A STRABANE woman who has taken on the fight against state pension inequality for women says “we were an easy target.”
Recently Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) NI held a public meeting in the Fir Trees Hotel Strabane, following on from their recent protest in Westminster.
Bernadette Friel who is a member of WASPI NI explained, “This meeting was held to raise more awareness and advise people on what is going on in our campaign.
“Almost 50 people attended Thursday’s meeting, which I believe was a great turnout,” said Bernadette. “There was people from Omagh, Derry, Carrickmore, Portrush, Lurgan and Belfast showing that this issue is affecting women all over the North.”
WASPI was set up in 2015 in response to the 2011 UK government Pension Act. In 1995 the Pension Act included plans to increase women’s state pension age to 65, the same as men. Although agreeing with equalising pensions WASPI do not agree with the way the changes have been implemented.
Bernadette, who is now 61, is one of the many women who will have to wait five extra years before she will receive her state pension. “I have worked 40 years with the contract that at the age of 60 I would get my state pension. I was two years off my retirement age when I was notified that this would not be happening.”
Bernadette had to retire at the age of 58 on medical grounds, and said it is not possible for her to go back to work.
Still living without her state pension Bernadette continued “We are being denied what we paid in”.
Since the new changes some 2.6 million women in the UK will have to defer from retiring for up to six years.
Attending the meeting West Tyrone MLA Daniel McCrossan and Foyle MP Mark Durkan both pledged the SDLP’s full support in fighting for compensation for women born in the 1950s who have been hit by rises to the state pension age.
Mr McCrossan explained, “I think it is an absolute disgrace the way these women have been treated. They have all worked for years, raised their children and many have caring duties like looking after their own parents or other vulnerable family members.
“They have contributed to society and have found themselves, unexpectedly, in very difficult financial situation which has thrown retirement plans into doubt. With just one year’s notice, the British Government has added a six year wait to draw down their pensions. There are over 70,000 women impacted in Northern Ireland by what can only be described as one of the most gross examples of Governmental discrimination in the last 50 years.”
Bernadette is appealing to women affected by this to write a letter to the Department of Working Pensions for Women detailing how this has negatively impacted their lives.
“Daniel McCrossan has also offered to help anyone fill out these letters,” she added.
Thanking the SDLP for their ongoing support to WASPI NI Bernadette added, “Daniel organised a meeting for myself and other women affected by this to attend Stormont, that was the catalyst for my involvement in this movement. Many politicians and women were not aware that these changes had been implemented. Women were an easy target and this is very unfair.”