I beg to move,
That this House
calls on the Government to publish proposals to provide a non-means tested bridging solution for all women born on or after
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate, and the sponsors who have supported me in the application for it. I also thank the WASPI campaign nationally, which is well represented in the Gallery. Its members are involved in protests and demonstrations outside the Palace in support of their legitimate claims.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all his work on the issue. As he says, a lot of WASPI campaigners are listening to the debate in the Gallery, so does he think that this would be an opportune time for the Minister to apologise for the crass remark he made in Westminster Hall that WASPI women could get modern apprenticeships?
What we and the campaign are asking for, as set out in the motion, is simple: a non-means-tested bridging pension. That would mean that some 3.8 million women would not have to live in poverty. The pension would be paid as a percentage of the full state pension, with compensation offered over the period between the age of 60 and the new state pension age.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. We all agree that this injustice needs to be dealt with, but should we not also consider how that could be funded? I have discovered from the House of Commons Library that bringing forward the proposed increase in the pension age from 67 to 68 from 2037 to 2036 would in itself raise approximately £7.5 billion, which would go a considerable way towards helping these women to address the injustice that they face.
I completely agree. We have debated this issue many times—perhaps 29 or 30—in the Chamber and Westminster Hall, and we have been incredibly active over the past few months. Early-day motion 63 has 195 signatures, while an e-petition that was laid before Parliament attracted 109,000 signatures, and that number continues to grow. A Westminster Hall debate was so oversubscribed that some Members were sitting on the window ledges.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate and his tireless work in supporting this cause. I certainly support the call for fair transitional state pension arrangements for all WASPI women, but a number of options have been suggested. Will my hon. Friend be dealing with those in his speech?
Absolutely. There are a number of options. There are things that the Minister could do immediately to mitigate and alleviate the worst hardship that is being suffered. This is a matter of concern throughout the House, as is demonstrated by the number of signatures to the early-day motion, and representations have been made from every UK nation and region, as well as every political party in the House.
My hon. Friend is doing a good job in making his case, but may I put to him the words of a retired teacher from Knowsley who was born in July 1954? She says:
“The boy I sat next to in school was born in November 1953. We left school at the same time and began to pay our NI and income tax at the same time but he receives his state pension on his 65th birthday. I have to wait 10 months beyond my 65th birthday. How can that be fair”.
Does she not sum up the position very well?
Absolutely. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House can give many examples of WASPI women who have come to their surgeries, written to them and sent them e-mails. Every day I receive heartbreaking letters and e-mails from women in my constituency and further afield who have been suffering extreme hardship.
I am proud to be a co-signatory of the motion. So far the hon. Gentleman has referred only to WASPI but, as we know, there is an awful lot of interest in this whole issue, and only some of the groups involved call themselves WASPI. We are actually talking about all the women born in the 1950s who are suffering from an injustice that has been disproportionately inflicted on them as a result of changes to the pension qualification age.
I thank my hon. Friend for all the hard work that he has put in. I am sure that he, like me, has come across many women who have based all their retirement plans—their partners may have already retired—on what they were told, and assumed, would be their retirement age. They all say to me, “It is just not fair.”
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Many of these women have worked since they were 16. They signed up to a deal that they considered to be an agreement with the Government, but that deal has been cast aside with little or no regard for their financial circumstances.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for securing the debate. A moment ago, he used the word “heartbreaking”, and it genuinely is heartbreaking to listen to women—as I have in Dudley and the Black country—who had to retire early to care for a relative, or in some cases a husband, and were subsequently widowed. They are left with no income and face the prospect of having to wait much longer for the pension on the basis of which they had planned their whole future. Does my hon. Friend agree that particular attention must be paid to women in that position?
Absolutely. There are things that the Minister and the Government can do immediately. We are unnecessarily creating a generation of women in which many now rely on food banks. Some are being forced to sell their homes and to rely on the benefits system, which is degrading for them.
Does my comrade agree that we should praise the role of the trade union movement in supporting the WASPI women? WASPI campaigners in Glasgow and north Lanarkshire are watching a live broadcast of this debate in the Glasgow city Unison office. One of them is my constituent Kathy McDonald, who has worked for 40 years—since she was 15—but now has to go on working until she is 66.
Absolutely. This huge injustice affects all nations and regions of the United Kingdom. These are hard-working, decent women who have contributed through the national insurance fund and expected to receive their state pension.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for securing the debate, and for all the work that he does in support of the WASPI campaign and others. Does he agree that many of these women are being dealt with very inappropriately by both jobcentres and the benefits system?
A lady who came to my surgery last week had just been made redundant from the Walkers crisps factory. She has a full employment and contribution record, but she is really fearful about what will happen to her over the next few years. Will she be forced into inappropriate work? She does not know what benefits she will get. She is really stressed. Given her full contribution record, should she not benefit from proper transitional arrangements? Women should not be treated in this way.
That case is doubly relevant to me. The Walkers crisps factory in my constituency is closing this week—just before Christmas—and 400 people will lose their jobs. Many of them are long-serving employees who have worked hard. Some are in their late 50s and early 60s, and had expected to receive their state pensions.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and neighbour for giving way. I take great pleasure in praising him for his work on behalf of the WASPI women. Some 5,500 women in my constituency have suffered because of the Government’s lack of action. Some have been forced to go to food banks, and in all cases the women feel victimised.
These women are disadvantaged in a number of ways, and Members might not realise how many. For instance, people have raised with me the issue of free bus passes. Many women who live outside London—in regions such as the north-east and the south-west—do not drive, and without those bus passes, they cannot travel.
We need to address where we are now—[Interruption.] Well, the hon. Lady asked a question. Do we think that the change was wrong? I think that the 1995 changes were incorrect. Under the Pensions Act 2011, those changes—they were originally spread over a longer period—were expedited, and the former Pensions Minister, Steve Webb, has elaborated on that point.
Alan Brown will be aware that in 2007, after 10 years of a Labour Government, the then Government considered all matters of pensions legislation and passed the Pensions Act 2007. During their 13 years in power Labour Members had total capacity to do something about what they now say is not appropriate. With respect, there is a legitimate point to answer.
I will give way again in a minute, but I would like the opportunity to respond to the Minister’s point. We must recognise the injustice faced by these women, because there were many missed opportunities. There is no doubt that the 2011 Act accelerated the changes, and Steve Webb, the former Pensions Minister, is quoted extensively as indicating that. When he wrote to the WASPI women on behalf of the coalition Government, he not only informed them about the change in pension age of one year, as under the 2011 Act, but informed them for the first time about the earlier changes, meaning that some people’s state pension retirement age was being extended by six years.
As someone who was one year old when the 1995 Act came into effect but is sitting here just like everybody else, may I ask all Members that we get past the party political nonsense of whose fault this is? The mess has been going on for long enough and the current Government are in charge now. This problem is not going away, and the Government need to deal with it.
