In this series, i speaks to women who have been affected by the state pension age equalisation: The Women Who Can’t Retire. We are speaking to women in their sixties about their experiences of returning to the workforce, staying in the workforce, accessing education and facing ageism.
Jeannie Pritchard is living with various health conditions. She retired early from her work with social services after being diagnosed with lupus and she has a number of health conditions including osteoarthritis, high-blood pressure, asthma and depression. After experiencing chest pains in 2018, she was diagnosed with mild heart failure.
Living with a series of health problems, she hoped to be able to retire at 60 with her state pension to keep her afloat.
But the decision to equalise the state pension age for men and women means Jeannie, who is now 64, won’t receive her state pension until she is 66.
She lives in Lancashire, where she has been running a doll and teddy restoration ‘hospital’ out of a storage room she rents near her home. But Jeannie says this work is sporadic and depends on her health being good enough for her to work.
“It wasn’t a throwaway world that we have now in the 1950s, and people used to bring their dolls to the doll hospitals to get them fixed,” she explains. “So I’ve set one up now and I just restore them. I also do ceramic restoration. But I could never be employed, because I’m too ill.”
Jeannie cannot recall receiving a letter about her state pension age rising.
What has changed about the state pension age?
The Government’s move to equalise the state pension age to 65, in line with men, has meant women are having to wait years after they expected to retire for their state pension.
The state pension age is in the process of moving to 66 and will continue to increase over the next few decades.
Many women born in the 1950s say they were never notified about the state pension age changes, but the Government says they were “clearly communicated”. These women say state pension age changes are causing them emotional stress and financial hardship.
An increasing number of women are working into their sixties and beyond. Today there are 1.26 million women in their 60s who are working, according to the jobs and volunteering site for the over 50s Rest Lest – an increase of 50 per cent since 2009.
But some women say they cannot find a job no matter how hard they try and are having to claim benefits. Others say they have been forced into insecure or unsuitable jobs they are over qualified for. In 2018, more than 75 per cent of women in their 50s were employed but the figure for women in their 60s was under 33 per cent.
Then, in June 2018, the DWP stopped her Personal Independence Payments (PIP) following a reassessment. This reassessment came after Jeannie informed the DWP she was having her chest pains investigated and she considered her health to be deteriorating.
“I did the reassessment. This time, with all these illnesses, I got no points and they stopped everything. I had to go on Universal Credit.”
“Every month, I have to go online and give all my accounts of what I’ve taken in and what my outgoings are. They take my private pension into consideration. Every month it comes back as zero.”
So Jeannie has been fighting three fights, she says – her health, having her PIP withdrawn and a fight for her state pension. She has recently lost her appeal against the withdrawal of her PIP.
‘I’ve stayed up until midnight sometimes sewing a teddy bear up so I can have money to pay for my car or to pay for the telephone’
She has been living on her occupational pension, which is about £293 per month, and whatever she earns from her business after costs, which she says could be as low as £40 per month. Jeannie says the stress of her appeal has worsened her mental and physical health and led to a flare-up of lupus, which left her struggling to work in recent weeks.
Her children have grown up and she lives alone, which can be challenging, and she has had two falls down the stairs. The most recent was a few months ago. Lupus flare-ups can leave her with rashes, pain in her joints, her hands “red-raw” with pain, and fatigue. “With my illnesses, it’s so hard,” she explains. “Some days I can’t get out of bed. Some days I can’t think. I get foggy brain.” Jeannie says her memory has not been great, and she has to keep her various medications in seven-day pillboxes to remember to take them.
But on good days, “I’ve still got that Liverpool fight in me.”
Jeannie’s family didn’t have much money after her father passed away when she was 12, so she became something of an entrepreneur in Liverpool. “I begged my mum to buy me a sewing machine,” she explains. “I did all the paper rounds I could to pay her back and I made clothes to sell to my neighbours.”
She finished school at 15 and went to work in a factory. After getting married, Jeannie eventually split from her husband and worked from home while her children were small. “I learned how to do the knitting machine and I would knit things and sell them on.” She also worked as a cleaner.
“Then I decided I wanted to go to college to learn to fix things,” she says. “I enrolled on a woman’s woodworking course and I went on to do my City and Guild qualifications.” Jeannie says she later set up DIY classes and woodwork classes for women in Liverpool.
After this, Jeannie says she volunteered for Lancashire social services, fixing things broken by children. “I then got a post in Chorley working for the social services.”
As her duties increased, she began to take on medical training to care for children with complex needs and hoped to one day become a midwife. But then she was diagnosed with lupus, and her career came to an abrupt halt. “I had to retire and I couldn’t complete my training. That was 2004, and I didn’t know then that my state pension age had been moved.”
Jeannie was “devastated” at having to retire from a job she loved and became increasingly distressed by not working.
“From then I was going downhill. I was on Prozac.” Eventually, she started restoring dolls and teddies in 2008 to bring in an income.
What has the Government said about the state pension age changes?
The Department for Work and Pensions said: “The decision to equalise the State Pension age was taken over 20 years ago and clearly communicated. It’s a decision that needed to be made to ensure that the State Pension remains sustainable now and to future generations.
“Experienced workers are a huge asset to the workforce and we’ve seen a record of over 10.5 million over-50’s in work this year. Our National Careers Service and personal Work Coach support at every Jobcentre is helping people develop their career regardless of age, while we are working with employers through our Fuller Working Lives service to help them recruit, re-train and retain older workers. ”
Having to wait until 66 for her state pension is exacerbating her situation, she says. If she had her state pension, she believes she would be able to cope financially and be more independent. She is now selling her house: “If I don’t do that, I’ve got nothing until I get my state pension.”
Jeannie says friends have had to lend her money to live on and to pay her mortgage off. “How was I going to live on £293 per month when my mortgage was £415?”
‘I’m 64 now – I shouldn’t be doing this. I’ve served my time in this country, helping and volunteering’
“For my birthday in February, my daughter and my son sent me an Asda van filled with food. I should be looking after my children and grandchildren, but they have to look after me. I’m an independent woman and I’ve always worked, and it’s just so hard. I know there are people worse than me and it’s awful what they have done.
“I’ve stayed up until midnight sometimes sewing a teddy bear up so I can have money to pay for my car or to pay for the telephone. I’m 64 now – I shouldn’t be doing this. I’ve served my time in this country, helping and volunteering.”
She is now writing a letter to the Prime Minister about her benefits decision and wants to help other women in her local area complain to the Government about the state pension age changes. “It’s not only me they are doing this to. It’s other people, and they could have stopped everything I’m going through with my income. I’m lucky to have a family to support me until I can pay them back, but other people will be on the streets. It’s wrong. They’ve made my health worse.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “Universal Credit adjusts automatically to monthly earnings. We have confirmed that the wages used in Ms Pritchard’s claim are correct and Job Centre staff continue to support her.
“PIP is awarded following consideration of all the information received and anyone who disagrees with a benefits decision has the right to appeal at an independent tribunal.”
If you would like to share your story about working until you receive your state pension, please contact email@example.com
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