A COWDENBEATH widow has blasted government pension changes for making her life “absolute hell” after the death of her husband.

Ann Erskine was one of many women who assumed they would receive a state pension aged 60, only to be left in financial limbo when the age of eligibility was raised to 65/66.

She lost her 73-year-old husband George in 2014 and was told just three days later to sign on at the Job Centre and look for work.

Ann said: “It was absolute hell. I lost my husband, I had no money, I lost my home.

“I had given up my job nine years earlier to care for my husband but, because he was over 65 years-old, I was entitled to no carers’ allowance and when he died, because I had a small private pension, I was entitled to no benefits.

“I’d paid 44 years of National Insurance since leaving school but that didn’t count when it mattered most.

“I was just a number to them, I wasn’t a human being.”

Aged 61 at the time, she racked up thousands of pounds of debt to make ends meet, eventually leading to an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) which left her unable to seek credit for several years.

“It was purgatory,” she said.

“I didn’t get any sleep at all and the constant financial worry played havoc with my mental and physical health.

“I now have an aneurysm in my brain and had a mini-stroke due to stress. It’s the cumulative impact.

“I had to go and ask my mum and dad for money – that was my last resort – and I’ll be forever grateful to them, but no-one in their 60s should be asking parents for money.

“This is the kind of poverty this government puts women through who have worked all their lives.”

Ann was one of hundreds of Fife women born in the 1950s who attended public meetings organised by Lesley Laird MP to raise awareness of pension injustice.

The Labour politician said state pension age changes have impacted around 5,500 women in the Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath constituency alone.

Ms Laird is helping set up a local branch for the Women Against State Pension Injustice (WASPI) campaign and is urging more women to lodge a complaint with the DWP.

She said: “Ann has bravely spoken out about her own experience in a bid to reach out to others and raise awareness, and I hope when people read her story they understand how inhumane these changes are.

“People think the welfare state is a safety net for people in times of need but, cruelly, too many women discover they are entitled to nothing – despite the fact that many have worked all their lives, raised children and cared for their parents.

“A judicial review, launched by the Back to 60 campaign, is currently considering whether the pension age changes were unlawful and a verdict is expected to be reached soon.

“I would urge everyone affected, therefore, to lodge a complaint with the DWP now. My office would be happy to offer advice on this.”

Lesley Laird MP is also urging pensioners to claim Pension Credit payments after it emerged that nearly 2,200 older people are not claiming an estimated £5.7m in the constituency each year.

She can be contacted by email at lesley.laird.mp@parliament.uk or telephone 01592 724129.

A DWP spokesperson said: “The government decided more than 20 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.

"We need to raise the age at which all of us can draw a state pension so it is sustainable now and for future generations.”

The DWP added that concerns had been listened to and transitional arrangements, costing £1.1 billion, had reduced the proposed increase in state pension age for more than 450,000 men and women.

It said no woman will see her pension age change by more than 18 months, relative to the original 1995 Act timetable, and that means testing was available.