Absolutely, and there are things that the Government could do immediately to mitigate the worst cases of hardship. For example, the winter fuel allowance can be worth up to £300. If the Minister is looking for suggestions, that would be a decent start. If the Government were to give the WASPI women that payment each year, they would be able to have some level of comfort during this cold winter weather, but many in my region are having to choose between heating and eating.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the problems date all the way back to 1995 under three or more Governments. Does he agree with many of my constituents who feel that this issue is as much to do with communication as policy? Many of my constituents who are affected tell me that if they had known the effects of the changes in time, they would have been able to respond to them.
The hon. Gentleman makes a completely reasonable point. I am sure there is common cause across the House—I am looking at the Minister and hoping that common sense can prevail—and there must be an acknowledgement that there was poor communication. I am sure that the Minister is aware that a collective action is being taken by the WASPI women through Bindmans solicitors, and there could be a case of maladministration if the matter is found their favour.
I have been listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman and he seems to know what he is talking about. Can he give an idea of how much this will cost? I suspect that there is a range of amounts, but I am curious to know what he thinks would be the right amount of money that could go some way towards putting this right.
I think there are things that the Government and the Minister could do immediately, and I will come to those a little later—I have set out my suggestions in a sequential way, and they include immediately extending pensions credit to the group. I do not have the costings for that—[Interruption.] My colleagues on the Front Bench inform me that it is £800 million. We could do things with the winter fuel allowance or bus passes, which would offer immediate help to these women.
I alluded to the fundamental point made by the former pensions Minister, Steve Webb, who said:
“The 2011 Act, which I was responsible for, did not add any more than 18 months to people’s pension age, typically 12 months. But when we did write to people—and we did write to them to tell them what changes we have made—this was the first time they had heard about the first changes. So instead of me writing to them to tell them there was an extra year on the pension age, we were effectively telling them they had six extra years added to their pension age, which is of course why they were outraged”.
Hopefully, we are having a sensible, constructive and meaningful debate, but we should make no mistake—there is real hardship and outrage out there.
The hon. Gentleman is setting out his case beautifully and I congratulate him on securing this debate. As someone who represents a retirement town, many local constituents have raised this issue with me. Most of them have a slightly different point of view and do not object to the principle of the equalisation of pension age at all—indeed, they think it is just and right. They are upset because they say they were not properly advised and did not have time to plan for the changes early enough in their working careers. That is the injustice that those who speak to me feel most strongly.
Absolutely. The hon. Gentleman, with typical alacrity, has hit the nail on the head. Nevertheless, there is an injustice that must be rectified, and the Government need to do that.
Does the hon. Gentleman contend that the changes in 1995 were wrong, or were the changes in 2011 wrong? Many people I have met feel that the 2011 changes were too rapid.
The fundamental point, which has also been made by Government Members, is the lack of notice about the 1995 changes, and in some cases, the failure to give any notice at all. There is an issue of communication. A number of groups are campaigning on this issue, and there is a general acceptance of the need to equalise state retirement pension age—I do not think there is dispute about that and we are in agreement on it. The issue is the phasing, and the acceleration of that phasing in of the original changes in 1995.
My hon. Friend is making a marvellous speech and I do not want to disagree with him. Does he agree, however, that the equalisation of the pension age for this group of women is not fair? In the era in which they worked, many were responsible for the children and had to undermine their career; they had lower wages and did not make allowances for their pensions. Some have since suffered divorce or a break up, and many of those who come to me in Swansea are becoming impoverished because of this change. It is all very well imagining a future utopian world where there is equal opportunity that justifies an equal pension age, but that is not what has happened to these women. It is quite wrong to say that this issue is just about how they were told about the changes.
Absolutely. These women are falling off the edge of a cliff owing to the lack of transitional relief. There are many examples of women who made plans to retire at 60 to care for elderly relatives, and of women who worked in arduous, physically demanding employment who really cannot work beyond 60. This huge injustice affects 3.8 million women in this country, and it really needs to be addressed.
My hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way. To support that point, I shall quote a woman from Knowsley who was born in June 1955:
“My elderly mother had a stroke and I subsequently became her full-time carer. The last 10 years of her life were particularly difficult as she needed 24-hour care, provided by me. My own health has suffered greatly due to the added pressure and I now find myself unable to work due to ill-health and, at an age when I should now be receiving my state pension, I am forced to attend regular appointments at the DWP and medicals to ascertain my entitlement to ESA. This is soul destroying”.
Order. Before the hon. Gentleman responds to that intervention, I must make it clear that I am making no criticism of him. He is making a very genuine speech and has a great many points to cover, and he has taken a lot of interventions. I do, however, criticise those people who have made interventions but are not remaining in the Chamber for the rest of the debate. The convention is that the hon. Gentleman introducing the debate should speak for approximately 15 minutes. So far, the hon. Gentleman has had a great deal more than that, but I am not blaming him. He has been very decent in taking interventions from other people, which is good for the pace of the debate, but those who make interventions and then just leave the Chamber are preventing some of the other 32 people who have indicated that they wish to speak from having the chance to do so. So I am asking for a bit of honour. There are to be no more interventions unless they are from people who are going to remain for the whole debate, and the hon. Gentleman ought to bring his remarks to a conclusion soon. However, I am not going to pressurise him too much. This is not his fault; it is other people’s fault that he is in this position.
I am grateful for your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will press on as I recognise that many Members wish to speak in the debate.
The Government must understand that this is a time-sensitive issue and, as has been said, we need to work cross-party to find a solution. If the Government are unable to do that, they will be letting down a generation of women who are being denied a fair deal on their state pension. In Easington, 4,542 women are affected, and the campaign is looking for justice, not just warm words. The suggestion from my own Front Benchers of early access to a pension credit is a good start, and that could be done immediately, but as a stand-alone option it does not take into account the fact that all the 1950s women have suffered maladministration and loss of income, and that they all deserve recompense.
The cost-neutral suggestion put forward by other hon. Members of an actuarially reduced pension for life asks the women who have been discriminated against to bear the cost of putting right the mistake that was not their fault in the first place. It also condemns women to retirement in pensioner poverty, with all its problems of greater reliance on benefits. Arrangements that address only the additional state pension age increases imposed by the 2011 Act are not good enough. There are also faults with the application of the 1995 Act, and the maladministration suffered by the WASPI women is an issue that the Government are going to have to address sooner or later. The women need recompense, and the Government need to find a solution that will bring relief to all those who are affected.
The Government have repeatedly stated that they are committed to supporting people aged 50 years and over to remain in and return to work. Several policies and initiatives have been put forward to support people to work longer, such as older people’s champions in jobcentres, lifelong learning and apprenticeship opportunities for people of all ages. However, these suggestions completely disregard the issues at the heart of the WASPI campaign. In reality, they are completely unworkable for the majority of WASPI women, as was illustrated by the case highlighted by my hon. Friend Dr Blackman-Woods.
I was incredibly disappointed that the Budget did not offer any form of help or relief to the WASPI women. I know that some Conservative Members made representations to the Chancellor in all sincerity, and I was disappointed that neither he nor the Prime Minister responded to them. I am rather incredulous that Her Majesty’s Opposition are being attacked for being weak on women’s issues by the Prime Minister. I understand that she herself is a WASPI woman, and I am curious to find out whether she received notification from the DWP about the change in her pension arrangements. Quite simply, women born in the 1950s were not given sufficient notice by the Government that their state retirement age would be increasing. I could go on and give further specific examples, but I do not intend to do so, because I want to leave time for other Members to make contributions. I am sure that they will have examples of their own.
