Campaigners urge Parliament to intervene over state pension age changes

October 3, 2019 2:20:58 PM

Campaigners urge Parliament to intervene over state pension age changes

Women affected by controversial changes to the state pension age have called on Parliament to intervene after they lost their landmark High Court fight.

Nearly four million women born in the 1950s have been affected by the changes, introduced by successive governments in an attempt to ensure “pension age equalisation”, which have raised the state pension age from 60 to 66.

Julie Delve, 61, and Karen Glynn, 63 – supported by campaign group Backto60 – took the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to court, arguing that raising their pension age unlawfully discriminated against them on the grounds of age and sex, and that they were not given adequate notice of the changes.

But, giving judgment on Thursday, Lord Justice Irwin and Mrs Justice Whipple dismissed the claim “on all grounds”.

State pension age legal case
Campaigners outside the Royal Courts of Justice (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

There were some disappointed gasps in the packed courtroom at the Royal Courts of Justice in London as the decision was announced.

In their ruling, the judges stated: “We are saddened by the stories we read in the evidence lodged by the claimants. But our role as judges in this case is limited.

“There is no basis for concluding that the policy choices reflected in this legislation were not open to government. We are satisfied that they were.

“In any event they 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.”

Joanne Welch, from the Backto60 campaign, said outside the Royal Courts of Justice: “Where do we go from here? Well, where will the Government go from here is the better question.”

She referred to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s pledge during the Tory leadership campaign to look at the state pension age issue with “fresh vigour”, adding: “We will be holding you to that undertaking.”

She said: “MPs and Parliament have allowed this issue to languish for so many years with false promises about what they are going to do.

“We are hoping now that, given the judiciary have said that Parliament must look at this … that they will do that because women are suffering.”

As Ms Welch finished her brief statement, supporters chanted: “The fight goes on.”

In a summary of the court’s decision, Lord Justice Irwin and Mrs Justice Whipple said: “There was no direct discrimination on grounds of sex, because this 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.”

The court rejected the claimants’ argument that the policy was discriminatory based on age, adding that, even if it was, “it could be justified on the facts”, and also dismissed their contention that they were not given adequate notice of the changes.

Giving a statement after the ruling, Marcia Willis Stewart, of Birnberg Peirce, which represented the claimants, said: “We are deeply disappointed by this decision.”

She said the aim of the “arduous legal process” was “to rectify a substantial and far-reaching injustice”, adding: “Sadly, today that injustice remains. The struggling on behalf of those beleaguered women, whose stories saddened the judges but for whom this judgment provided no relief, will continue.”

Ms Willis Stewart concluded: “We will meet with our legal team to consider the detailed reasons contained in the judgment in order to see how to progress these pressing issues further.”

Several MPs expressed their support for women affected by the state pension age changes following the decision.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott tweeted that she was “disappointed” with the ruling, while Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said: “The gross pensions injustice for #1950swomen remains – I will continue to support their fight.”

Unison union general secretary Dave Prentis described the decision as “a terrible blow for the millions of women who will have been hoping for a very different outcome today”.

In a statement, a DWP spokesman said: “We welcome the High Court’s 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.

“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 Government decided in 1995 that it was going to make the state pension age the same for men and women as a long-overdue move towards gender equality.

“Raising state pension age in line with life expectancy changes has been the policy of successive administrations over many years.”