Isolated, sat in the dark, and using food banks - woman shares agony of life without a pension
PUBLISHED: 09:53 10 October 2019 | UPDATED: 16:10 10 October 2019
A Norfolk woman has told how changes to her state pension age left her isolated and penniless and offered a stark warning that she fears hearing of suicides by other desperate women.
The 64-year-old, who we are not identifying, was forced to rely on food banks and was in danger of losing her home, after government changes to the state pension age meant she was ineligible to receive support until the age of 66.
Now, the woman, who lives in Aylsham, has shared her agony at how living on the poverty line put her at risk of homelessness when she fell into rent arrears after the expense of repairing her broken washing machine.
"Living on £70 a week, I don't have the money for spare things anyway," she said.
"I didn't have a washing machine for nearly a month.
"My rent arrears went up and up and I didn't have the money."
But after appealing for help from a group of Norfolk activists who are campaigning against the pension changes which have affected 45,000 women in the county, a fundraising drive saw her debt paid off in full.
She said: "One of my friends suggested posting and I didn't want to but within hours they had paid off the debt.
"Some of them donated just £5 - they don't have much either.
"We stick together and if one falls down we pick her up."
It comes just days after a landmark high court ruling found that the Department for Work and Pensions had not discriminated against the 3.5m 1950s-born women affected by the pension changes - and that the department had no obligation to have informed them of the decision.
And the woman, who described those affected as "at the end of their tether", said: "I think in the next few weeks there are going to be reports of women who have killed themselves over this."
She added: "There are lots of ladies who are now selling their homes, and who have spent all their savings.
"I'm 64 and I don't drive and I suffer from bad blood pressure - who's going to give me a job?
"If I had my pension my income would double."
After working 12 hour days in the kitchen of a care home, the woman, who previously lived in Cawston, lost her job aged 59.
But after signing on to receive Jobseekers' Allowance, for what she initially believed would be a short period of time before she received her pension at the age of 60, she discovered she would be unable to retire until the age of 66.
"I never had a letter informing me, and I was shocked," she said.
"Trying to live on Jobseekers was very hard and it's worse now.
"I had to leave my private rented house as I couldn't pay the rent, as I was getting into debt."
She was offered a flat in Aylsham, which she hoped might help her find part-time work, but said her lack of money and the flat's distance from public transport had left her isolated.
"I thought to myself when I retire, I'll get a free bus pass I can go into the city and see friends," she said.
"But I can't afford to go for coffee or pay my way - and I don't have a bus pass - so I don't go.
"I have no social life. I don't see anyone, so I feel isolated and cut off from the life I once knew.
"Tesco is a 20 minute walk from where I live, as is the bus stop, so in wind, rain, hot summers, sleet and snow, it's a long walk."
And she added that her limited income meant she was living "hand to mouth".
She said: "I've had no new clothes for three years. I haven't bought any fresh fruit for three or four months.
"I've had to use food banks at times just to eat, and in winter I sit in the dark and go to bed at 9pm to reduce the electric bill.
"I don't smoke, I don't drink - I don't go out.
"I used to buy moisturiser and I used to buy flowers occasionally - little things we take for granted.
"I never thought my life would be this bad."
And while campaigners in Norfolk hit back at the ruling, saying the fight back against the policy was just getting started, the woman, who lives on just £73 a week, inclusive of her rent, said she would instead invite politicians to experience the reality of her daily life.
"I would say to Boris Johnson - you need to come and live my life for a month. They sit in parliament and fall asleep.
"They have subsidised meals.
And she warned of her fears for younger generations, saying "if it can happen to women born in the 1950s, then it can happen to them.
"They need to stand with us and support their mums and grans.
"If the government thought we were going lie down and take this, they are very much mistaken."
- Are you living in Norfolk and have been affected by changes to the state pension age? Email reporter Jessica.Frank-Keyes@archant.co.uk
- Need help? The free Samaritans helpline can be accessed by calling 116 123 from anywhere in the UK.