I thank my north-east colleague, Grahame Morris, for securing this important debate.
Yesterday, in Parliament, we celebrated the centenary of the formation of the Women’s Royal Naval Service. We celebrated and remembered the service and sacrifice of the women who gave so much to our nation. Today, we are yet again debating the plight of 3.8 million women from across the United Kingdom who have been financially impacted by the lack of notice of pension increases—our WASPI women. Those women have quietly contributed to our nation’s economic growth throughout their working lives in paid work, alongside providing the bedrock on which our families and children depend, through unpaid parental and caring duties, without question. Those women have now created one of the biggest campaigns we have witnessed in many years, because Governments of all colours over two decades have failed them.
As a believer in the power of people peacefully coming together to campaign for change and working together for what they believe is right, I am completely supportive of the WASPI women from across our country, many of whom are here today, including two dedicated and effective campaigners from my own constituency who are leading the campaigning. They are giving up all their time to voice the concerns of my 6,200 Berwick-upon-Tweed WASPI constituents, the 23,800 WASPI women across Northumberland and the 3,777,000 across our four nations.
In this debate, we need to remember that the WASPI women have served our nation in many different forms and guises. We have military service personnel, teachers, doctors, nurses, mothers, midwives, accountants, farmers, lawyers and office workers—those are just the ones who come to see me in my constituency—and many others who have been the backbone of our nation’s economy since they started work in the late 1960s. Those women have provided the building blocks that have taken our country through the strong economic times and the hard. We need to keep them in mind during this debate, not just as one big story, but by remembering the individual story of each WASPI woman who has come to our surgeries with problems of financial hardship.
With that in mind, I would like to reflect on some of the issues faced by my WASPI women living in north Northumberland. People in my patch have a strong and ingrained spirit of independence and self-sufficiency. Perhaps it is a remnant of the border reiver spirit that being on the border of two nations brings, but I sit comfortably with my Scottish friends here today.
A long history of hard work, regardless of weather—of which we have much—remains the hallmark of rural Northumberland. That is particularly clear in the strength of the women who have been to see me. They have raised families alongside a lifetime of hard work and have made sacrifices to ensure that future generations have better lives than previous generations. That last point means that it is hard for some women, who have explained this to me in great detail, to ask for benefits to survive, particularly because they were led to believe that they would be receiving the state pension, into which they had paid, at a certain time, but that has now been altered without due time to prepare.
I recognise the type of people to whom my hon. Friend is referring. Women out there clearly feel that they have experienced miscommunication, and they are facing genuine hardship, so I ask my hon. Friend to continue her cause.
I thank my hon. Friend. It is so important that we think of the individual women. There may be 3.8 million of them, but that means 3.8 million individual women across our nations. These women have worked hard all their lives and now face some incredibly difficult circumstances, and ill health can mean that they are struggling to survive on what they have. The lack of notice of changes to their pensionable age means that their financial plans—where they were able to make them—have been thrown entirely out of kilter.
Such issues are exacerbated by the intrinsic problems that people face in rural areas. Job opportunities can be limited, and I have met constituents who face age discrimination when trying to get back into the workplace as a result of the changes. The challenge is compounded by limited or non-existent—as it is many parts of my constituency—rural public transport. Connectivity can be extremely poor for some people who live many miles from a bus stop. Without a car, many people’s options are severely restricted. The personal stories of financial adversity faced by my constituents have been beyond frustrating for me to listen to.
Those of us who brought together the all-party parliamentary group on state pension inequality for women have found the Department for Work and Pensions unwilling to engage with us to try to build a relationship to seek viable and fair solutions for the 3.8 million women. Every case is unique, and each woman’s financial situation is different, and we need to treat each one on its merits. I gently suggest to the DWP and to Ministers that that needs to be how we start to treat the women.
Too many women have told me of the inefficiency and inconsistency in the treatment of their cases by the DWP, and I will be most grateful to my hon. Friend Guy Opperman, my constituency neighbour and our Pensions Minister, if he tackles today the impasse that this campaign and the Department seem to have reached. I have tried on the behalf of my constituents to bring all the parties together for a considered, open discussion in order to provide some progress on these historical failings. Sadly, I have so far been unsuccessful.
Whatever the historical failures of communication on the changes to the pension age, and regardless of which Government, of whichever colour, failed to get this right over the past 20 years, the key questions for me are how we now start to work together, listen to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman and tackle the failure to deal with the WASPI women’s complaints. We want to ensure that the Department puts in place rigorous processes for the pension age changes that are no doubt to come. I am sure that I will be 80 before I am allowed to retire, and I want to be certain that, whoever is in government, the Department is comfortable that it has robust processes in place so that this situation can never happen again.
Women rarely push themselves forward; they are wont just to get on with life and look after their families. However, this situation has driven them to gather together and speak with one voice on behalf of each other as much as for themselves. It behoves us as their Members of Parliament and the incumbent Government, who have been asked to right historical failings, to listen and to work with my constituents to find a fair and honest solution. I urge the Minister to meet me and my Northumbrian WASPI ladies to start that process in a spirit of conciliation and understanding.
Like many hon. Members, I have taken part in at least seven debates over the past two or three years, and still the Government have not actually done anything about the situation. Nor have they actually listened to what has been said. It is not my intention to rehash all the arguments that have been put over the past seven or eight debates, but we obviously have to congratulate the WASPI women on their tenacity over the past few years and on staying the course, as it were, to get justice for themselves. I congratulate the WASPI women from Coventry and the other women who have travelled down here today from all parts of the country, some of whom have had to do so at their own expense.
I want to emphasise just one or two points. The Government had a golden opportunity to do something in the Budget. They could have made some sort of gesture —a halfway house—towards achieving what the WASPI women want, but they totally ignored the situation while telling the public that they want to listen to their concerns on a whole range of issues. In some ways, the Government have actually used austerity to justify not taking any action on help for WASPI women. If they can spend £50 billion or £60 billion on high-speed rail, I am sure that they could the find the money to cover the costs of helping these women.
The WASPI women were not given time to plan for their retirement. That is the tragedy here, and it is important to emphasise that point. Somebody suggested earlier that that was not the real point, but it is. That and finding resolution to the problem are the two main points. It was also suggested that Gordon Brown somehow had something to do with the situation. Well, we all know that that is not true, but we are where we are, so we should not dwell too much on that; suffice it to say that it was the John Major Government who introduced pension age equalisation, so Members should bear that in mind. We should also bear in mind that 53% of the WASPI women actually rely on their pensions to make ends meet. Many of them look after elderly parents. Some of them have children who suffer from disabilities. People tend to forget that many of the women have to look after grown-up children—probably in their 20s. There is an organisation in Coventry that supports such women, but it gets no help whatsoever.
I know that my constituent Anne Potter and all the Glasgow and Lanarkshire WASPI women are watching this debate at home. In addition to what my hon. Friend says about the WASPI women who are in work, does he agree that many of them had to fight for equal pay in work and have worked in highly physically demanding jobs? It is therefore offensive for the Government to suggest that they could simply take up apprenticeships to fill the gap.
