When planning the first Sex Discrimination Act (1975) in the early 1970s, it is believed that Barbara Castle had wished to include an equal state pension age of 60 in its remit, but later dropped this idea when Prime Minister Jim Callaghan responded with ‘do you want me to bankrupt the country?’ Nor did it feature in the subsequent 1984 Sex Discrimination Act. An equal age of 66 for both sexes in Britain had to wait until 2018. The age for both sexes is at present legislated to rise to 67 by 2028 for both sexes and then to 68 by 2039. The issue of an equal state pension age erupted again in February 1986, when the European Court of Justice ruled in the Marshall case(1) that, although state pension ages could be different for comparably employed men and women, compulsory retirement ages had to be equal for them.
For those resident in European Union countries already with equal pension ages for men and women, this made little difference. However, for those resident in those EU countries still with unequal pension ages generally, such as the UK, such arrangement was perverse, since for most people in employment retirement is regarded as synonymous with pension.
The main European Council Directive applying to matters pertaining to social security is Council Directive 79/7EEC of 19 December 1978(3). Article 7 of the Directive allows Member States to exclude pensionable age from its remit provided reasonable explanation is given. Any critical challenge, therefore, could not be directed at the UK’s unequal state pension ages but possibly could be against the unequal number of contribution years that men and women in consequence had to contribute (44 and 39 respectively) for their eventual generally equal state pensions.
Following discussions, CESPA managed to persuade the EOC to take a case on this particular aspect to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Although the Advocate General was sympathetic, the full Court later ruled that altering the number of contribution years could ‘imperil the stability of the existing financial equilibrium’ of the UK National Insurance Scheme, and so rejected the application.
The eventual 1995 Pensions Act surpassing the UK National Insurance Scheme to provided for equalising the state pension age for women to 65 over the period 2010 to 2020 and to 66 for both sexes by 6 October 2020. Subsequent legislation requires the age for both sexes to increase to 67 by 2028 and to 68 by 2039.
Following this equalising legislation, CESPA continued to involve itself in other perceived sex inequality issues, with much debate and correspondence. The organisation changed its name to PARITY in 1997 to reflect growing concern about unequal treatment in other respects. In January 2005, following changes in human rights law, it finally gained charitable status (1107795).
During its peak time in the early 90s, its membership rose to over twelve hundred, as sex inequality issues steadily became more mainstream. Much credit for this expansion must go to the membership secretary for many years, John Bennett, who, together with other members, wrote to countless local newspapers and other news sources about the country to generate interest and support. Members were encouraged to protest, politely, wherever they saw in shop windows, or other display areas, price or entry
notices based on state pension age.
During the early years, much time was spent by CESPA officers contacting sympathetic unions, MPs, organisations, and individuals which or who showed serious sympathy with the cause. The Rt Revd Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford, was the honorary President for five early years, and Baroness Seear a Vice-President. CESPA had several MP’s on its notepaper during later years, including Gwyneth Dunwoody, George Foulkes, Andrew Bowden and Martin Bell, the journalist.
CESPA receives no public funding and could never afford an official office. The work of the organisation has generally been carried out voluntarily in the homes of the Officers most concerned, with usually six Trustees meetings each year in London to decide policies and priorities. In the early days of CESPA, the Annual General Meeting was occasionally held outside London, for instance once each in Bristol, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Birmingham, in order to try to reach more members. In recent years it has been held at the Union Jack Club in London, with an invited speaker, and Trustees meetings have been kindly hosted at its London offices by the union New Prospect.
The main current concerns of PARITY include the widening gap in boy’s education, lack of effective support for male victims of domestic abuse, demotion or absence of fathers in family life,
and the steadily increasing criminalisation of younger males. There is also a real need for men to have a stronger parliamentary voice on men’s issues.
PARITY is still providing the parliamentary voice on the following men’s issues:
- Male victims of domestic abuse
- Fathers in family life
- Existing statutory sex discriminations
PARITY continues to work on all these issues, to this day …
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