State pension age changes: ‘My children sent me an Asda van filled with food – it should be me helping them’

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’

Jeannie Pritchard  

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 heather.saul@inews.co.uk 

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‘I was financially abused – then I found out I couldn’t get my pension for another 6 years’

One in five UK adults have experienced economic abuse, according to the charity Refuge, and 60 per cent of them are women. Economic abuse was recognised for the first time in this year’s Domestic Abuse Bill, which is currently under threat from the Government’s proroguing of parliament.

Dr. Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, the founder of Surviving Economic Abuse, the only UK charity dedicated to the issue, says, “economic abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of age, income and social standing.” Dr. Sharp-Jeffs is calling on the yet to be announced Domestic Abuse Commissioner to urgently make an inquiry into the area. “It’s vital that the impact of this form of abuse is recognised and that solutions are identified and implemented,” she told i.

‘The average pension pot for a 65-year-old woman is one-fifth of a man’s, thanks, in part, to domestic and caring responsibilities’

But what does this experience look like for women over 50, and those approaching state pension age? Statistics suggest that women are financially vulnerable at this age. A report from the Chartered Insurance Institute found the average pension pot for a 65-year-old woman is one-fifth of a man’s, thanks, in part, to domestic and caring responsibilities that have kept women from the workforce.

In addition, we know many women have struggled in the face of the rising state pension age. According to the research, most women in the bottom 40 per cent of households by household income have no pension wealth at all. Coupled with the increasing health issues that come with age, and an ageist society, do women over 50 face a particular set of challenges when it comes to economic abuse?

‘We didn’t expect to see this level of control’

Read more

I’m 55 and ageism means people think my career should be winding down. But I’m just getting started

Debora Price, Professor of Social Gerontology at The University of Manchester, carried out Behind Closed Doors, a first of its kind research project in 2013 that looked at how older couples manage money together. Of the 90 couples interviewed, (there was at least one 65-year-old or older in each couple), the research found about a third of women had experienced long-standing coercive control through money, either by partners dictating how much they can have, what they can spend it on, and if they can access accounts.

“We had been expecting some levels of control,” Professor Price told i. “But we didn’t expect to quite as much or see it operating quite so harshly.” The research suggested this behaviour wasn’t necessarily exacerbated by older age, “but now it’s completely invisible because nobody really cares about that age group”. For some women, the arrival of pensions were their first means of independent money during their whole adult lives.

‘We’ve met older women who have never had access to an independent income, who have struggled to meet their most basic needs for over 40 years’ – Dr Nicola Sharp Jeffs

Of the project, Professor Price said: “We came away thinking that this quite a challenge for feminism”. It generated a shift in thinking about poverty: “If a couple isn’t categorised as poor officially, because there’s too much income coming in, does that mean everyone in the couple is not poor?”

Dr Nicola Sharp Jeffs has also witnessed how economic abuse impacts this demographic. She told i: “Through work on our coerced debt project, we’ve met older women who have never had access to an independent income, who have struggled to meet their most basic needs for over 40 years and whose mental health is suffering because they feel trapped and have no hope in a different future”.

Research from Co-operative Bank and Refuge found that economic abuse rarely happens in isolation, with 86 per cent of victims experiencing other forms of abuse.

Here, two women tell i their experiences of how economic abuse impacted them, and how this has been compounded because of their age.

Ellen, 64 – ‘I had trouble proving who I was’

Sweeping reforms banning 'hideous' overdraft fees could bring an end to free banking in the UK (Photo: Getty Images)
My ex had also destroyed all of my ID – passport, bank cards, everything, so I had a lot of trouble proving who I was (Photo: Getty Images)

My ex-husband had been violent for years but it wasn’t until I left him that I realised about the economic abuse.

Towards the end of the marriage, I had a year off sick, receiving six months full pay and six months at half pay, and even then I was bringing in more than him, as he barely worked. Without me realising, during this time, he took out credit cards and loans in my name, and took all the money from the joint account. I was distracted because of my poor health. And the more ill I was, the crueller he became.

I knew I couldn’t go back to full-time work, so at the age of 57, my employer offered me early retirement. I took it because I believed I would be getting my pension in a few years, at 60. I took the largest lump sum I could in order to cover me until the pension arrived.

Shortly afterwards, I left my ex and discovered that he had also withdrawn the lump sum of my pension. When I went to the bank to try and freeze the account, they told me I needed two signatures. My ex had also destroyed all of my ID – passport, bank cards, everything, so I had a lot of trouble proving who I was.

A year or so later, we started divorce proceedings. I had to give my pensions forecast and that was when I found out that my state pension was going to arrive at 66, not 60. I was devastated. I had no idea. The DWP said we were notified but I definitely never got a letter.

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 in 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 Less – 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.

