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EDITIONS
Friday, 13 December, 2002, 13:10 GMT
A pension of 7 pence a week
Margaret Watts
Margaret Watts paid the married woman's stamp
Sarah Toyne

Ahead of the government's green paper on pensions, BBC News Online spoke to Margaret Watts, who will start drawing her 7 pence (11 cents) a week pension next year. Her case highlights the plight of thousands of other women.

On 19 February 2003, Margaret Watts will start collecting her state pension. It will not be a happy occasion.

After years of contributions, including during 33 years as a nurse in the NHS, she has returned to work.

I just couldn't believe that I had worked all those years and that was all I was getting for it

Margaret Watts

She is one of many women in their 60s and 70s who are being forced to do the same.

In 1992, she applied to the government for a pensions forecast.

"It was disbelief at first," Mrs Watts tells BBC News Online.

Have your say

"I just couldn't believe that I had worked all those years and that I was all I was getting for it. Then it turned to anger."

The pensions forecast told her that she would receive a pension of 7p a week, from contributions to a graduated pension, an old type of additional state pension.

Married women's stamp

Mrs Watts is one of millions of women who paid a reduced rate of National Insurance called the married woman's stamp, between 1948 and 1978.

It was a time when marriage was the norm for most women.

UK PENSIONS IN CRISIS
Key pension facts and figures at a glance

By paying the stamp, women had to forfeit their right to their own pension.

Instead, they had to rely on their husband's contribution record, and wait until their husband reached 65.

The assumption was that if the husband was under 65, he would still be in work and his wife would enjoy the support of his wages.

The wife would then receive a pension at a rate of 60% of her husband's pension.

There were other drawbacks to paying the married woman's stamp.

It also disqualified the woman from other benefits, such as incapacity benefit.

In 1977, the stamp was abolished for women who were starting in employment.

The system was deemed outdated - and did not reflect the changing nature of men and women's relationships after the 1960s.

About 100,000 women are still paying the reduced rate - many are on low incomes or work part-time.

These women, as BBC News Online revealed after this year's Budget, will see their contributions rise by 26% from next April.

Unaware of rights

But many women, including Mrs Watts, cannot remember agreeing to give away their rights to a pension.

It was different in those days

Margaret Watts

"Many of us cannot remember signing the form. Assuming that we did, in 1977 when it changed, many of us phoned the local DSS and were told not to worry, we would get a pension from our husband's contributions.

Many of the women in a similar position to Mrs Watts paid full contributions until they got married, but they were told to switch as soon as they had tied the knot.

"If someone said we were going to pay a married woman's rate, it wouldn't enter your head there was a choice.

"It was different in those days," she says.

According to figures compiled by the House of Commons library, at least 4.5 million women, 1.5 million of them still of working age, are affected by the married woman's stamp.

In total these women have made 8bn of National Insurance contributions.

"If we contributed, we should not be seen as an appendage to our husbands in this day and age," says Mrs Watts.

Campaign

Mrs Watts has founded a campaign and support group, called Support Women Against Pensions Poverty (Swapp) to highlight the issue - and its campaign is being supported by the Liberal Democrats.

Shadow work and pensions spokesman Steve Webb wants the government to write to all women who have ever paid the married woman's stamp to warn them that their pension rights might be in jeopardy.

Mr Webb suggests people should get a pensions forecast from the government (see story link at bottom or this story).

State gender pension gap*
Men's average pension: 88.14 a week
Women's average pension: 63.90

*Basic pension and additional state pension, such as Serps. Source: UK government

The Liberal Democrats are also talking to the Equal Opportunities Commission to see if there are grounds to bring a test case.

But, faced with a big bill to rectify the issue, the government is resolute.

"I am not saying that it is an injustice," said Baroness Hollis of Heigham.

"Most women who took the reduced married women's stamp saved thousands of pounds, something like 18,000 for someone on mean average earnings over that time.

"If such a sum had been invested, it would have produced an alternative return."

Baroness Hollis' comments anger the women further, many of whom, Mrs Watts says, were on low salaries and could not afford to save thousands.

"What the government are really not looking at is the 50 to 65 year old pensioners who are coming up.

"There is going to be a tremendous problem up there. A lot of private pensions are going to the wall and now they are looking to their state pensions for help," says Mrs Watts.

