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I congratulate Mhairi Black on managing to secure this debate, which has attracted many Members on both sides of the House. I also commend all the colleagues who have taken the trouble to come here and speak today. I will try to address as many of their points as I can in the limited time available to me.
I should like to begin by reminding the House of the rationale for reforming the timetable. For our state pension system to function effectively, it has to be fair, affordable and sustainable. The changes made to the state pension age under the Pensions Act 2011 make an important contribution to achieving those aims. Gender equality is one of the main purposes of the changes to the state pension age. Under the previous system, women reaching state pension age in 2010 would spend on average 41% of their adult lives in receipt of the state pension. For men, the figure was only 31%, owing to the longer life expectancy and earlier state pension age of women.
It makes little sense for women to work to a pension age originally set in 1940 which does not reflect the employment opportunities open to them in a modern society. Changes were needed to take account of increased life expectancy and to ensure fairness for working-age people who would otherwise bear the cost of this longevity. Following sharp rises in life expectancy, the previous Government acted to address this and brought forward the timetable for rises in the state pension age. This was vital if we were to continue to meet the UK’s obligations under EU law to eliminate gender inequalities in social security provision and to ensure that the state pension remained affordable and sustainable. It is also important to look at the changes in the context of our wider pension reforms and what these mean for women.