Today I’m living off two small work pensions that come in at less than £500 a month. My mum and dad have given me money, I did get awarded something in court from the share of the house, but I used it to pay off all the loans he had taken out. Because the money came from joint accounts, he hadn’t technically done anything illegal.

I’ve lost everything I had worked towards my whole life. I’m really struggling. My children bring me food, and my family still help me pay for food now. You can manage on a little bit. I’ve had my life, really. But it’s sad because I’ve got so much experience but nobody wants to offer me a job. Partly because I am going to retire soon, but also because of the PTSD symptoms he left me with. I can’t sit for long, I’m frightened of being in public places or a supermarket. What if somebody saw me and recognised me and told him where I was? How do you say that in an interview for a job? And then how do you tell the people in the Job Centre?

I read about the WASPI campaign but I can never join in the conversation because I’m frightened of being recognised. I have a story to tell but I can’t.

Now I have a fixed address, but for the two years after I left him I was having to move every two or four weeks, staying with friends in spare rooms and sofa, in case he would find me. Every time I wrote to an MP I saw talking about domestic abuse on the TV, they would say they couldn’t help because I wasn’t their constituent. So even though you’ve paid taxes all your life, you don’t have anyone who can represent you when you need it the most. This is a problem and it can’t just be a problem for me.

Amy, 54 – ‘I was doing the triple shift’

Heating was a treat, hot water was boiled in the kettle and taken to the sink in the bathroom so I could wash (Pexels)

My ex-husband and I met at work in our twenties, when I was in a senior position to him. We were married a couple of years later and I began to earn very well.

Soon I was doing what I believe is called the triple shift – earning money, looking after the house, and looking after our first child. Despite the fact he said he struggled with mental health issues, and said he couldn’t work very much, he decided he wanted to go back to higher education, and I had our second child.

‘I stopped going out because he would say things like, “I was astonished you went out looking like that”‘

After this, he set up as a very successful freelancer, and I stopped working to look after our children. He would give me a monthly budget to run the house but it was barely enough. He was earning six figures at this point, but I still drove a second-hand car. He had also been violent and sexually violent. It took me four years to accept that he had raped me just before our first child was born. He wasn’t a big man, but he was strong. He could pick me up, feet off the ground, and throw me at a wall. I stopped going out because he would say things like, “I was astonished you went out looking like that”. It was an insidious questioning of my values, and slowly, drip, drip, drip. Once I had a successful career, now I was scared of going out.

Later on in the relationship, he confessed that he had “lost” a lot of the savings I’d accumulated. He made excuses like bad investments and a drinking habit but I don’t believe it. He simply had taken thousands of the money I’d saved, while I was still living off the tiny budget he gave me to run the house and look after the kids. At the end of the relationship, I had to empty every one of the remaining accounts, including the children’s saving accounts, to pay the mortgage and to keep us going. He kept saying he was in financial difficulty, and couldn’t give us any more money, which I didn’t believe. He then physically forced me to remortgage the house.

‘The judge wouldn’t see a rape victim, a woman who’s been beaten up for 20 years, a woman who has PTSD’

When we eventually divorced there was a financial settlement, as there were no assets, he had burned through them all and I received some money. I moved into a housing association house with my children, and I needed every penny. He was so clever; he would wait for the last moment, and then put a bit of money in my account so I couldn’t claim for benefits. The courts settled on maintenance for life, which is £750 a month, but sometimes he won’t pay, or will pay late, usually around Christmas, just so I know he’s always got the upper hand. I’ve got the terror of when he retires, will he still pay? I couldn’t afford to take him to court. The judge wouldn’t see a rape victim, a woman who’s been beaten up for 20 years, a woman who has PTSD.

To begin with, we had nothing. Heating was a treat, hot water was boiled in the kettle and taken to the sink in the bathroom so I could wash. I’ve since retrained as a teacher. Because I’m an older person, I have to pay this mortgage off by the time I’m 70. Some banks and building societies are reluctant to lend money that goes beyond the retirement age, and you’re given a shorter period to pay it back, which is what has happened in my case.

The house is shared ownership which means I pay rent and mortgage repayments each month, which come to £1,300 per month, even on these incredibly low-interest rates, which leaves me with £400 a month to pay council tax, insurance, broadband, food. It’s simply not enough.

I’m also deaf, which means I will have to stop teaching in a year or two. I don’t know what I’ll do. My children have now gone to university. I was so ashamed they had to go cap in hand. Both of them have refused to ever see their father again. The horror I have ahead of me now is that I know I will never have enough money to live on if I reach old age.

If you think you might be experiencing economic abuse, phone the police in the first instance. You can also contact the National Domestic Violence Helpline for support on 0808 2000 247. For more information and resources to support you visit the website www.survivingeconomicabuse.org. 

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