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State Pension Age (Women)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:00 pm on 7th January 2016.

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Photo of Margaret Ritchie Margaret Ritchie Social Democratic and Labour Party, South Down 2:00 pm, 7th January 2016

I congratulate Mhairi Black and my hon. Friend Barbara Keeley on introducing this important motion. The hon. Lady spoke with passion and force and characterised the problem facing many women born in the 1950s throughout Britain and Northern Ireland who are now faced with decisions they did not think they would have to make in such an accelerated fashion. Many of them are in receipt of, or have been in receipt of, low pay and undertake onerous and strenuous jobs in caring professions—for example, as nurses or home helps providing care within their own families to ageing parents. This places an additional strain on their health, yet, despite that burden, they will, because of this pensions ordeal, have to work for longer and for a smaller pension.

Women in my constituency, many of whom are associated with the WASPI campaign, which I congratulate, will be affected by these changes, because of the mirror legislation passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly. The equalisation of the state pension age is, in principle, to be welcomed, but it would be better if this symbol of gender equality was accompanied by transitional protections to ensure that women do not lose out. I recognise that, as life expectancy increases and many people stay in education longer before entering employment, the pension system must adapt. However, women in lower-paid work—home helps and carers, for example—and more physically straining jobs might not necessarily enjoy such an increase in life expectancy, yet they are the people likely to suffer most as a result of these changes, without being given adequate time to prepare.

That injustice and unfairness is the issue the Government need to address now. The previous coalition Government failed to recognise it, and instead wanted ordinary women to pay for a financial crisis they had nothing to do with. The responsibility for it should not lie at the door of women born in the early 1950s, yet they will be expected to work for longer and for a smaller pension than that which they had expected and planned for. They did not plan for this because they did not realise it was happening.