50s women dancing in front of the Royal Court of Justice after the judge granted their request for a judicial review
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A High Court judge yesterday gave the Back To 60 campaign permission to bring a judicial review against the Department for Work and Pensions over the raising of the pension age for 3.8 million women born in the 1950s.
The Hon Ms Justice Lang – who is also known as Dame Beverley Ann Macnaughton Lang – ruled in favour of all the issues raised by barristers Catherine Rayner and Michael Mansfield on behalf of the women.
The ruling by the 63 year old judge obviously stunned the Department of Work and Pensions whose barrister, Julian Milford, asked for 66 days ( instead of the normal 14 days) to prepare a fresh case against Back To 60. They were granted 42 days.
The ruling means that a future hearing BackTo60 have the right to argue their case that the government’s decision which affected the 3.8 million women was both a matter of gender and age discrimination. In addition they can argue that the total failure of successive governments to review the arrangements to look at the hardship faced by many of the people made matters worse.
As is stated on the lawyer chambers site:
” the taper mechanism used to raise the date on which women receive state pension, in combination with a failure to properly inform women of the changes was unlawful because it discriminates on grounds of sex, age and sex combined and age.”
Catherine Rayner told the judge that there had been no fewer than 60 changes to the date when a 50s woman could get a pension and that the main driving force for the government was to save money. She said the equivalent of £5.3billion had been taken from this group of women. She described it as an ” historic inequality ” which was made worse by the lack of knowledge among the women themselves because the government never informed them directly about the changes.
Julian Milford for the DWP, admitted that this was part of a cost saving for the government but also said it was about equalising the pension age between men and women.
He argued that there should be no judicial review of this because it was about primary legislation which had been widely debated in Parliament in 1995 and it was far too late to call it into question.
He also argued that a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights which meant that pensioners who had retired to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa were not entitled to uprated pensions meant that the women had no case to ask for a judicial review about changing their pensions.
Both these points were rejected by the judge who said that even though the act was passed 23 years ago the fact that its impact was causing problems for the women now meant the review could go ahead.
The government also revealed that the private pensions industry is uneasy about the women winning their case because it could force them to pay out occupational pensions five years earlier to some women – if their contract with companies meant it was payable on the day they could collect their state pension.
As the 7BR website says:
“The hearing will allow a detailed examination of complaints made by made by women born in the 1950s, and championed by groups such as #backto60 and WASPIE, as well as their political representatives. The case raises legal questions about sex and age discrimination in the mechanisms chosen by government to implement a policy; the responsibility of Government to inform people of significant changes to State Pension entitlement and of the applicability of the EU directive on Equal Treatment in Social Security provision.”
My view is that it has significant implications for Westminster and Whitehall.
It means that a judge has quashed the views expressed by financial commentators like Frances Coppola and other people connected to the private pensions and banking industry that there was no chance of a judicial review. It has also called into question the arguments they used over primary legislation and the ECHR court ruling.
It will add to pressure on the Labour Party leadership to promise to do something for these women whose cause is championed by Laura Alvarez, the partner of Jeremy Corbyn, and whose shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, is well aware of the issue, and predicted the women would win a review.
It will put enormous pressure on Amber Rudd, the new works and pensions secretary, who is already having to cope with the backlash over the mess caused by universal credit and will now have to seriously address the plight of the 50s women. It is also a blow to the reputation of Guy Opperman, the pensions minister, who all but nearly misled Parliament by telling them that the judicial review had already been rejected.
And I am afraid the All Party Group on State Pension Inequality for Women in Westminster will have to buck their ideas up and come behind this review rather than seeking small sums of compensation for the affected women. By taking this radical stand and going for the jugular BackTo60 have shown the way. They have not won yet but they have got much farther than anybody thought.