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Council / SIC shows unanimous support for pension campaign

State pension protestors in Lerwick. Photo: Peter Johnson/Shetland News

SHETLAND’s councillors have united to call on the UK Government to make arrangements for women born in the 1950s who have “unfairly borne the burden of the increase to the state pension age”.

A motion on the issue from south mainland councillor George Smith was presented at Wednesday’s full council meeting at Lerwick Town Hall and it was given unanimous backing.

The move was welcomed by Janet Ainsworth of the Shetland Pension Justice Group, which has been holding Saturday protests at the Tesco roundabout since the middle of February.

Chairman of the education and families committee George Smith.Southend councillor George Smith. Photo: Shetland News

The change to the age women can claim their state pension stems from a gradual equalisation of the pension age for men and women by 2020. This was accelerated to 2018 by the 2011 Pension Act, which will also increase the pension age to 66 by October 2020 and to 67 by 2026.

These changes have seen some women, particularly those born in the 1950s, placed in a position where they may have to work years more than anticipated before being able to claim the state pension.

Smith’s motion, which was seconded by Lerwick South councillor and depute convener Beatrice Wishart, read: “Shetland Islands Council calls upon the UK Government to make fair transitional state pension arrangements for all women born in the 1950s, who have unfairly borne the burden of the increase of the state pension age (SPA) with lack of appropriate notification.

“This translates into ‘bridging’ pension to provide an income until state pension age – not means tested – and with recompense for losses for those who have already reached their SPA. There are no specific age groups within the period mentioned above that are favoured above others.”

All of Shetland’s councillors were behind the motion, with leader Steven Coutts calling on the local authority to write directly to the UK Government.

“I think it’s really important that the council supports the campaign locally and nationally,” Smith added.

Wishart, who said she is a member of the WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) group, said there are women in Shetland who are “severely affected” by the issue.

Shetland Central member Ian Scott, pinpointing changes made during the coalition years in the early 2010s, commented that the UK Government “have done a disgraceful turnaround, and they have made women suffer”.

South mainland councillor Allison Duncan, meanwhile, remarked that the government was trying to make the state pension as “cheap as possible”.

Pension campaigner Janet Ainsworth. Photo: Shetland News

Ainsworth said it was “amazing news” to hear that the motion had been passed.

“It’s heartening to know that our SIC is standing up for the women affected by putting pressure on the UK Government to bring in right and proper transitional payments,” she said.

“Too many of these women are having to cope with situations beyond their control, such as having to take early retirement due to ill health or because they’ve become a full time carer for a loved one. Or having to take on zero hours contracts, or claim benefits in an effort to make ends meet.

“I’ll admit it’s been a humbling experience to listen to these tenacious and resilient women and their supporters. To see how they’re striving to overcome adversity…they’re not for giving in , not for giving up, and most definitely not going away.

“This motion helps to give hope where there was none, for the women who felt ignored and whose quiet dignity is really quite astounding.”