Direct Discrimination: Former Judge Jocelynne Scutt’s verdict on the 50swomen pension delay

Jocelynne Scutt

Some 3.8 million women suffered direct discrimination by the Tory government’s decision in 1995 to raise the pension age, of women to 65 and then 66, MPs and peers will be told at a briefing in Parliament today.

This is the main finding of a big report by Jocelynne Scutt, a former Australian judge who served on the Fiji bench and was Tasmania’s first Anti Discrimination Commissioner. She now teaches law at the University of Buckingham and is a member of both the Australian Labor Party and the British Labour Party and is a Labour councillor in Cambridge.

Her report followed a hearing by the CEDAWinLAW People’s Tribunal last July which specifically looked into the plight of 50sborn women where some of the women and Dr Elgun Safarov, vice chair of the UN Convention for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls (CEDAW) from Geneva, gave evidence. The UN committee is currently challenging the UK government to explain its failure to write the convention into UK law some 36 years after Margaret Thatcher ratified it.

The ruling in the report to be published in due course is much tougher than the case put forward by two members of BackTo60 in the court hearings following the judicial review. Then lawyers argued that the women had suffered indirect discrimination as their opportunities to pay contributions into the National Insurance fund, among other issues, to qualify for a full pension were not equal with men.

Jocelynne Scutt argues that this was not indirect discrimination but direct discrimination of a specific group of women who had been singled out to wait for their pension while everyone else was unaffected. It has also to be taken into account that 9.8 million men over 60 who decided not to claim unemployment benefit were given free auto-credits which ensured that nearly all got a full pension for life. It was going to be offered to women until 2018 but that idea was swiftly scrapped.

Every one of these women – many who have worked since the age of 15 as well as bringing up a family- was promised by the government when they started work that they could retire at 60 and planned to do so. And given the Department for Work and Pensions told the courts that it was not obliged under the 1995 Act to tell them personally this had changed – this only came in when men were affected by a rise in their retirement age.

Jocelynne Scutt has already delivered the report to Rishi Sunak at Downing Street. She argues that 50s women were treated unfavourably from the start. The 1995 decision did not affect any women born in the 1940s, targeted the 1950s women while those born in 1960s and 1970s onwards had much longer to adjust. The Parliamentary Ombudsman’s report agrees there was partial maladministration in that 50s women were not properly informed. In fact hardly anyone was properly informed until it all changed with men and women facing a rise in their pension age to 66.

Full restitution must be honoured – Jocelynne Scutt

Jocelynne Scutt says “Government and Parliament have a responsibility to face up to and acknowledge the grave wrong done. There is no room for obfuscation or quibbling. Historical discrimination requires relief. There is a moral imperative to right this wrong. The law is on the side of the 1950s-born women. 1950sborn women alone are the group targeted. This is a debt of law and honour. Full restitution is the only proper legal, ethical and moral outcome. Full restitution must be honoured.

The briefing is in the House of Commons at 2.0pm today.

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My evidence to the CEDAW in LAW Tribunal this month on the egregious plight of 50s women and their lost pensions

Giving evidence to CEDAW in LAW tribunal

Earlier this month I gave evidence to a tribunal set up by CEDAW in LAW presided over by Australian judge Jocelynne Scutt on the situation affecting 3.8 million women who have had to wait an extra six years to get their pension.

My evidence tries to explain how this situation came about going back to 1988 when the government decided to end Treasury contributions (except when the fund was in the red) to the National Insurance Fund starving it of money to pay out pensions. Given pensions are paid out of current contributions the fund would have built up a very healthy surplus – enough for both higher pensions for everybody later and avoided the current raising of the pension age. Given the UK has one of the lowest state pensions in Europe this would have been a very good improvement.

My evidence also showed how successive governments failed to properly tell the women affected how they would lose their pensions for five and later six years under the 1995, 2008 and 2011 Pensions Acts.

And it reveals how men were treated differently after Margaret Thatcher in 1983 decided to pay the national insurance contributions for men from 60 to 65 to keep them from claiming unemployment benefits. This lasted until 2018 and was available for 9.8 million men. Women born in the 1950s were promised this from 2010 but it was never implemented.

