Court of Appeal dismisses Backto60 state pension age challenge against DWP

The Court of Appeal (CoA) has today (15 September) unanimously dismissed Backto60's legal appeal against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Following the CoA hearing in July, today's ruling stated that adopting the same state pension age for men and women "does not amount to unlawful discrimination under either EU law or the Human Rights Convention".

This ruling upholds the previous findings from the High Court in 2019, which dismissed the Backto60 claim stipulating that rises to the state pension age for women born in the 1950s were discriminatory.

The justices stated that, in light of the "extensive evidence" put forward by the government, they had agreed with the High Court’s previous assessment that it is “impossible” to say that the government’s decision was “manifestly without reasonable foundation”.

The ruling stated: "Despite the sympathy that we, like the members of the Divisional Court, feel for the appellants and other women in their position, we are satisfied that this is not a case where the court can interfere with the decisions taken through the parliamentary process."

Furthermore, the court argued that the legislation equalising and then raising the state pension age was “justified”, noting the “urgency with which reform was needed” in light of the increases in life expectancy and falling old age dependency ration (OAD).

Considering this, it also agreed with the High Court's previous conclusion that the appellants’ contention that the government could have implemented these changes in a less intrusive way is “unsustainable”, arguing that this argument does not give sufficient weight to the urgency facing the government.

In addition to this, senior justices found that the consultation documents published by the government before and after each successive Pensions Act had also shown that the government had to weigh up many competing factors, including the potential hardship for some women.

The justices also agreed that the High Court had been "entitled to conclude on the evidence" that the publicity campaign implemented by the DWP had been "adequate and reasonable".

Furthermore, the ruling emphasised that the application for judicial review had been made "substantially out of time", noting that the "long delay" in bringing the proceedings would have "precluded the grant of any remedy even if the grounds of challenge had been made out".

A spokesperson for the Backto60 campaign, Dr Davina Lloyd, described the ruling as a “travesty of justice”, noting however that it was not unexpected given the “misogynist state of our society and government”.

Lloyd continued: “We are very grateful for the tireless work our legal team led by Michael Mansfield who saw this as discrimination.

“Every independent witness has also been able to see that the treatment of 1950s women re their pensions is discrimination and at the very first hearing of the case the women were given leave to proceed on all counts.

“Boris Johnson, when he was in electioneering mode, said he would look at the issue with new eyes and new vigour but he has yet to live up to his word. Kier Starmer has also said that he supports the 1950s women.

“Yet, despite this, the DWP has spent millions of pounds of tax payers money taking these women to court.”

She argued that “without question” these women have been discriminated against, highlighting that no impact assessments were done prior to the changes being made and that this group of women were unable to build up a separate pension in their own right at the time.

The ruling was condemned as “nothing short of a disaster” for a "generation of women" by Unison assistant general secretary, Christina McAnea.

McAnea argued that raising the state pension age with "next to no notice" has had a "calamitous effect" on retirement plans for affected women, with those on lower income "left in dire straights" and "precious little support" from the government.

She added: “It’s now time MPs intervened to give them the financial help many so desperately need.”

Echoing this, Royal London pension specialist, Helen Morrissey, emphasised that whilst the judgment has gone in the government's favour, it has "huge lessons to learn" from this.

She described the ruling as "no surprise", acknowledging that it will be a "crushing blow" to campaigners nonetheless, and stressing that while the decision to equalise state pension age across genders is "the right decision", there are "well known flaws" in how they were communicated, with some women facing "severe financial hardship" as a result.

Hargreaves Lansdown personal finance analyst, Sarah Coles, also highlighted that the state pension is "the bedrock" of many people’s financial security in retirement, noting that women are "far more likely" to have to rely entirely on this compared to men.

She acknowledged that communication failures over the change in state pension age had had a "devastating impact on many", who only discovered the changes at the 11th hour, and that today's ruling will be a "huge disappointment" to campaigners.

However, Coles also argued that the rising state pension age is "an inevitable consequence of increasing longevity", with both men and women having to work longer before receiving their state pension. .

She added: “It means we all need to get to grips with our own retirement plans, and take control of how and when we want to retire – and how we’re going to save enough in order to make that possible.

“The earlier we can do this, the less we’ll be at the mercy of state pension age changes in future.”

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