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Politics / ‘It looks like equality but it is not fair’

Protest group launches documentary about state pension injustice

Micheal Bilton introducing Foul Play to a packed auditorium in the NAFC Marine Centre on Monday. Photo: Shetland News

THE GROUP campaigning for a fairer state pension has stepped up their protest with the launch of a 10-minute film documenting the plight of some of the local women affected by the changes to the age they can claim their state pension.

At least 80 people attended the premiere of the short documentary Foul Play at the NAFC Marine Centre in Scalloway on Monday night.

The Shetland Pension Justice Group is now planning to take the film on a tour through country halls to reach as many as possible of the 1,500 local women born in the 1950s who may be affected by the pension age changes.

Narrated by local actor Steven Robertson, Foul Play was introduced by well-known Sunday Times journalist and documentary filmmaker Michael Bilton, who had given a helping hand in the production of the film.

He described the changes to the pension age a “grotesque injustice by successive government to save £5 billion”, adding that these changes were punishing those “who can least afford it”.

What at first sight looked like equality has proved to be a highly emotive issue that affects as many as 1.8 million women nationally through the gradual equalisation of the pension age for men and women.

Introduced in 1995 and accelerated by the coalition government in 2011, the age women can claim their state pension was increased initially from 60 to 65, and now to 66 by October 2020 and 67 by 2026.

But as was pointed out during the Q&A session following the screening of Foul Play, women who are now reaching pension age were back in the 1960s and 1970 discouraged from taking up full-time employment or to follow a career path and have subsequently often not even earned enough to pay national insurance contributions. The increase in the state pension age further deteriorates their financial position.

“It looks like equality but it is not fair,” the group’s treasurer Helen Erwood told the audience.

The national protest against these changes was first locally picked up by Janet Ainsworth who started the weekly Saturday protests at the Tesco roundabout back in February.

She said: “I cry every time I see the film, and I have seen it many times, because what you see is only the very tip of the iceberg of the suffering and deprivation of these women.

“There are around 1,500 in Shetland, and they could be your next door neighbour and you don’t know. One woman I know has not bought any new clothes for eleven years, because she can’t afford them. That is not right”

She added: “Is the government listening to us? With Brexit and everything else that is going on, who knows?

“They will not do it voluntarily, it will be down to us proving that they were discriminatory about targeting these people for no other reason than wanting some extra money in the coffers, and quickly.”

Monday night’s launch was attended by many of those affected, as well as representatives from some local political parties, but not the Liberal Democrats and the Tories.

Councillor George Smith, who last month was instrumental in getting Shetland Islands Council to call on the UK Government to make fair transitional state pension arrangements for all women born in the 1950s, also attended.

The documentary was made by the protest group’s own production company Whistlin’ Weemin, named so because back in the 1960s whistling was only for men.

They now plan to submit a four-minute long version of the film to the Home Made section of Shetland’s film festival Screenplay.

Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021