Thursday, October 31, 2013

GUEST POST One woman’s view of being a senior citizen

Eileen Ward-Birch, secretary of the Wolverhampton Pensioners’ Convention, on the complications of later life in modern Britain.

As I approached pension age, I began to anticipate having a small income that did not depend on me working. I also looked forward to all the senior discounts and the free travel, although the latter only applied to the West Midlands. However, I soon found out that there are many inequalities in the system.

Because I had not worked or signed on for a set number of years, I do not get full pension. Like many women who paid the ‘married women’s contribution’, or spent some years at home, I had to wait until my husband retired before I could get a pension on his contributions. Even this is not the same pension that he receives. This, however, should change for the upcoming generations, who are now allowed to have had 15 non-contributory years from the birth of their last child and the lower rate no longer applies.

Unfortunately, those who are young now will find that equality as far as pensions are concerned also means that women will be expected to work as long as the men and the pension age for both genders is rising towards 70, the age of those who first qualified for a state pension.

If you have the slightest suggestion of another income or a private pension there are various cut off levels which allow you to access extra benefits, but these are not only unequal it is often a case of one benefit leading to access to another. When you do try to apply, on the off chance, forms are often confusing and telephone calls talking to complete strangers often deter those who are most in need.

The free travel pass is an anomaly, in that people qualify as soon as they reach pension age, but might still be working and well able to pay their own way. In fact, the whole free travel pass issue is confusing.

The travel pass is supposed to allow free travel on public transport, but varies considerably across the country. If you have a West Midlands pass, it can be used on buses, trams and trains in the area. However, it is restricted to buses in any other areas of England and not at all in Scotland or Wales. Visitors from other areas of England are restricted to buses and Scottish or Welsh passes are not allowed at all.

I have not even begun to investigate the issues around care homes; I suppose very few do until they encounter a need, but I did discover that reaching the magical age gave me free prescriptions and eye tests, but not free dental checkups.

When the state pension was introduced, it allowed many people the freedom to retire without having to worry about the basics in life, but it was not universal and depended on a means test. Today, we still have the means test for benefits and pensions, despite the promise made by Gordon Brown before the 1997 general election that he would end means testing in this country.

This is why pensioner groups, such as the National Pensioners’ Convention exist and why they lobby parliament regularly for the benefit of the pensioners of today and tomorrow.

You can follow Eileen Ward-Birch on Twitter.

1 comment:

Phil Beesley said...

Over on other discussions, folks are yakking about Roberta Cowell. See

When Roberta was 60 years of age, she did not qualify for an old age pension. She was five years too young to qualify. She could not ask for a passport in her name.

Thankfully, we live in more liberal times. But we do not always comprehend how to live with advanced times.