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This is an incredibly important stage of the Bill, about which I have received hundreds of e-mails. I am sure that Members of the House from across the political divide have received e-mails specifically concerning women aged 58 and 56. We have had a number of discussions about this matter, including a Westminster Hall debate at which the Minister was present.
I know that I may sound very boring if I repeat again the concerns of those women and of Opposition Members about why this particular provision should not go through. Everyone accepts that the state pension age needs to rise in order to pay for a more generous basic state pension. This principle underpinned Labour’s Pensions Act 2007, which continued the 1995 timetable for equalising women’s state pension age with men’s by increasing it to 65 by 2020, and then legislated to increase both SPAs to 66 by 2027, to 67 by 2036 and to 68 by 2046. That was agreed and there was cross-party consensus on that.
The coalition agreement stated:
“The parties agree to....hold a review to set the date at which the state pension age starts to rise to 66, although it will not be sooner than 2016 for man and 2020 for women.”
However, the Bill proposes an acceleration in the equalisation for women by 2018 and increases both men’s and women’s state pension age to 66 by 2020. This will hit women aged between 56 and 58 particularly hard, as they will have very little time to prepare or amend their existing plans. As has been pointed out by my colleagues countless times, those women have worked very hard in their lives but often for not very high pay, so they will not be getting very generous pensions in any event, yet they are going to be hit even harder.
The proposal will affect 4.9 million people—2.6 million women and 2.3 million men. Some 500,000 women born between
Women are already at a disadvantage in terms of pension provision. The median pension saving of a 56-year-old woman is just £9,100, whereas the equivalent figure for men is £52,800—almost 600% higher. It is not fair to speed up the equalisation timetable because it will hurt women disproportionately, especially those aged between 56 and 58. I know that we hear about the financial constraints, but if the Government can find £3 billion for the completely unnecessary reorganisation of the national health service, which nobody wants—we have not heard any practitioners in the medical field say that those provisions are right—are they really saying that they cannot find a bit of money for women who have worked hard for so long in their lives? The proposal is measly penny-pinching. The Government are hurting the people who are already the poorest in our society and hitting them even harder. If money can be found for the wasteful reorganisation of the NHS, I am sure money can be found for the provision to be deleted.
I urge the Minister to reconsider this aspect of the Bill and think about those women, who have worked hard all their lives. He should think for once about ordinary working people who are looking forward to some kind of pension, although they will retire later than they thought they would, and he should give them time to prepare for their pensions.