Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 49 Number 17, October 12, 2019 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Legal Challenge to State Pension Age

State and High Court Attack Women's Rights

Women campaigning to defend their pension rights lost their legal action on October 3 to reverse the state-organised theft of their claims seized through the rise in state pension age and the manner in which this rise was enacted.

The Backto60 group had brought a judicial review against the Department of Work and Pensions to demand "the return of their earned dues". The group is seeking repayment of all the pensions people born in the 1950s would have received if they had been able to retire earlier.

The complementary campaign Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) is calling for a "bridging" pension to cover the gap from the age of 60 until their state pension is paid.

An estimated 3.8 million women are being disproportionately affected, particularly those with years of lost payments having taken time out of work to care for children, and on average having been paid less than men. Representing the women, Mike Mansfield QC told the High Court that some would lose up to £47,000 as a result.

Up until 2010, women received their state pensions at the age of 60, but since that time, the government has been raising the pension age. The result has been that some women who thought they would retire and receive a state pension at 60 found that they would have to wait longer, over five years for some, with continually-moving goalposts. The retirement age for women rose from 60 to 65, in line with men, and will go up to 66 by 2020, and to 67 by 2028. An exacerbating factor has been the lack of proper information, and the lack of time created for people to prepare for the changes.

This has led to financial hardship for many women. All women born in the decade after April 6, 1950, are potentially affected, with those born from April 6, 1953, especially so.

"There was no direct discrimination on grounds of sex," said the High Court judges in summarising their decision, "because this legislation does not treat women less favourably than men in law. Rather, it equalises an historic asymmetry between men and women and thereby corrects historic direct discrimination against men."

To pose the issue in this way is to turn truth on its head and is deeply divisive. Posing the question of equality in the abstract ignores the context, the actual concrete conditions, in which a rise in the pension age has been imposed as an attack on the rights of all, and has disproportionately affected women given the circumstances of real life.

A livelihood in old age is a fundamental right. Yet the rightful claim of people to a decent pension is increasingly denied, while the claims of the monopolies on the social product is prioritised. This situation is leading to a pensions crisis, where as many as one in six pensioners now live below the poverty line, according to a report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation last December.

The crisis is made one of "affordability" as "people are living longer". The perspective is both capital-centric and anti-human, that pensions are a cost, and that the problem is the length of human life. The general policy of successive governments has been withdrawal of state pensions and forcing pensioners to fend for themselves, as pensions are increasingly reduced to a personal matter and made a question of individual savings.

The pension age is directly an issue of well-being and the state and those that represent it have abdicated their responsibility. The government is supposed to look after well-being and security when it assumes the authority to rule in the name of the people.

"The wider issues raised by the claimants about whether the choices were right or wrong or good or bad were not for the Court," argued the judges. "They were for members of the public and their elected representatives."

But as things stand the government does not represent the people in any direct sense, but rather the sovereign power of the state itself and the powerful interests behind it. Like every serious issue at the present time, such outdated notions of how decisions are made are exposed. A solution is required in which people no longer authorise a sovereign representative to speak in their name, but instead speak in their own name and are empowered themselves, so that their interests are given direct expression.

The abstract legalism of the High Court also abdicates responsibility, this time from the judiciary, and raises serious questions as to what role the Court plays regarding human rights.

For women, the fight goes on. Joanne Welch of WASPI said outside court: "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." In other words, populist promises are not acceptable, and promises will not be allowed to be treated like pie-crusts, only to be broken.

Joanne held the position and ruling of the Court to ridicule. She said she was "rather puzzled" by the court's ruling, but added: "We can take this, we've got broad shoulders." With a shrug, the campaigners instilled confidence in themselves and maintained the high ground.

Women have not accepted the ruling and judgment. They have already said that they are standing firm and are aiming to push it forward to a favourable conclusion. What is clear is that women are not only scrutinising the existing decision-making process but are empowering themselves by strengthening their outlook, proving in the heat of the struggle that the right to be the decision-makers belongs to themselves.


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