HIGHLAND women in their 60s who had been looking forward to retirement are “absolutely livid” and have been reduced to tears after being told they should look for apprenticeships.
Thousands of women in the north, born in the 1950s, have been affected by the increase in the state pension age from 60 to 65 and they say they were not aware of the change, made in 1995, as they were never informed.
Combined with new changes which will see the eligible age rise to 66 by 2018 and 67 by 2026, many women born after April 1951 are now waiting six years longer for their pensions.
The affected women say they are not against the age increase, but the speed they have been implemented and the lack of warning they were given.
Members of the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) campaign group and MPs alike were horrified during a Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday, July 5 when pensions minister Guy Opperman suggested they could start an apprenticeship to get back into work.
He said: “It is not the government’s position that they are going to make concessions for women affected but I wish to point out that there is a massive amount this government has done to get people back into work or re-training in their pre-pension years.
“We have committed massively to lifelong learning and the reality is over 200,000 people over 60 have entered further education since 2014.
“We have increased apprenticeship opportunities for people of all ages and gender. We are doing a significant amount to address the individual difficulties of older people attempting to enter the labour market.”
Mr Opperman faced heckles of “shame on you” and “disgraceful” across the hall, where it was standing room only.
Liz Millar, a member of the Highland WASPI group, which takes in Inverness and the surrounding area, said she was “reduced to tears” by the government’s response.
“We are all absolutely livid,” she said.
“All but two MPs (who attended the debate) supported the call to look again at the situation and I felt sure that the tide would turn in our favour but then the new pensions minister got to his feet and, after spouting the same rhetoric as his predecessors, within minutes reduced me to tears.
“I was utterly flabbergasted that he suggested the resolution to my problem was ‘an apprenticeship or retraining at age 63 – If I could get one it would pay £3.50 per hour.
“I have spoken online with many other WASPI women and they all say the same that it’s a shameful way to treat us.
“It’s an insult which has left me further distraught and compounds this government’s ideology and uncaring nature towards the women they have robbed of their pension.”
Ms Millar now faces selling her family home in Balloch as she partially retired to take care of her elderly mother. At the time she took a small severance package to tide her over until she could collect her state pension but has now had to live on her savings after hearing she will not receive her pension until she reaches 65.
“I have been living on my savings but I can’t wait any longer,” she said.
“Even though this situation depresses me our fight will continue, it has to now because this government is not listening to us, in fact they seem to be laughing at us!”
But there may be light at the end of the tunnel as the Conservative government is now a minority, following last month’s general election, paving the way for other parties to join forces to support WASPI.
It has been said that 30 Tory MPs and the 10 Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) allies, support the WASPI campaign.