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Clause 1 — Equalisation of and increase in pensionable age for men and women

Part of Concessionary Bus Travel (Amendment) – in the House of Commons at 7:30 pm on 18th October 2011.

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Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 7:30 pm, 18th October 2011

As a former Minister, the right hon. Gentleman will know that the figures were published with the Bill in May: they are from the impact assessment.

We have had a number of contributions, and in the short time available to me I shall refer to some of the points that have been made. As I have said, the hon. Member for Cumbernauld stated that his £11 billion should be spent and regarded it as a small sum, because he took the annual equivalent, divided that by the national debt and came up with a small fraction, as though somehow one can make £11 billion disappear. Well, the Labour party did make £11 billion disappear regularly, so he is keeping up that tradition, I suppose.

My hon. Friend Jenny Willott asked where state pension reform fits into the measures before us, and I am pleased to tell her that we remain entirely committed to such reform, but one irony of all this is that the very group of women whom we are most concerned about, and whom we have heard most about in this debate, are probably the single group who will most benefit from our ideas on state pension reform.

In particular, many women who spent time bringing up children, before either home responsibilities protection came in or the state second pension introduced crediting, would benefit substantially from such reform. So, yes, their pension age will rise, but as our reforms take hold such women will benefit substantially, and my long-term commitment to pensions justice for women will be delivered. That is certainly my goal.

Malcolm Wicks made the point that he has made before about differences in life expectancy and about people who leave school earlier, but his proposal for starting the national insurance clock running at different ages would create different anomalies. He says that somebody who leaves school and goes into a manual job could get their pension earlier, but someone who leaves school and goes to a desk job would also get their pension earlier, and people would then say, “Is that fair?” There are anomalies whichever way we do it.

The right hon. Gentleman did, however, raise the issue of people in the lowest socio-economic groups, but I remind him that over a 20-year period to 2002 men in the routine class, the lowest—as it were—socio-economic group, saw life expectancy at 65 years old increase by 2.5 years, and, given that the Bill increases the state pension age for men only by one year, the improvement in life expectancy for men, even in the group whom he is most concerned about, is running ahead of our proposed increase in the state pension age.

I repeat to the right hon. Gentleman that his points about the differences between groups are an argument for doing nothing. He supported the Pensions Act 2007, which will raise the state pension age to 68 years old, and we need to address health and occupational inequalities, rather than do nothing while we wait. That is the Opposition’s counsel—let us wait another decade—but the trouble is that we have already waited a century to move the state pensions ages, so how long is long enough?

My hon. Friend Richard Graham quite properly raised the important issue of notifying people of any changes, so I shall share with the House our plans. I very much welcome the fact that, subject to the House approving the Bill tonight and their lordships approving it in due course, we will be able to write directly to those affected to tell them exactly how they stand, thereby ending a period of uncertainty.

We will write to those women born between April and December 1953, just over 250,000 of them, early in the new year; to those born between December 1953 and April 1954, another 250,000 people, in February; and to another 250,000, born between April 1954 and April 1955, in March. The last group covers all women who would have been affected by the original equalisation timetable.