I will come on to that, because it was suggested in a debate two weeks ago that WASPI women could take up apprenticeships, which just makes me wonder whether the Government are taking this matter seriously.
Let us look at the general situation affecting women and broaden things out a bit. We should not lose sight of the fact that, under this Government, there have been cuts to Sure Start—and this from a Government who claim they want to support women! Let us also look at austerity and at the past couple of Budgets: women have contributed £14 billion through tax adjustments. Just think about that. I am not just talking about the WASPI women; that affects women in general. This Government say that they support women, but when they get the chance to put their money where their mouth is, they do not. Other hon. Members will have had similar cases, but I had a recent case in which a bank was deducting the state pension from people’s private pensions. Some Members may well have signed my early-day motion on that topic, which is something that we are going to pursue.
I know that many other Members want to get in, so I will finish by saying that the classic example of this Government’s meanness towards women can be seen in the cuts to funding for women’s refuges. As we all know, refuges are often a haven for women who have been abused, assaulted and, in some cases, raped, so the Government should start to think about whether they really support women.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr Cunningham, and I congratulate Grahame Morris on securing this important debate. I am here to speak on behalf of my North Cornwall WASPI women. I have met them numerous times at different events over the past two and a half years. I presented a petition on their behalf last year, and many of them have come to see me at surgeries in the towns and villages of my constituency to express their concern about the challenging times that many women are facing. Other hon. Members have alluded to some of those challenges today.
Most people who come to see me have worked their entire life. They might well own their own home and not be in a position to make the transition for those 18 months. I support transitional measures for our WASPI women, and I believe we can reach a practical solution by reducing the state pension over a longer period of time. Private pension providers already allow that. The option should be given to people with public pensions.
The changes in 2011 were rushed and wrong. The equalisation of pensions from 1995 was the right thing to do but, with increases of between two months and 18 months, people have suffered in different ways, which we should acknowledge. People should be able to take their pension earlier, or have the option to wait and have the £159 a week, as it currently sits. I have produced some figures, and my benchmarks are based on the current life expectancy for a woman in the UK of 83 and the pension age in 1995 of 66.
At the moment, the state pension is £159.55 a week. Over the 17 years leading up to average life expectancy, the pension would cost just over £141,000. I have done some modelling based on £130 a week, £140 a week and £150 a week for a reduced pension over a longer period. I have used the baseline to measure that against the least affected women, those affected for two months, and the most affected women, those affected for 18 months.
I put together my proposals over the past few days. The conclusion I have reached, according to the figures, is that the only group that would be affected if the proposals were introduced are the people who have to wait for 18 months, the most affected group. Even then, the Government would have to find only £2,357 over the lifetime of the pension. All the other models come out positively for the Government. We should do this as a gesture to the affected women.
Will the Minister sit down with me to look through my figures to see whether there is a satisfactory solution to the problem? I am happy to meet him if he is happy to meet me. We should consider a sensible way forward. I am not entirely sure I will be here for the winding-up speeches, but I would welcome the opportunity to meet the Minister at a later date to discuss a practical solution.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Grahame Morris on securing this important debate.
I say to the Government, one more time, that they need to stop burying their head in the sand and do the right thing by these women. We are at the same point yet again, debating the unfairness and injustice to women born in the 1950s as a consequence of the pension changes. Without time to prepare and make the necessary alternative arrangements, so many women born in the 1950s are left in financial despair. The reality is that the women are desperate. Affected women call, write and email my office every day to let me know that they have had to sell their belongings and are relying on family, friends and food banks just to exist.
More than 2.5 million women have been wronged by this injustice, which is 2.5 million voices that will not be ignored and 2.5 million women who will not go away.
The changes in the Pensions Act 2011 gave women insufficient time to prepare for retirement, which has caused particular hardship for certain groups: those with lower average life expectancy; those who depend more on their state pension in retirement; those who are more likely to suffer from health problems or disability; and those who have to care for elderly parents, husbands and grandchildren, limiting their ability to work up to and beyond 65.
For some of those women, their jobs are physically demanding and, because of their health, they can no longer do the things they were able to do when they were younger. Although the Minister believes that apprenticeships and accessible work are available to these women, I believe that is an insult. Caseload data shows that the number of women aged 60-plus claiming unemployment benefits increased between 2013 and 2017, more so than the increase among claimants of all other ages.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there are still loads of inconsistencies, such as that a one-year change in date of birth means an additional three years to reach the pension age for some of these women? That makes the way in which the Government have introduced these changes even more illogical.
I have put my thoughts on that on the record many times. Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend.
The number of women aged 60-plus claiming benefits increased by some 9,500 between 2013 and 2017, a 115% increase. Pension age changes have played a substantial part in that increase. It is crucial that this Government recognise the need for fair transitional state pension arrangements, yet they are still not listening. They have deceived these women, stolen their security and shattered their dreams.
In September, my co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on state pension inequality for women, Tim Loughton, and other cross-party members of the APPG joined me in tabling the Pensions (Review of Women’s Arrangements) (No. 2) Bill, which will have its Second Reading in April 2018. In preparation for the Bill, the APPG recently launched a consultation to gather opinions from affected women. The number of responses to our questionnaire within the first few hours was staggering. To date, we have received nearly 90 responses from groups representing many thousands of women. These women are the people who are living with the consequences of the pension changes, and their voices will be heard.
I have met many women, both in my constituency and as chair of the APPG. I have visited many constituencies across the country to speak to affected women. Most recently, I have visited women with my hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) and for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock). My office is currently dealing with requests to visit 1950s women’s groups in Scotland, northern England and across Wales.
Wherever I go, the story is always the same. These women feel cheated and disrespected, and they are angry. Every meeting is packed. Not one of these women has any intention of giving up until they get the result that they have earned and that they deserve—fair transitional payments that allow them to enjoy the retirement for which they have worked very hard over many years.
What about women born in the 1950s who have left this country to live in other parts of Europe? They are not only concerned about how their lives will pan out after Brexit; they are currently feeling extremely vulnerable and, to be honest, left out in the cold when it comes to their pension. Those women do not have an MP to voice their concerns, so they have contacted me and, I am sure, many others in the Chamber to ask what is happening to their pension. They left this country believing that they would get their pension at 60, and they feel robbed.
Many colleagues on both sides of the House agree that the changes to the state pension are unjust and unfair, so it really is time for the Government to stop blocking their ears and start listening. They should let these women have justice. They should do the right thing, the honourable thing, and give the WASPI women, and all 1950s women, the transitional payments they deserve. [Interruption.]
Order. Before I call Peter Aldous to begin his speech, let us make it very clear that we do not have cheering and clapping in any parts of this Chamber. We do have, “Hear, hear” and we do have smiles and laughs, but we do not have cheering and clapping.
