Budget Resolutions - Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 14th March 2017.

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Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Pensions) 6:30 pm, 14th March 2017

This Budget was a missed opportunity to help deliver confidence and growth. The OBR has stated that the future is uncertain and that any central forecast is most unlikely to be fulfilled, which is a damning statement as it is ultimately the Government’s responsibility to create certainty.

Brexit approaches us like an enormous black cloud threatening stormy weather, which is perhaps not all the Chancellor’s fault. After all, the Prime Minister sets the direction. As the storm approaches, in the modern parlance of giving names to impending storms, we should call it Storm Theresa. This Budget was another missed opportunity to deal with the unfairness of the steep rise in women’s pensionable age over too short a timeframe. That from a Budget delivered on International Women’s Day. The irony is not lost on the WASPI women.

As thousands of WASPI women demonstrated outside Parliament, making such a tremendous noise that we could hear them clearly in this building, the only man who apparently could not hear was the Chancellor—deaf to the legitimate demands of the WASPI women and desperately hoping that their calls for fairness and equality would go away. Well their calls will not go away. Like the message communicated last week, the volume is going to be turned up. The campaign is gathering momentum and the Government will have to listen.

Some 245 Members of Parliament have lodged petitions asking for action on the WASPI women. There was a debate in Westminster Hall on 9 February, and the Chair accepted the challenge that the House had not considered the effect of state pension changes on working class women after a woeful and disrespectful response from the Under-Secretary of State for Welfare Delivery, Caroline Nokes. The fact that, following the challenge to the determination of the motion, the matter has not come back to the Chamber for determination is disgraceful. We will continue to pursue the matter.

Of course, the debate followed a division in this Chamber on 1 December 2016 in which the House divided by 106 votes to two against the motion that this House had considered the acceleration of the state pension age for women born in the 1950s. There has been no Government response to that vote. The Government are choosing to ignore the message that this House delivered.

In all our discussions on the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign, the focus has been on the 2.6 million women who are supposedly affected—the Government have continually referred to that number—but a freedom of information request that came to light last Friday now alleges that the actual number is not 2.6 million but 3.48 million women. If those reports are accurate, nearly 1 million more women are set to miss out on their pension entitlement than originally thought. It is absolutely outrageous if that is the case, and I ask the Minister to give us clarity on that matter in his summing up.

What is the figure, and why the discrepancy? Why at this stage do the Government not appear to know the exact number of women affected by the changes? We have had the farce of it taking successive Governments 14 years to communicate formally with any of the women affected, and this latest twist adds insult to injury. If the reports are true, how did the Government get the figures wrong? We need answers from them today.

The UK Government must recognise that pensions ought to be a contract, not a benefit. The Budget presented an opportunity for them to live up to that contract. It is clear that delivering fair pensions is not a high priority for the Government. With inflation spikes forecast, the Budget was completely devoid of any mitigating measures to future-proof pensioner incomes. We need a clear commitment that the triple lock will remain in place beyond 2020 and that mitigation will be put in place for the WASPI women. The SNP has already published a paper that explains how the Government can push back the timescales for increasing the pensionable age for women, at a cost of £8 billion in this Parliament. That is affordable, given the £30 billion surplus in the national insurance fund. Why did the Government not take that opportunity in the Budget? What is it going to take for them to act?

There is talk of another referendum on Scottish independence; I wish to make it clear that pensioners in Scotland would get justice and fair pensions from an SNP Government—things that are sadly lacking from the UK Tory Government. The OBR’s economic and fiscal outlook is a damning indictment of Government policy over the past few years and demonstrates the lack of vision from the Government on our economic future.