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The Government’s amendments are an admission that they realise, at long last, that they got it very wrong about the acceleration of the new state pension age for women. On Second Reading and in Committee, there was always a promise that the Government would come up with some sort of transitional arrangements for the group of 500,000 women who will have to wait more than a year, and particularly for the group of 33,000 women who will have to wait for two years before qualifying for the state pension. However,all they have done is to shift the timetable six months later. Why cannot they go the whole hog and take the anomaly out of the system altogether? If they were to do as the Opposition ask and delay all the increases to the age of 66 until after 2020, once the initial transition is over for women between 60 and 65, there would be no anomaly that would require transitional or any special arrangements at all. There would then be no unfairness specifically to women—it is, of course, only women who have been affected by the changes—and that would also answer the question posed by my hon. Friend Gregg McClymont about the lack of time available for the group of women affected to prepare for the new pension age.
If the Government have recognised that issue, it is shame that they could not go further. I suspect it is probably because the Minister, to whom I pay tribute, has found that getting anything out of the Treasury is like getting blood out of a stone. I recognise that getting just over £1 billion is a huge achievement, but in the overall scheme of things, and given the effects of the change, it would have been better—it would have been better if acceleration had not been proposed in the first place—if the problems had been properly recognised.
Before Government Members applaud themselves and welcome the change too much, perhaps we should think about the enormous campaign that was waged against the proposals. Would that campaign have existed if the Government had proposed at the outset what they propose now? In other words, when all this started, if it had been proposed that there would be an acceleration of the women’s state pension age up to 66 before 2020 so that 300,000 women would have to wait 18 months longer—on top of the delay they were already facing because of the timetable already set—would there have been the same outcry and the same campaign? I think that the answer to that question is unequivocally yes.
Just because the Government have made something bad slightly less worse, it does not mean that what is being proposed is not particularly bad. Someone who, after an accident, is told by a surgeon that they will lose both their legs, and who finds out after they come out of the anaesthetic that they have lost only one might feel a degree of elation that this was better than they had expected. However, someone going into an operation expecting to lose a leg who does lose one would still feel disappointed. In other words, the amendments that we are being asked to vote on still do not amount to a good deal for the group of women concerned.