women. Invest in social infrastructure, including access to free universal childcare and adult social care.
  • Improve access to the labour market for women and an end to occupational segregation.
  • Prohibit redundancy in pregnancy and maternity; increased rates of Statutory Maternity Pay and Maternity Allowance, the right to breastfeed at work, and reinstatement of Sure Start grants.
  • Introduce a day one right to flexible working.
  • Increase levels of asylum support and protection.
  • Overhaul of the Universal Credit system to:
    • End the family cap that leaves children without welfare support;
    • Scrap the rape clause that forces mothers to disclose rape or coercive control;
    • Reduce the wait for payments;
    • Allow for separate payments by default;
    • Improve work incentives for second earners;
    • Restore the disregard for Maternity Allowance.
    • Restore the link between Local Housing Allowance and average rents.

3rd October 2019

We believe that it is important to share a range of viewpoints on women’s rights and advancement from different perspectives. WPUK does not necessarily agree or endorse all the views that we share.