Owing to my cold, I will not be able to speak quite as passionately and as loudly as Carolyn Harris. I congratulate Grahame Morris on securing this debate. He has played an important role in continuing to highlight the very difficult situation in which many women born on or after
I fully support the case for equalising the retirement age and the need to raise the pension age. The latter is required on the grounds of increased life expectancy and financial sustainability. However, such changes have a profound impact on people and the lives they live. Such changes need to be properly researched, to be subject to full consultation and then to be introduced in a fully transparent way. Those steps have not been taken in this instance. Even though the Pensions Act providing for the pension age for women to increase from 60 to 65 was enacted in 1995, government waited 14 years, until April 2009, before it began writing individually to the women affected. That lack of notification meant they had no time to make alternative arrangements for their retirement.
At the time of the 2011 Act, it was clear that there was a problem, and women were raising their concerns with me. As a result, the Government did make changes to limit the impact on those most affected. With hindsight, it is clear that the full scale of the problem was not recognised and that legislation should have been preceded by a full impact assessment.
The WASPI briefing for this debate highlights the unique barriers many women born in the 1950s face in mitigating this sudden change in their circumstances: many have no other source of income, and until the 1990s many women were not allowed to join company pension schemes; many women face difficulties in returning to the workforce and may be suffering from long-term health problems; many, on the expectation of an earlier retirement, have taken on caring responsibilities; and for some, divorce settlements were calculated on the assumption that the state pension was going to be received earlier. Baroness Altmann, in her February 2016 article, provides a compelling case as to why this matter needs to be revisited.
The message from the Waveney constituency and from Suffolk is that this situation must be addressed. When many of us presented petitions in this Chamber last autumn, I was in second place, behind Diana Johnson, in terms of the number of people who had signed up —2,249 Waveney constituents had done so. Last year, Conservative-run Waveney District Council unanimously endorsed this petition, and last week Conservative-run Suffolk County Council unanimously backed the campaign for equality of pension provision for women. In Suffolk, there has been a tradition of women going out to work, whether in factories, agriculture, fishing, food processing or clerical posts. This was often part-time work, often on low salaries. These changes are disproportionately affecting a lot of them and their families.
I hope the hon. Gentleman and you, Madam Deputy Speaker, will forgive me for intervening. I just wanted to say that the hon. Gentleman has my full support, and that the reason I am not speaking in this debate is simply that so many other people are down to speak. The whole of Suffolk is behind him on this one.
I am grateful for that endorsement from Suffolk.
I acknowledge the challenges the Government face in finding a way forward that is affordable and that complies with equalities legislation. However, it is clear that a particular group of people have been unfairly penalised. I thus support the motion, and I urge the Government to find a way forward that is fair, fully considered and affordable.
I rise to speak as secretary of the all-party group on state pension inequality for women. I congratulate my hon. Friend Grahame Morris on securing this debate. The manner in which the state pension change has affected 1950s women is totally unjust, unfair and immoral. This injustice has short-changed 2.6 million women, causing untold damage to them and their families. It is extremely important that we acknowledge that this is having an impact on families: women are moving back in with their children; and this situation is leading to some marital breakdowns. There are awful stories linked to these financial burdens that women are now facing.
Previously, during Prime Minister’s questions, I have mentioned my constituent Dianah Kendall, who suffered a bleed on the brain in 2012. She carried on working, under the assumption that she would be able to retire in September this year. She was not told of the change and she has had to carry on working, because she simply does not have the money to retire. When I asked the Prime Minister when Dianah would be able to retire, I was told, yet again, that she would wait no more than 18 months—she is waiting six years. That is the reality of what was wrong with the Prime Minister’s answer. Dianah has carried on running her business and has carried on working. She will not be able to give up working, yet the Government seem completely disinterested in helping women, even those who have major health issues, to be able to retire.
I have other constituents with arthritis, heart conditions and mobility problems who have had to simply deal with the hike in the state pension age. Despite finding it extremely difficult to work, these people have been forced to do so. That is unacceptable for a group of women born at a time when employment rights, support for national insurance contributions and maternity rights simply did not exist. It is deeply unfair that these women are facing yet another injustice.
As part of my work as secretary of the all-party group, I have spoken to women in my constituency and in other constituencies. Women have contacted me with countless lists of problems they are facing. There are women saying to me that they own their own home but they are selling their furniture. How can Ministers justify these sorts of things that are happening to women? Some of them have worked for 40 years, only to be told that they cannot retire when they are expecting to. The answer they are getting is, “Well, simply carry on. By the way, you will only wait 18 months.” That simply is not true.
Beyond this House, it is not just the women who were born in the 1950s who are campaigning; there is a huge amount of support from the public. There is also support from Members from across this House. I have made a list of no fewer than 50 Government Members who support the campaign, in addition to colleagues from the Democratic Unionist party, the Scottish National party, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru. That should mean that if the Government gave us some legislative time to reverse these decisions, we would win. Is it not about time they stepped up and offered support to these women, because there is support right across the House for actual support and change for these 1950s women?
Like my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris, I held a meeting, just two weeks ago, for women across my constituency, many of whom still are not aware of the pension changes, or have only recently become informed because of the campaign being led by 1950s women. More than 100 turned up. Some of them raised new issues—for example, when some were deciding to defer their pension, as is their right, they had not realised that they should have been entitled to it two years before. It was only when they have engaged in what the 1950s women are campaigning for that they realised they should have had it two years before. But because of the lack of information and no letters telling women about the changes, they were not been aware that their deferment is forced, whether they want to defer or not.
I truly believe the tide is turning, with the pressure on the Government. I hope the Government and Ministers are listening to what is going on out in the country and to the fact that these women are suffering. We need the Government to step up, cave in and find the legislative time to make changes to support the 2.5 million women affected. I will always fight for the women in my constituency who are affected, and for women up and down the country. The Government need to listen. I urge Conservative Members—the co-chair of the all-party group, Tim Loughton, is a true champion of this issue—to come with us, to get the Government to change their mind and to start to help the 1950s women who need our support now.
I, too, have had meetings with WASPI women. As my hon. Friend Peter Aldous discussed, this is a real and prevalent issue for many women in Suffolk. Nevertheless, I have discovered that stories differ. It is important to treat people as individuals on their journey through life. We do not necessarily serve all our population well if we lump everything together in our discussions of these matters. As I understand it, the primary thing is that no matter what the hue of the Government, there needs to be clarity in the information that is passed down on these important issues. There is blame across the piece for people not getting the information. People tell me that letters often were not received, and I have no reason to think that they were. There is a problem in ensuring that people are properly informed.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this is very important for the generation of women affected? Although some of them saw the letters, others did not, and some did not receive them, so they have not been able to make plans for their retirement. The next generation of women will know exactly what is coming. We have made some alterations, but the Government need to be much more generous than they have been to this group of women.
I agree with my hon. Friend, but it also affects those of us who were in our late 40s when we received the letters. I received one in 2011 or 2012, which proves that they do work. I took a 10% hit in my working life. I will be working until I am 67, I think—
Granted, but I spent a great deal of my life looking after children and so on. I am not in any way undermining the fact that in my surgery I have had not only women who have been carers—that is a broader issue for many Departments and successive Governments —but individuals who made life decisions prior to 2010. I have lobbied the Minister on that and he has discussed individual women’s cases with me at length. One in particular involved a midwife who went off and did five years’ work overseas for charity, predicating her decision on the information she had when she left. When she came back, not only was her situation affected by the fact that she had spent those five years serving other people, but she found that her midwifery registration was affected. When she tried to return to work, the job for which she could apply was compromised. So there are genuine cases, but perhaps we miss some of the importance of what we are discussing by treating everybody in this universal way.
