THE Westminster money tree’s been busy lately. There was a £1.6 billion “shameless bung” for Labour towns in England and Wales to support Theresa May’s Brexit deal (which matches the earlier bung to the DUP for keeping the Tories propped up in government). There was £32 million compensation payment after Chris Grayling’s bungled award of a ferry contract to a firm without ferries – which uncovered another half million pound write-off for his hopeless privitisation of English probation services. And of course, every chaotic day that passes the UK Government spends millions on no-deal planning and re-writing legislation and regulations for life outside the EU.

Yes, if you are rich, powerful or strategically important in Theresa’s hour of need, there’s a bung for you.

But not for a legion of mums, grandmothers, sisters, daughters and friends who’ve had their pensions raided and their happiness in later life destroyed – a whopping quarter of a million Scots.

Problems started in 1995 with the first Pension Reform Act which raised the date women can collect their pension from 60 to 65 -- just for the cohort of 1950s-born women due to hit pension age first.

These women did have time to prepare, but most weren’t told about the change or didn’t register being told. In 2007 the pension age was raised further from 65 to 67. And then in 2011, without warning, the changes were brought in two years earlier than promised, before the 1995 legislation had even kicked in.

This ran contrary to assurances given in the Pensions Act 2007, but the UK Government insisted the sudden, dramatic and unexpected change was needed to achieve “equality for men”.

Aye right.

READ MORE: If men faced WASPI injustice then ‘it would be international scandal’

Former pensions minister Steve Webb later said: “Basically we made a bad decision. We realised too late. It had just gone too far by then.”

But were the changes just a teensy weensy mistake or a soft target to make £30bn savings by an austerity-obsessed government?

Chancellor George Osborne rather gave the game away in 2013 when he told a global investment conference: “Accelerating the state pension age for women probably saved more money than anything else we did – and it was not controversial.”

The National:

Well five years have passed, and it’s very controversial now, because 1950s-born women are set to lose an average £45,000 (six years of pension), compared to the average of £4000 for men of the same age, and must keep paying meaningless National Insurance contributions.

Put another way, 1950s women will contribute £20bn of pension “reform” savings to the Treasury, compared to £10bn from 1950s men.

That’s the first and biggest unfairness.

The second is the massively constrained earning and saving power experienced by 1950s women in the first place. Some 85% had children and rapidly shouldered the “double burden” of working and caring for kids and relatives. That meant dropping out of higher education, making do with low-paid jobs instead of building up a well-paid career and missing out on state benefits aimed at full-time workers, single women and men. And that discrimination hasn’t ended.

Economist and pensions expert Ros Altmann has listed the ways women still lose out in pensions.

Firstly, the State Pension triple lock doesn’t cover the poorest on Pension Credit who are also left out of the National Insurance State Pension scheme and made to pay 25% extra for workplace pensions – mostly women.

Auto-enrolment also excludes part-timers earning below £10,000 a year – mostly women. Women’s pensions aren’t properly protected on divorce and women who don’t claim Child Benefit actually lose their State Pension entitlement – a desperately cruel measure.

Crucially women have lower lifetime earnings (£300k less over a lifetime than men, according to the Fawcett Society) and therefore lower workplace pensions. And that’s all before cynical tinkering with pension payout dates.

It’s been a blizzard of unfairness for 1950s women. This generation entered the workplace before the Sex Discrimination Act hit the statute books. Family, friends, teachers and other women encouraged them to play safe, aim low and depend on men for financial security. But for hundreds of thousands of single mums and single, separated and divorced women, that didn’t happen.

The 1950s women who worked in the private sector tended not to qualify for occupational pensions. But at least they could look forward to the end of a knackering lifetime of hard work inside and outside the home, courtesy of the state pension they’d contributed to all their working lives.

But no. What does the six year delay mean? Simples.

It means £45k lost per woman in hard cash -- six years pension at approximately £8k per year. Stolen.

It means trying to keep working when you are completely exhausted, or trying to find a new job at 60 – nigh on impossible – or applying for benefits to survive the next six years despite a lifetime of National Insurance contributions.

The pressure group WASPI (Women Against State Pension Injustice) has analysed social security statistics and discovered there’s been an average 400% rise in the number of Scottish women aged 60+ claiming Employment Support Allowance (ESA) in 2013 compared to 2017 – the direct consequence of these pension changes.

The National:

As ever, the poorest women have been hit worst with a 630% increase in claims in Rutherglen and increases of 550% plus in Kirkcaldy, Dundee, Paisley, Glasgow south-east, Cumbernauld and Berwickshire. There’s also been a trebling of claims for Universal Credit and Jobseeker’s Allowance in most parts of Scotland.

In short, the pensions “reforms” have caused a silent epidemic of destitution – and no-one in government seems to care. Unless you count Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd who said recently: “I am going to make wilful or reckless behaviour relating to a pension scheme a criminal offence with jail terms of up to seven years for the worst offenders.”

I’ve a feeling she doesn’t mean Steve Webb or George Osborne.

But women are fighting back. Many Scottish women have joined the Back To 60 campaign, which has just secured a judicial review in June to examine gender discrimination in the pension changes.

Meanwhile, the grand-daughters of wartime rent-strike organisers in Glasgow have set up branches of WASPI which is campaigning for fairer transitional arrangements and compensation for 1950s women plus proper notification of any future changes. They’ve encouraged women to complain about maladministration in the DWP process, but test cases are on hold awaiting the outcome of the Judicial Review.

Now a Scottish-based campaign believes it’s found another Achilles Heel in the government’s case – a failure to comply with the 2010 Equalities Act, which demanded impact assessments of any new laws on disadvantaged groups – they believe the 1950s women qualify on grounds of sex and age.

Feisty Women – launched last weekend in Dundee by SNP councillor Anne Rendall and business owner Ann Porter – hopes to raise £5k for a challenge on precisely this point of law. They believe the 2011 Pensions Reform Act couldn’t have been gender-proofed, given the massively negative impact on women with no savings, poor health and unpaid caring responsibilities. It may be the Al Capone approach to pension justice – but lawyers consulted by the Feisty launch team believe tripping the government up on this technicality is possible and could result in payouts for all the women affected.

Meanwhile, the evidence of pension discrimination is mounting. A House of Commons report acknowledges that while women may live longer, men receive more pension income because they tend to have workplace pensions too.

Office for National Statistics data shows life expectancy for British women is now the lowest in the 20 richest countries and astonishingly, 50s-born women are set to die younger than men of the same age (75.7 compared to 76.1 years). Pensions consultants Mercer calculate the UK gender pay gap of 16% has helped create a gender pensions gap of 40%.

As Sarah Pennells, of women’s finance website, puts it: “Even if women had been given the full 15 years’ notice of a rise in their state pension age, it would only help those who could save extra to make up the difference. And many women couldn’t.”

Maike Currie, investment director at Fidelity International, warns: “The pension system is relatively equal if people follow the same working pattern from age 20 to retirement, but they don’t.”

In other words the WASPI, Back To 60 and Feisty Women campaigners are on the money. With any other massive financial change, the immediate and biggest losers would be cushioned against huge personal losses. Not the 1950s women.

Two days after Brexit, it’s Mother’s Day. This year, mums and grandmothers deserve just one surprise present – the gift of our attention to their campaign for pension justice.

Contribute to the Feisty Women legal fund here

Join the WASPIScotland Campaign here.