Every month Jo Cox writes a column for the Batley News and Spenborough Guardian. This month’s column appeared in this week’s editions.
Altering the age at which men and women can retire is always going to be a difficult issue. There are arguments on both sides but the prevailing wisdom, now backed by a change in the law, is that for a variety of reasons the age should rise.
Raising a man’s retirement age by just one year to 66 is not such a dramatic shift. But for a woman, an extra six years is a huge leap.
This is something that will barely register for women in their 20s, 30s or 40s but for women in their 50s this is a big deal. And what’s made it worse is the way the Government has hastened this process without any hint of concern for the impact it will have on half a million women.
These changes were initiated by Labour but were suddenly accelerated by the Coalition, and it is this unexpected acceleration that many women are opposed to.
My constituents are clear about what this means for them. As one said: “My job is physically demanding and while I am perfectly able to do this now and I hope for a few more years, I cannot imagine being able to do it for another 10 years.”
Another explained the frustration: “During my working life, I had planned carefully for my financial future which included my state pension at 60. It doesn’t seem fair to me that the goalposts were moved when I had made all my contributions on that premise.”
And another summarised the blatant unfairness: “Throughout my life a number of changes have impacted on me and the many thousands of women of my generation from unequal pay, the ability of employers to dismiss workers because they were pregnant, lack of childcare, ineligibility for some state benefits due to sexual discrimination and now are to be hit yet again by this. Women of my age do have gaps in their employment history as many were forced to leave their jobs to look after children. We are now to be penalised for this again in later life.”
It’s ironic that women who lived and worked through an era where it was harder to make a living, secure employment and maintain that employment will now be penalised by steps to end gender inequality. Society for most of their working life accepted that they couldn’t earn the same as men, or make the same provisions for their later years in the way men could and yet now they are told to work beyond what they planned and expected.
It is within the gift of this government to address this blatant injustice. Sadly ministers are determined to push through these changes by 2018 and have refused to accept the need for transitional arrangements, ignoring demands from Labour and the clear will of the House of Commons.
This is one more affront to women who have endured a lifetime of inequality where work is concerned. They need and deserve a fairer deal.