I, too, have lobbied the Minister on this issue. I pay tribute to the Solent WASPI women, who have also presented a petition here in Parliament. Many of the affected women are unable to go back to work because they have already taken on a caring responsibility. That very much affects what they can do financially.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. She works unstintingly for carers up and down the country, and we could have a broader discussion about how we value carers, who are predominantly women.
Geraint Davies highlighted the specific issues facing a lot of the affected women, but I say gently that those are issues that women—whether they are in their 50s, 40s, 30s or 20s—are dealing with across the piece. Women tend to bear the brunt of these things. As my hon. Friend Mrs Trevelyan said, there are challenges in rural areas, and my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney brought up the issue of financial service organisations and banks not playing their part by also being a conduit of information for women. A series of events led to the current situation, and we have all found ourselves learning that communication should be better.
At the nub of this is the fact that we have a problem. In 1917, 24 letters were sent from the Monarch to women who were turning 100; last year, the Queen sent 24,000. By 2050, some 56,000 people will celebrate their 100th birthday.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. We have already heard about Suffolk, and the prediction is that by 2039 the majority of people in the county will be over 65. This is an extraordinary change in our society, and we will have to accept the costs that come with that.
Indeed we will. The nub of my point is that many of us come to this place as women and as carers. My husband and I still have four living parents, which is great. It is a sign of improved medical care and so on. Nevertheless, we have four children who arguably will bear the brunt of paying for these costs.
In one of my surgeries recently, I spoke to a woman who is affected by the changes to the state pension age—she is a WASPI woman. She said:
“I was born in 1956 and have been fortunate to work all my life”—
I take on board the point made by Emma Hardy—
“in a variety of careers that I have enjoyed.”
She explained that some of those careers were due to necessity of circumstance. She was warned in two letters that her state pension age would be changing. She will receive her state pension at 66.
She went on:
“I will be 62 next birthday and even if I was in receipt of a pension, I would struggle to stop working as I thoroughly enjoy my current job.”
That is what I mean about the need to consider this issue on a more individual basis. The woman continued:
“I appreciate that I am very fortunate as I am blessed with good health”— there have been several allusions to that in the debate. She said that she had a supportive husband
“and 3 lovely children. I expect to live longer than my parents but my perception is that my children struggle more financially than I did at their age. I realise that my taxes contributed to my parents’
pensions and my children’s taxes will fund mine. I cannot expect my already financially challenged children to contribute to my pension, for many, many more years. That would seem very unfair.”
If we do not see through these changes to the state pension, the burden on our children will be astronomical. This is not fair, but it is where we find ourselves. We must ensure that our response is proportionate.
I agree that the SNP does have that ability, but should we not look at making a decision for all women in the United Kingdom, rather than saying, “Well, you can do it there and you can do it over there”? This is a UK-wide problem, so we should not be singling people out.
First, may I declare an interest as one of those 1950s-born women who are directly affected by changes to the state pension age? Unlike many—some are sitting in the Public Gallery—I am fortunate to be able to raise the issue in the Chamber. The fact is that many of these 1950s-born women have been hit not just once but twice by changes to the state pension age.
Those of us born in the 1950s were first hit by the equalisation of the state pension age to that of men, with transitional arrangements in place according to date of birth up to 2020. Sadly, the then Government did not see fit to tell the women affected about the change, so many remained unaware and looked forward to receiving their state pension at 60. As they approached 60, they were devastated to find the financial ground shifting beneath their feet. In 2011, the coalition Government sped up the changes, so the state pension age for women reached 65 by 2018, and would rise with an increase in the state pension age for men and women to 66 by April 2020. Many women were left completely unable to make up that financial gap, and that would have been the case even if they had been aware of the earlier changes, which many of them were not. It is ironic that measures that were designed to increase state pension equality should have such a discriminatory effect on women in particular. They have indeed had a discriminatory effect, as many 1950s-born women face real hardship.
Out of the thousands of women in my constituency, I wish to refer to two whose cases particularly struck me. Barbara, whose door I knocked on during the election campaign, had worked all her life; indeed, she was working until just before I knocked on her door. She had worked for British Home Stores, but following the collapse of that company, she found herself without a state pension and, in a classic double whammy, without a company pension at that stage. Then there was the woman who approached me, quite unsolicited, in Blaydon shopping centre who said, “We need to do something.” She said that she had retired early to look after her mum, thinking that she would get her state pension at 60, only to find, after her mum’s death, that she could not get her pension. She had to rely on benefits and family support, and that was after working most of her life.
These cases are not unique, so the issue will not go away. Many women still contact me to say that they have joined the WASPI campaign and registered cases for maladministration with the Department for Work and Pensions, leading to even more of a backlog with the independent complaints examiner who is considering this issue.
Where do we go from here? The Government must address the issue as a matter of urgency. I have no doubt that we will hear about the measures that the Government have put in place to help people into work or apprenticeships. That is absolutely fabulous for any woman who wants to work and is able to do so, but there are many women whose circumstances mean that they are not able to do so. They were not expecting these changes and they find themselves unable to work, having looked after parents or family. Frankly, in a competitive market, it is just not that easy for 1950s-born women to find work.
Does my hon. Friend agree that whatever measures the Government might have taken, those measures have not worked and nor have they dealt with the problem? The continuing sense of injustice is still there, which is why we are having this debate.
Yes, I most certainly do agree. I am asking the Government to meet the WASPI campaigners, explore solutions, look at transitional state pension arrangements, and make resolving this issue a priority for the 3.8 million women affected. This is a campaign powered by women with determination and courage, and I commend all who are determined that this cause will be addressed.
It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate and I congratulate Grahame Morris on bringing it forward.
I have received a considerable amount of correspondence about this matter from the ladies in South Suffolk who are affected by the change, although I do not know whether they are in the Public Gallery today. As everyone else, quite rightly, is focusing on the specific issue faced by that cohort of women, I want to consider its long-term implications for the state pension system. We need to ask ourselves whether the system is really fit for purpose. Do we have a state pension system that actually delivers any longer?
The key thing is that we have a pay-as-you-go system. The most common argument that we hear from ladies who have been affected by these changes is, “I have paid in contributions all my life; it is my pension pot.” They believe that as they have paid in their money, they have a contract for what they should receive in return. The problem is that there is no such pot. None of us in the state pension system has a pot with our name on it. We have a pay-as-you-go system. This month’s national insurance contributions from the working population pay for this month’s pension liabilities in the state system. I am afraid that that system is extremely vulnerable in the face of demographic change.
I am very grateful to my former Committee colleague for giving way. I would just like to ask whether the same pay-as-you-go system applies for the Democratic Unionist party and remaining in power.
That is not a function of the state pension system. I will resist the bait to which the hon. Lady tries to get me to rise.
