I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman and I will touch on that point later.
The 2011 Act made women wait an extra year to a year-and-a-half to claim their state pension. However, we have to remember and take into account the context that women did not know about the initial 1995 Act. We have a situation where there is a whole host of women who read about the 2011 Act and went, “Oh, God. Okay, I am going to have to be working an extra two years. I’d better start making plans. Oh no, wait a minute, I’m working till I’m 66. Where did that come from?” There is a whole host of women who have been given a double whammy. The Government have not and are not giving women enough time to prepare alternative plans. There have to be better transitional arrangements.
The Conservative ethos is to encourage independence and responsible choice, but how can that happen if we do not give people the time to make the responsible choices? By continuing this policy at such a high speed, the Government are knowingly and deliberately placing another burden on women who are already trying to deal with consequences of an Act passed 21 years ago that they have only now found out about. To put that into context, I am 21—that’s how old this is.
One of my constituents told me that she began working at 17 and chose to pay the full rate of national insurance on the basis that she would retire at 60. Other options were available to her, but she said, “I want to retire at 60 so I’ll pay the price, through national insurance, my whole working life.” She put it in a way that I think is a very good and accurate description of what is happening. She has now found out that she is not retiring until she is 66. She says:
“The coalition and this present Government have stripped us of our pensions with no prior warning and with no regard to the contract we all entered when we were 17.”
She uses the term “contract”. That is an important point, because pensions are not benefits; they are a contract. People enter into them on the basis that if they pay x amount of national insurance they will receive y at a certain age.