As many academics, lecturers and tutors have been involved in the current historic strike over cuts to university pensions, the Women’s Strike is being joined and supported by members of the grassroots organisation Pension Reform Group. This group is made up of women who are effected by and fighting against the government’s decision to change the age that women could receive pensions from 60, to 65, in line with men’s pensions.
As Julie Gardiner explains: ‘These women planned to retire at 60, only to find that their pensions were no longer available. The Chancellor at the time, George Osbourne, suggested that bringing women’s pensions into line with men’s was more equitable. However, it is equality in name only. The Chancellor was boasting about how much money this saved saying that ‘the savings dwarf almost everything else you do.”
Many members of this group did not receive any information about changes to their pension and after retiring believing they would be paid their state pension at 60. The stories the Pension Reform Group tell are shocking, women retired, went to claim their pensions, only to be told that they would not be available for five years. Women were forced to return to paid work, often for lower wages than they were working for previously, because of the difficulty of finding work as an older woman. Women spoke of the humiliating treatment they received when claiming Job Seekers allowance and disability benefits, as Susan Harknett says ‘I was made to feel criminal for having to sign on and quizzed regularly.’
Many members of the Pension Reform Group left school at fifteen, to work in sweet shops, factories and supermarkets and they paid into their pensions since then. Without exception these women worked the double day, engaging in paid work, and then afterwards, engaging in essential and crucial reproductive labour, raising children, caring for elderly parents, running homes and communities. These women now continue to care, often assisting their own children who can’t afford the cost of child care for their kids. Many of these women now live in poverty, with some reporting ‘sitting in the cold’ and going to bed early to avoid heating their homes. These women also live with physical injuries and illnesses, like arthritis, asthma and lung disease, brought on by days of heavy lifting, long shifts and repetitive work. They report feeling ‘knackered’ ‘shattered’ and ‘exhausted.’ But they are still fighting- and striking on March 8th– and we fight and strike with them for all whose pensions have been stolen or slashed by the government and that we all may live with dignity, at all stages of life.