It is important that we remember the costs involved. The DWP spends £264 billion a year, of which the largest part is for the state pension. At £111 billion, it is by far the biggest single piece of public expenditure. That sum gives out a state pension of on average just under £160 a week—not exactly a king’s ransom. Of course pensioner poverty would be far higher in the current age were it not for the fact that many of this generation of pensioners are fortunate enough to have occupational pensions—and good luck to them. My parents are in that generation, many of whom own property. Savills estimates that the housing equity of people over 65 is about £1.5 trillion, so that generation has been cushioned to a certain degree. It has also been cushioned by the Government’s actions to protect pensioner benefits and introduce the triple lock, all of which have protected state pension expenditure from the necessary savings made in other Departments.
Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that, regardless of the figure that he quoted, the people who are paying the price for this are women born in the 1950s?
Actually my point was going to be that everyone will end up paying the price. Of course this debate is about a specific cohort that has been hit quite directly and over a specific period of time, and there is also the whole issue of notification. However, although young people going into the workforce know about the change in the retirement age and have had notification, that does not mean they will be able to save adequately for a pension. It also does not mean that they will be able to afford one, or to get a foot on the housing ladder, and they probably will not have an occupational pension. We cannot look at this issue in isolation; we need to look at the whole system.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we must get away from talking about women born in the 1950s as though they are some kind of burden on society? These women are asking only for what they were promised and what they themselves have paid for. They are not a burden; they are people looking for justice.
No one is saying that. My whole point is this: when the women say they have paid in, that does not exist. That is just a mathematical fact; it is not a nefarious thing. The system was not designed for this ageing population and the demographic changes that we are seeing. The duty on us in government and in this place is to be open and honest about that, and to try to come up with reforms that address it.
In my view—and this is a big deal—we should try to move to a funded pension system. Let us be honest: that is not a minor detail. If my hon. Friend the Minister asked his officials what they would think of that, they would say, “Sit down, put a cool, wet flannel on your head, have a cup of tea, and move on to the next issue.” What I suggest is not a minor deal. As I understand it, the only Government who ever moved from a pay-as-you-go system to a funded one was Pinochet’s in Chile—and he did not have to worry about Back-Bench rebellions and so on.
A funded pension would be extremely difficult to achieve because, of course, a generation would have to pay twice, but I believe that it could be done. We have had two proposals on this. During the April 1997 general election campaign, our party proposed basic pension plus. Peter Lilley came up with a system that would move us from the current state pension to a funded one. It would have been fully in place by 2040, so just 23 years from now, the liability for the state pension would have started to fall very dramatically. Instead, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, the forecast for public spending 50 years from today, at current prices, is an extra £156 billion. That is mainly due to demographic change, higher costs of health care, more complex health needs and so on. That is an extraordinary position to be in and, as the OBR says, it is not remotely sustainable.
My hon. Friend John Penrose has said that the other option is a sovereign wealth fund. Any funded state pension is effectively a sovereign wealth fund. It is a way of taking all the money that we pay into an unproductive, pay-as-you-go state pension system and investing it to meet our country’s needs, thereby boosting productivity and investment, and giving a greater return and greater ownership to people in an age when ownership in the capitalist system is under threat. There are huge benefits to be had. At the moment, the savings ratio is extremely low—that is one of the most worrying things in the Budget Red Book—but if the system forces people to save from a young age, it can be very effective. That is what we have with the new system.
There are specific issues, and we should look at the ladies who have been affected by this change, but if we really want to resolve it, we have to learn the long-term lessons. We owe it to those affected to ask how we can stop future generations being affected. If people own their pension—if it is theirs—the state cannot arbitrarily put in place this sort of change. It will take many years to establish a fully funded system, but there would be immediate short-term benefits as we moved to an economy on a more long-term keel. There would be more confidence in investment and we would move away from a more boom-and-bust, higher consumer debt model, which is why I think my hon. Friend has it spot on with a sovereign wealth fund. Either way, we need to start looking at the problem. We will need cross-party consensus, to be radical, and to look to the future rather than focusing on the short term.
I not only congratulate but commend my hon. Friend Grahame Morris on introducing this important debate. I have heard many voices across the Chamber, but we must recognise the injustice that these women have suffered. It is not a case of simply saying, “We hear the issues that our constituents have raised with us.” We need to listen. Jo Churchill talked about proportionality and cost. The Government could take actions such as early draw-down now. It would be cost-neutral and would have a beneficial impact. I do not understand what prevents the Government from introducing early draw-down for women who wish to pursue this option. To do nothing is not only inadequate, but unfair and unjust.
I have been contacted by a number of constituents about proportionality. We cannot simply say that only one or two women in our constituencies have come to our attention and we need to look at individuals. This is a massive issue for a number of women, which the WASPI women’s plight brings to our attention. We must do something; it is not enough just to say that we hear. We need to listen and take action. While I understand that the pension age has to go up, the rate of the increase has been rapid and women have been given little warning or time to prepare. Many Members will have heard the phrase “to forewarn is to forearm”. Where was the forewarning for some of these women? We cannot sit back and say, “Oh, we are very sorry that you didn’t get a letter.” We cannot compare them with young people much like myself and say, “But in years to come we will have to deal with differences in the state pension we are eligible for.” This is the specific plight of the 1950s-born women who have been dealt a very unjust blow. It is simply not acceptable to say, “There were letters. Everyone has to suffer. At some point everyone will come across this. Younger people will be affected.”
A disproportionate number of 1950s-born women do not have occupational pensions so they are uniquely exposed and are reliant on the state pension. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is all the more galling for them as a result?
I agree with my hon. Friend. That is absolutely correct. We need to understand that the state pension is not a welfare benefit. We are not saying, “Sorry, some of you have paid in but we just cannot do what we promised you.” If someone has worked since they were 15 and paid into a system that they believed would pay them back in their time of need, if they have been relying on that and it is then taken away, and if they do not have a workplace pension or did not get put into that type of pension, that will have dire consequences and cause negative impacts on their life.
I was contacted by a number of women in my constituency, one of whom was Wendy Hopkins. She advised me that she had been working since she was 15 and had paid all her national insurance contributions, thinking that she could retire at 60. Two years before, she was told that the retirement age had been increased to 63. Within 18 months of that, she was told that she had to wait until she turned 66. As hon. Members can imagine, that did not afford sufficient time to make arrangements to make up her financial loss. She had to rely on her husband, who is 67 and is taking a part-time job to cover their financial loss.
It is important and prudent to acknowledge that some women received the letter about the Pension Act 2011 advising them that their pensionable age would be increased by another 15 months. However, personal circumstances, which some hon. Members seem to overlook, mean that not everyone is in a position to take up an apprenticeship, or work. They may have to care for their partner or even their children. They should not have to continue to work. This is something they were promised, and we need to respect that.
We need to act now. There are cost-neutral actions that we could take, and we need to take them.
Another day, another debate on pensions for women born in the 1950s. We have now had many more debates on this subject than Elizabeth Taylor had husbands, and much like her seventh husband, I find it difficult to know what new to bring to the bedroom, if not the debate today.