Failure to remedy

Also I strongly criticise the failure to remedy this in both the courts and through the Parliamentary Ombudsman. The Supreme Court would not hear the case and Robert Behrens, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, has given half hearted support to maladministration claims for part of the period. On top of that the All Party Parliamentary Group on state pension inequality has been ineffective, relying on the Ombudsman to present the women’s case rather than directly intervening as MPs to pressurise the government.

The tribunal also heard from a number of women who described the devastating effect this wait had on their lives and from Elgun Safarov, the vice chairperson of the United Nations Convention of the Elimination of All Discrimination Against Women Committee.

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Delegates from UK’s biggest public service union back a Bill of Rights to end once and for all discrimination against women

The short snippet above from Unison delegate Lianne Dallimore is the moment the 1.3 million member Unison trade union came out in favour of backing implementing the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Discrimination Against Women into UK law.

This is a very important move as the union will be the first big organisation to endorse a policy that will require women to get equal pay, equal rights to pensions, rights to child care fast and finally put an end to the painfully slow progress there has been to grant women equal rights to men.

Unison banners; pic credit: unison.org

Unison is one of the largest trade unions in the UK It has a woman general secretary, Christina McAnea and women outnumber men as members by a huge majority. There are over one million women members to 300,000 men. Most of its members are among the lowest paid in the country whether they are teaching assistants,, dinner ladies, low paid NHS staff or local authority workers.

Unison is also an influential union in the Labour movement and in the Labour Party. So its delegates decision to endorse such a policy will now mean the national executive committee will have to decide whether to back it. If it does the Shadow Cabinet will have to sit up and take notice – and it will put pressure on Labour to include a promise to do so in their next party manifesto. Angela Rayner, the deputy party leader, has previously backed implementing Cedaw.

The full motion read;

Conference we call on the National Executive Council to:

1) Work with National Labour Link and the national women’s committee to develop a comprehensive campaign for the implementation of CEDAW into domestic legislation;

2) Work with Learning and Organising Services (LAOS) on developing a training and awareness package on CEDAW for activists and members;

3) Report back to National Delegates Conference 2023 on progress made.

North Cumbria Northumberland, Tyne and Wear Health

It also comes at an opportune moment as Boris Johnson’s government is under fire from the United Nations for taking far too long to implement a convention that Margaret Thatcher signed up to in 1986.

The Labour Party went part of the way introducing the Equality Act, which became law in 2010 – but it is still a half hearted piece of legislation – more bark than bite. Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, has gone further by including in her last manifesto a promise of legislation implementing it in full.

But she is up against Boris Johnson – who shows not the slightest interest in this issue – and has blocked at the Supreme Court any chance of Scotland introducing a parallel law implementing the UN convention on the rights of the child, which the UK has also ratified but not properly implemented.

The decision by Unison at its delegate conference, which endorses a report prepared by Dr Jocelynne Scutt, President of the Cedaw Tribunal, that calls for sweeping reforms to radically change the position of women in society – from immediate equal pay to ending the long running sore that has bedevilled 3.8 million women born in the 1950s who had to wait six years to get their pensions and were never properly informed by the change.

Ground breaking issue

Last year the CEDAW People’s Tribunal was held. his was a ground breaking tribunal backed by Garden Court Chambers where academics, activists and women’s rights experts produced a wide range of evidence-based policies to end women’s discrimination.

The union’s backing is an important development for CEDAWinLAW which I am a patron, to get this issue on the agenda.

Last year some detractors, sadly a number of them professional women, tried to rubbish the CEDAW People’s Tribunal as though the whole hearing was a waste of time and space. They would rather keep women in their place than fight for change.

Another tribunal hearing on the way

Next month CEDAWinLAW will hold another tribunal to specifically look again at the issue of 50s women and their loss of a pension and how it happened.

In the meantime the action by Unison delegates will only spur women who want change now – not dragged out for decades – to continue the fight.

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