Steve Bee: What 1950s women can teach us about the state pension


It has been suggested recently that an increase in the state pension age to 70 by the middle of this century is inevitable. The obvious good news here is that we are all likely to live longer but the bad news is equally as clear: we will never be completely sure when our state pension will become payable.

If the state pension age increases alongside life expectancy, then people in the future will only know for sure when it will become payable when they are already quite close to the qualifying age.

This will be a real issue for those trying to plan their retirement in the mid-21st century. Indeed, any woman born in the UK in the early 1950s will tell you exactly what problems it will bring.

Way back in 1940, the retirement age for women was reduced from 65 to 60. However, girls born 10 years later did not receive their state pension when they were 60. Worse still, girls born five years after that did not receive their state pension until they were 66. The biggest problem, however, was that they did not find this out until they were already late into their working lives.

To work for most of your life expecting to receive your state pension at 60 years old only to find out late in your career that you will not receive it until the age of 66 risks putting even the most carefully laid retirement plans in disarray. The loss of, say, £100 a week for six years would mean a deficit of £30,000.

Some say 15 years’ notice of a shift in the state pension age should be long enough to allow people to adjust their retirement plans. I do not know whether that is right but it is obviously more helpful to tell people about any likely changes as soon as possible.

What is more, it is not enough to rely on busy people finding out for themselves about changes to pensions, a subject few would describe as interesting or engaging. Indeed, many of the 1950s women affected by the seismic shift in their state pension age would claim they were not even made aware of it. Of course, the changes were written about fairly extensively in the media but would it not have been better to write to each and every one of those affected to tell them what the changes meant to them personally?

What happened to all of these women simply born at the wrong time is soon to happen to everybody at work in the UK. We will never know for sure what our state pension age is likely to be until fairly late on in our working lives.

That fact alone ought to trigger some serious rethinking within the Government about just how they will manage to keep people fully informed on future state pension changes; changes that will have a material effect on so many people’s retirement plans.

Steve Bee is director at Jargonfree Benefits