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A damning academic expert opinion on successive UK government’s failure to meet its international obligations to 1950s women hit by the rise in the pension age is to be presented in court soon as part of an application for a judicial review of the decision
Jackie Jones, a law professor at the University of West of England, has produced the report, which shows that this group of women have suffered discrimination contrary to an international convention signed by successive UK governments. It is not a legal document but it is an expert opinion.
The reports conclusion’s are stark :
“The effect of the mechanisms in issue in this case have a discriminatory effect on women born in the 50s, adversely impacting on older women’s health, economic and social life in that the voluntary use of the mechanisms have the effect of failing to provide adequate access to pensions for women and therefore must be removed and full restitution substituted. “
Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1986 took the decision to sign up to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (known as CEDAW) – an international treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly and now recognised by 189 countries. In 2004 Tony Blair’s government went a step further and accepted an optional protocol and UK ministers of all parties have played an active role in its international work for many years.
The UK’s treaty obligations mean that we are signed up, as the report says, to “women’s equality within society, in both the public and private spheres, obligating States to formulate policies, laws and programmes to advance women and promote substantive equality (equality in outcome, not only equality of opportunity) as well as from refraining from actions that will put women in a worse position.
“It includes alleviating economic disadvantage as a result of persistent structural inequality and remedying past injustices that had and continue to put women in a disadvantageous position vis-à-vis men. “
The report argues that the UK is in breach of its international treaty obligations in three main areas over the treatment of 50s women.
The rise in the pension age from 60 to 65 and then 66 for women was far more drastic than for men who faced a one year rise in 2020 compared to a six year rise for women. The implementation of the taper which meant women had to wait longer and longer for their pension and it was made worse by the failure of the government to inform individuals how the decision would affect them. And finally the decision targeted one particular group – those born in the 1950s in a much more drastic way than anybody else – and successive governments have failed to even consider reviewing its effects.
The report says : “The imposition of the mechanisms resulted in women born in the 50s’ access to pensions being postponed, in some cases for years, despite the fact that women born in the 50s had a life-long expectation and had been repeatedly told that they would be entitled to their State pension at 60.
“The effect of the State measures of delay in being able to access State-sponsored pensions has meant a decrease in income for women born in the 50s as well as obligating women born in the 50s to continue to work or to find employment in order to make up any shortfall in pensions. This has led to substantial financial insecurity for the women so affected.
“By their actions, the State has discriminated against these women because they are women as the measures only seriously adversely affect women born in the 50s, made the economic and health position of women born in the 50s significantly worse and thereby have infringed their human rights and fundamental freedoms as proscribed by CEDAW. “
In my view the ministers involved are hypocrites. Margaret Thatcher,as Britain’s first women prime minister, deserves praise for signing the country up to the new convention.
But then her social security secretary, John Moore, within two years started undermining the position of women – first by withdrawing Treasury money to the National Insurance Fund – leading eventually to a shortfall of £271 billion – this included not only pensions but the funding of maternity allowances.
Then John Major’s government took the decision to raise the pension age rather than start paying money again into the fund which would have more than covered the current £77 billion to restore pensions for the 50s women. Successive governments including Theresa May’s either did nothing or made matters worse by raising the pension age further claiming there was no money.
Meanwhile on the international stage Britain was portraying itself as a world leader in women’s rights with ministers attending the international convention meetings.
Since 1997 when Tony Blair created the position of minister for women in the Cabinet – the following prominent women politicians have held this job. which they combine with other duties. The Labour politicians are Harriet Harman, Baroness Jay, Patricia Hewitt,the late Tessa Jowell and Ruth Kelly.
The Tories are Theresa May, Maria Miller, Nicky Morgan, Justine Greening,Amber Rudd and Penny Mordaunt , the current minister who is also international development secretary.
These women should be backing the case for 50s women if they have a shred of integrity and want to live up to the ideals of a convention signed by Margaret Thatcher which commits the country to the advancement of women.
CEDAR is already planning to hold the UK to account in February for breaching its commitment to women over austerity – 86 per cent of benefits cuts fall on women.
With the judicial review of the raising of the pension age and this international pressure over the UK’s discrimination against women over benefit cuts the scene is set for a perfect storm for the UK government.