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To be perfectly honest, it is disgraceful that the Government are not giving these women enough time to plan their retirement properly and it is clear that the changes that the Government are now proposing do not remedy the situation that they got themselves into with their initial proposals. It is wrong that women who have worked hard—doing all sorts of things, not necessarily paid work—for many years are now being denied their well-deserved pension for an extra 18 months with so little notice.
Nobody is denying the demands of longevity and the fact that we have to think ahead. However, we have to plan ahead properly and in a structured way. That is why in 2008 Labour legislated that the state pension age would become 66 by 2024 to 2026. That time scale was set out to give people 16 to 18 years in which to plan. As hon. Members will recall, the Turner report recommended a minimum of 15 years’ notice for any changes in the pension age and that is a very important point to note. Obviously the Government have brought that forward significantly, leaving many women with very little time in which to plan for a delayed retirement. Some 500,000 women will have a delay of up to 18 months before they get their pensions and about 330,000 women will have a delay of a full 18 months. The Government are determined to introduce this change, despite the fact that before the election we were given promises by both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats that there would be no change before 2020.
The particular women that we are talking about are the most vulnerable. Those who depend most on the state pension are those who have the lowest incomes, those who have perhaps had the least opportunity to make contributions and those who have worked in the least well-paid jobs. As has been clearly expressed by my hon. Friends, women are far more reliant than men on the state pension because their pension pot is usually very small. Very often they have been limited in the opportunities they have had in this regard. They may have taken years out for child care, limited themselves in order to be able to pick up their children after school or limited themselves by geographical location. Often this group of people are enabling their own sons and daughters to work and have a decent income for their families by providing very valuable child care for the grandchildren. We often refer to these women as the “sandwich generation” because at the same time as they are looking after those grandchildren they are often coping with their own elderly parents.
Of course, these women are often more vulnerable to the cuts. An enormous number of cuts are being made in all sorts of jobs, in not only the public sector, but the private sector. The Government’s growth strategy is clearly failing, and often it is not just the lack of public procurements, but the lowering of income levels in the whole of a region or town which is making it harder and harder even for private businesses to flourish. Women are often doing more casual work or are working part-time, and as they are the ones who have often come latest to the jobs they are often the ones facing redundancy. It is often extremely difficult for older women to find new posts, particularly in areas with geographical limitations or not very good bus services, and if they need to be back to collect the grandchildren from school.
A number of these women are widows. My right hon. Friend Malcolm Wicks has clearly explained the demographics and set out the number of men in certain groups who die young. Some 19% of men in certain social categories die before the age of 65, many of whom leave widows and they, like other groups, are not best placed to face the difficulties of trying to keep house and home together in difficult financial circumstances. If they do not receive their pension until a certain age, they will be losing not only the state pension, but pension credit and the various concessions and entitlements that are limited to people of state pension age.
If there were a genuine growth strategy, the argument about freeing up jobs would not be valid, because as more jobs are generated people who stay in work longer have more money to spend and so it is easier to create more jobs that younger people can take up. When there is no economic growth and the spiral is downwards, there is more bed-blocking—or job-blocking—whereby older people staying in work makes it more difficult for youngsters to get started.
So although Labour Members welcome the fact that the Government have made something of a concession, we are very disappointed that it is only a half-measure. In fact, it is nothing but window dressing. It is the sort of Christmas present that is wrapping with absolutely nothing inside—an empty cardboard box with some paper round it. The correspondence that I have received indicates to me that my constituents are not fooled by it and are worried that they will still be facing much of the same difficulty as they were with the original proposals.
I shall support the amendments tabled by those on my Front Bench to ensure that we try to give the maximum number of women the maximum amount of benefit that we can, rather than the Government amendments, which are, quite frankly, laughable. They are a disgrace because they do not address the main thrust of the problem and they leave a lot of women with a large gap and very little time in which to work out how to deal with it.