I congratulate my hon. Friend Mhairi Black on bringing this important issue to the House today and thank her for articulating this inequality so passionately. I am glad that Women Against State Pension Inequality is holding us to account, in spite of the problems I understand it has had in reaching some MPs.
This is a concern for millions of people across the UK, one that continues to gain momentum as the impact on women’s lives looms larger. It is important to stress that Plaid Cymru supports the principle of equalising the state pension age. I note that Lloyd George, who brought in the original state pension, represented part of my constituency.
There is no reason why a woman should be expected to retire earlier than a man. Originally, it was put in place to reflect the age at which husbands retired and the discrepancy between the ages of husbands and their wives. That is not appropriate in an age of modern equality.
I speak today in opposition not to the purpose of equalisation but to the process of doing so. The accelerated timetable simply does not give women sufficient time to prepare for retirement.
I want to concentrate on the situation in Wales. The Government claim to be making the changes in response to an increase in life expectancy, but both life experience and life expectancy vary significantly depending on which part of the UK we look at. Unfortunately, this means that Wales will be hit particularly hard by the changes. For example, a new-born baby could expect to live to the age of 87 in parts of England, but just 76 in parts of Wales. At 71.4% of the UK average, income per head in Wales is the lowest in all the UK nations and regions. The average gross salary for a Welshman is £25,200, but a woman in Wales earns on average just £20,500—a fact that this Government and the Welsh Government should be ashamed of.
I reiterate that Plaid Cymru welcomes the equal treatment of women with regard to the state pension age, but this also requires the equal treatment of women in other spheres, such as the workplace, earnings and life opportunities. The UK Government are keen to push ahead with the former as a way to cut social protection budgets, but they are doing precious little fully to secure the latter. I urge the Government to phase in the equalisation of the state pension age over a longer timeframe to give women nearing retirement adequate time to prepare. The current timeframe is too fast and will cause undue hardship. These women cannot go back and live their lives again, and they deserve better treatment from the Government. I urge them to rethink. In a case of such fundamental inequality, and given that these people vote, none of us can afford not to consider this matter in detail and to end this inequality.