“At my age I wanted to be able to buy things for my family, my daughter, and I just can’t afford to,” Susan Walsh, 65, says. Talking to Express.co.uk from her home in Essex, the mother-of-one explains this year she’s ended up telling loved ones she can’t afford to buy Christmas presents, other than token gifts.
Susan began working at the age of 16, in 1972, going on to spend six years training for her career as an accountant.
Despite working for more than 40 years, money is a huge worry, and Susan is counting down the weeks – there is currently 47 to go, she says – until reaching her state pension age.
“My savings have gone, and I’ve now got £11,000 to last me until November next year,” Susan explains during an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk.
“That’s to cover anything that goes wrong with the house, my day to day living expenses.
“It’s just a nightmare really and it does play havoc with your health because you’re constantly thinking about it and you’re constantly wishing your life away.”
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After more than 30 years working full-time, in 2004, Susan began working part-time to care for her husband, who had become very ill.
“In 2014 unfortunately, he had a terminal condition, so that’s when I had to retire completely,” she said.
Susan was 59 at the time, and had expected to receive her state pension at 60 – which was previously the state pension age for women.
However, Susan is among millions of women born in the 1950s who are affected by state pension age changes.
She says she wasn’t notified of the changes in 1995, and wouldn’t have seen any advertisements on the matter.
“I had a full-time job. I had a daughter in 1997. My husband became ill. I didn’t have time to read the women’s magazines that they claim the advert was in.”
Susan remembers: “I got one letter and that was in 2015, the January, when I was 60 in November, telling me about the 2011 change and saying that my age would now be 66 for my pension.”
Finding out she would need to wait years to get her state pension, was “absolutely gutting” she says, adding: “Because we didn’t have a clue. I know I’m not alone – there’s many other women like that.
“There was no time to do anything,” Susan recalls. “It’s not like I could even go back to work because by that time my husband’s health was deteriorating.”
To get by, the couple decided to sell their home and relocate.
“We lived in London and we had to sell up in London and move down to Essex. So that freed up a little bit of capital, and it was a good move actually, but it wasn’t something that I had really chosen to do.”
Sadly, Susan’s husband passed away in 2017.
Income such as Carer’s Allowance, her husband’s state pension and his private pension stopped, with Susan receiving a Widow’s Pension for one year.
“After that, they just cut you loose. You’re on your own. Since that time I’ve had to live off my savings and I’ve now got 47 weeks left. I’m counting down the weeks until I’m 66 which is wishing your life away, which you shouldn’t be doing.
“But for the last year, I’ve had to release equity from my property because it’s the only way that I can survive.”
Susan’s tried to find employment, but explains she hasn’t heard back: “I can’t get a job, and I certainly can’t now with covid.”
Susan and her husband already sold their family home in 2015 to “free up a bit of capital”, and selling up is something she fears she may need to do again.
“I wasn’t quite sure at the time what would happen with my husband and so we have actually done that once,” she says.
“So now I’m not living near my family, my family are all still in London, but it was just something that we felt that we had to do.”
Susan thinks back to when she first joined the workforce at the age of 16.
“When I started work you weren’t allowed to have your own pension,” she says. “It was a men only situation.
“The first private pension I was able to take out was in 1989 so by that time I was 34/35. So you couldn’t make those years up. That was the first time that I was able to.”
Of the pension savings she was able to make later on in her career, Susan now gets an annuity.
She explains she received some cash from the pension pot back in 2006, but since then, gets a “small allowance every year of £1,200.”
Susan is in a situation she never thought she would find herself in.
“At this time, I expected to be, not comfortable, but be able to do the things that I wanted to do,” she says.
A DWP spokesperson said: “The Government decided 25 years ago that it was going to make the state pension age the same for men and women as a long-overdue move towards gender equality and this has been clearly communicated.
“Raising state pension age in line with life expectancy changes has been the policy of successive administrations over many years.”
The second part of this two-part interview will be published tomorrow, on Saturday December 26, 2020.