The WASPI debate-one womans story
I decided to tune into the discussion in the House of Commons to listen to the debate about the change to women's pension age. I'm not sure it was good for my health given my current situation as someone recovering from significant surgery for breast cancer. Political point scoring was not what i was looking for, it was the recognition of the need to redress a wrong- a contract unfairly changed.
It's my third diagnosis since my thirties. And each diagnosis has had an impact on my ability to work and on my caring responsibilities.
I was born in the 1950s and recently celebrated my 60th birthday, just two months after finding my cancer had returned. In my twenties I had my children. I decided not to take maternity leave as in those days we had little maternity pay nor child care options and as a nurse I did some work (unpensioned as it was a few hours only) so I could care for my family and use my skills in a job that I loved. I claimed no benefits (I never have) and worked when I could. My first diagnosis of cancer was when my children were at school. I worked part-time and was studying for a masters degree (self-funded) while having treatment with minimal sick leave. I paid for care to support my children to supplement my own care while I was ill . My father was very ill so I did my best to support my parents too. My health meant I needed to work part-time for several more years than I would have planned. By my second diagnosis my career had developed and I had worked full time for several years. I was working full time as a director for a UK charity, travelling between Edinburgh and London several times a month. I found the impact of further treatment reduced my well-being to a degree I could no longer continue in the job. I felt I had no option but to leave. That decision was influenced too by my mothers decline into dementia and her increased need for support. I decided to become self employed and was fortunate to have the experience, the skills and network that allowed me to secure work that I love while taking more care of my health. I'm aware that I have options that many women would not have. But the reality is I am the main breadwinner ( my husband has already retired) and our income dropped in a completely unplanned way. I was also no longer contributing to a private pension scheme. And please note I would not have been able to claim any benefits. I have always worked hard; full time when I was able to and part time when circumstance required as well as contributing regularly as a volunteer in my community.
So bringing my story up to date, as my business has gained respect and stability, but unfortunately I have yet again been diagnosed with breast cancer. Again I have no entitlement for support from the state and it comes at a time when I have reached 60 with the knowledge now that I won't receive my pension until I'm 66. Frankly I'm no longer confident I will get my state pension at all given my medical history.
I share this not to seek your sympathy but merely to point out issues for women like me who have by necessity worked part-time at stages in their lives, who have been carers, who have grafted since leaving school but feel the injustice of the changes to pension when I have not been able to adjust my plans to allow me to make appropriate retirement arrangements. I mention my health history to also highlight that for women like me there is a double whammy when the benefit system is such that there is no safety net for those who don't qualify for either pensions or incapacity benefit.
I understand the need for equalisation but we have not had equal experience of, or opportunity in the workplace throughout my lifetime. I write this blog not just for myself but for the many women who have only had low paid work throughout their lives and therefore will also not benefit from the new pension arrangements or from private pensions. The WASPI campaign is not asking for sympathy, nor for favours but for justice. This Westminster government likes to talk about supporting grafters, well from one grafter I feel unfairly abandoned by a society which for a large part of my lifetime stood by and accepted the unfair treatment of women. There is an opportunity to give practical transitional help to a group of women caught between two worlds and unable to influence either. Any government that refuses to do that will never be forgiven in the face of a very just campaign.