Further information:

Your comments:

I was aware that my pension was tied to my husband's contributions but was not aware that I would have to wait until he was 65 before I would be able to collect. At 60 I was given the princely sum of 9 pence per week which has now gone up to 10 pence per week. Needless to say I am still having to work.
Mrs Janice Wells, Scotland

A traditional pension is a waste of time, whether it be state, company or personal. Certainty today does not mean certainty tomorrow. We need to find alternatives and the government has to be more imaginative in providing a framework for us fund a happy retirement.
Geoff, UK

I haven't even started contributing to a pension - I am currently 24 yrs old. What are young people mean't to think, when you hear so many stories of pension mishandling. Is there any point in contributing if you'll get hardly anything back? Where is the advice for people confused by the current pension situation? The government needs to look carefully at getting the balance right between private and state pensions.
Oliver, Great Britain

I have a company pension, but with all the bad news we are hearing about pensions, and the general state of the economy, I'm wondering if my money wouldn't be safer under the mattress.
Jo, UK

I had the choice of not paying a full stamp, but as I was in full time work, I continued to pay a full stamp. I have since divorced and remarried and I will get 95 per week approx in 4 years time, which is a full pension, plus some Serps. Very glad I made the right choice
Jean, England

I was 'unfortunate' enough to pay married women's stamp for 26 years but I am lucky - I will get approx 30 per week! I certainly don't remember being told about the pension rights & anyway, at that time, I was bringing up 2 young children & needed any extra cash I could get. There was no way that I could have saved 18,000 as the Baroness seems to think was possible. This is the usual 'I'm all right Jack' syndrome!I hope that the Liberal Party manage to persuade the government to really look at the problem as I am relatively lucky because I have my company pension but there must be thousands of other women who will find themselves in the poverty trap & having to go through the indignity of claiming various benefits. That's another thing, it's about time these benefits were all combined to save people having to go through the process time after time.
Mrs Rosemary Hawes England

When speaking of the money that the women saved by paying the married woman's stamp, Baroness Hollis of Heigham said,"If such a sum had been invested, it would have produced an alternative return." Why would they have invested this? They thought that they were going to get a pension!! Shocking.
Noel, UK

My mother worked for the NHS for over 30 years and is now receiving enough pension to buy herself a postage stamp once a month! It is outrageous that someone who devoted her life to saving others is now expected to spend her retirement in poverty! Will something be done about this?
Fiona , England

Quelle surprise. RIP-OFF Britain strikes again. I have no plans to be here when I retire. Average house prices will be over a million by then - dear oh dear.
Simon D, England

What I do not yet see being raised is the inherent problem with the 'inter-generational contract' that lies at the heart of the current state pensions system. Workers of my generation (I am 35) are going to be forced to pay into the state system all our working lives, to find that the pension is means-tested by the time we can claim it. No political party has the courage to acknowledge this simple fact. I will be relying on my own provision for old age, and I would recommend others do the same. Take the long view, personal pensions are still worthwhile over 30-40 years.
Martin Rogers, England

If those women, who did not contribute to a pension in their own right, are given a pension now - please may I have all my contributions over the last 25 years returned. As quoted in your article this will probably amount to about 18.000. Why should I have made this investment in my future when there was obviously no need.
Ethne Hawkins, UK

I just turned 29, and I know it is time I must do something. But I feel more against a traditional pension every day. I am starting to save in a savings account, and in time will invest it, and hope for the best!
Steve Jaques, UK

Pension Forecasts, don't make me laugh, I applied for onr in June this year and still not had a reply. They admit they have received the form but because I am divorced and have a mixture of full NI payments and also reduced rates and my now ex-husband was self emplyed, it seems to need more grey matter than the department has to be able to give me a forecast. I hope I have an idea before I retire in 6 years time, not taking bets YET!!
Jo Ingram, UK

So, Margaret Watts had the choice of giving her money to pensioners when she was working or not doing so. She chose not to. And now she expects us to make the opposite decision. Why, exactly?
Tony, UK

I also receive just 37p state pension after contributing married womans stamp for approx 28years at 61 years old I still work 29 hrs per week
Judy Kennedy, England

Lack of pension rights is further aggravated by zero maried allowance. Many women at 60 are efectively disabled from working due to age but are not entitled to disability allowance nor pension, and there are no tax allowances for married men supporting these women. These women have paid into the system by other means such as income tax, VAT, and bringing up children but are just cast aside as irrelevant at 60.
Brian N, UK, UK

I echo Ethne Hawkins sentiments, we have paid our dues and deserve our pensions, the women that opted not to pay should not be given anything, they had the same choice as the rest of us, ignorance is no defence.
Pauline Plummer, England

I too received no advice whatsoever regarding reduced married women's stamp and I now will not even be able to buy one second class stamp per week - my pension is to be 18p. What angers me more than anything is the fact that foreigners entering this country, either legally or illegally, can claim money immediately, having made no contribution yet I, having paid in for over 30 years can get nothing. If there is a lobby group I should like to join it.
Christine Clarke, UK

I feel so 'dumb', never querying why I was put onto a married woman's tax payment and to compound matters, my (then) husband has re-married twice more since! Guess I've 'lost out'again! If only these matters had been explained thoroughly, stating the pro's and con's; not that we 'opted' for this taxation - we were put on it as a matter of course. Grossly unfair. After this correspondence, I will be contacting the aforementioned website, to see what can be done to rectify matters, as I am finally returning "home" later this year. EXTREMELY worried!
Lesley Yeatman, South Africa

Having paid the married womens national insurance for many years I would like to know where the money has gone as for this contribution I appear to be unable to claim any benefit whatsoever.
Audrey Crow, UK

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