This situation is not going to go away. I am proud to be the co-chair of the all-party group, and I am pleased to have co-sponsored the debate here today. WASPI is not just those groups calling themselves WASPI; it is hundreds of thousands and millions of women who find themselves in this position. I welcome the work that the all-party group is doing and the survey that we have sent out. I hope that we will get some concrete data back, and I will certainly support the Bill when it comes to the House in April.
There are three main problems. First, no one is complaining about equalising the pension age; it is the process and mechanism of doing so that is at fault. The impact on a specific group of women—more than 3 million now—is disproportionate. It is calculated that 33% of men will retire with just the state pension to rely on, but 53% of women will do so. The issue is much more important to women.
The second problem is the arbitrary cut-off date that many women have suffered retrospectively. The pension age of a woman born on
My hon. Friend is making his case very well. Does he agree that, before the 2011 changes were introduced, some sort of analysis should have been done to address the problems he identifies?
That is right, because there is a cliff edge effect. I am afraid that we hear time and time again from Ministers that £1 billion transition money was given in 2011, but of course half that money went to men to make up for their transition differences. Women did not benefit disproportionately from that additional money, ungenerous though it was.
The third problem is the lack of notice. Many women, even if they got the notice, were not in a position to make preparations and alter their lifestyle to enable them to survive through their 60s. Many of them have caring responsibilities. They have depleted savings. They have disabilities.
Of course, there are other disadvantages that women suffered. Women were, and still are, paid less than men. Women’s pension savings are typically 66% less than men’s. Back in the 1970s—the decade when most 1950s-born women started work—women were often ineligible to join their employer’s pension scheme, and they were often passed over for promotion in favour of male colleagues. That is the legacy that these women bring with them now. There are other disadvantages. The 2001 changes to the widow’s pension mean that those widowed prior to their state pension age no longer receive a full widow’s pension until they reach their full SPA, which has now, of course, been delayed.
We need to find a solution. The Government need to listen, get round a table and discuss this. There are many different transition arrangements we could bring in. Scaremongering that it is going to cost tens of billions of pounds is really not helpful. We can do things around bus passes and the winter fuel allowance that would have a meaningful effect for many women, but we need to help those who are in most need and who are suffering now.
It is important to reiterate that this is not a benefit; it is an entitlement. Some of these women could have paid national insurance contributions—I appreciate that that is not directly linked to a pension—for as long as 50 years by the time they retire. It is reasonable for them to expect that they would start to benefit at the time they contracted to when they started working and paying their employment dues to the Treasury. I also echo the points made by my co-chair, Carolyn Harris, about women overseas.
We have a duty of care to these women—a specific set of women who should not be affected in the future because we have changed the law. That duty of care needs to be honoured before more women suffer or, worse, come to the end of their lives. As my co-chair said, they are feeling cheated, disrespected and angry. Last year, the Prime Minister said she wanted a country
“built on…fairness…where everyone plays by the same rules”.
Let us start by demonstrating that and by righting this injustice now.
I am so proud of women. Women in York and across the country are standing up for their rights, and we will back them. My question is this: why is it always women who have to experience so much financial hardship and poverty in later life? We know that the structures of employment drive women into poverty. Some 36% of women work part time, compared with 22% of men. Women working part time earn a third less than full-time men. Women take on responsibilities for intergenerational care. A quarter of women do not return to work after having a child— for 17% of them, that is because of pregnancy discrimination. Therefore, women are already economically disadvantaged.
We know that vertical pay structures with job segregation mean that women earn £25,000 on average, compared with men’s £30,000. There is a north-south divide in this issue too, with women in the north earning less on average than women in the south. We also know that women tend to be concentrated in low-paid jobs. As we have heard, those jobs follow the “Cs”—childcare, eldercare, catering, cashiering, cleaning and clerical work. Often, this is physical labour, which means that it is hard for women to work in later life, and that must be recognised.
When we hear a story in our surgery, as I did on Friday, of a woman who has five jobs—three zero-hours jobs and two part-time jobs—we know that it is tough for women. However, many more women cannot get any employment at all in later life. We also know that the occupational pension that women have saved up for is far less than men’s. On average, women get only £2,500 a year from an occupational pension. Then, there is the further injustice of not being able to receive their state pension, after they have made their contributions. That is a complete disgrace. I am fed up that it is always women who have to pay the price.
If we look at other countries, we see that they take a lifelong approach to pensions. If they bring in changes, people are aware of them decades before. Here, even though the Turner commission talked about a period of 15 years, women are not having their rights honoured.
We therefore have to look particularly at women in poverty and their experience at the moment. As we have just heard, 1.9 million people in our country are living in poverty, and 40,000 people died last winter because they could not even afford to heat their homes, so we have to address the issue of women of pension age in poverty. We know that, among the WASPI women, pensioner poverty has increased from 12% to 21%. There is a real issue to be addressed there.
It was not women who failed, but it is women who have been failed. Women are now having to pay; they have always had to pay, and they have always been discriminated against—to the point of poverty. It was the Government who made these changes. It was the Government who failed to notify these women. We must rectify this gross injustice to end poverty for women in later life. Let us have real dignity for women in the future, and let us honour what they paid into.
May I take this opportunity to pay tribute to local Moray WASPI campaigners? Several other Scottish Members have intervened today to say that their campaigners are watching at home or in a union building in Glasgow. I am delighted that I have a local WASPI campaigner and others from Moray in the Gallery today. One of them is Jennifer Matheson, who is fresh from abseiling off a building in Lossiemouth recently to raise funds for Outfit Moray, when she was resplendent in her WASPI colours to show her continued support for the campaign. May I also put on record my support and admiration for Sheila Forbes, who leads the Moray WASPI campaign?
I have previously spoken in debates on this issue in this Chamber, but today I want to focus on local case studies to ensure that the effects the women in Moray face as a result of these changes are recorded in the Official Report, because the testimony of these women is extremely important.
One lady continues to look after three generations, as well as holding down a full-time job. However, because of the stress caused by her concerns over her pension age, she is now off sick. Another lady, who is close by in the Chamber at the moment, says:
“I am now 64, so four…years without my pension.”
She has worked since she was 16, and she has 43 years of national insurance contributions. To echo some of the comments made by other hon. Members today, this constituent has two schoolmates born in the same year as her, 1953—one was born in February, and one in July—and they already have their pensions. So birthdays only nine months apart can mean two years’ difference in terms of state pension pay-outs.
Another constituent resigned when she was 61 from an extremely stressful job, and she felt she could live off her savings until she got to her pension age at 62, only to find out that it had changed to 66. She then had the double whammy of trying to claim her occupational pension and being advised that, if she took it, she would lose 5% each year before she reached state retirement age of 66.
In the short time available, I want to finish with another story from Moray. This lady is a carer for her husband, who took a dense stroke five years ago. They were going to use some of the state pension money to buy specialist equipment that was not available on the NHS. That story is harrowing, but the key point for me was that she never, ever received a letter informing her that she would not be getting a pension at 60.
My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. There are lots of women who find themselves taking on caring responsibilities because their partners have life-changing health conditions. It is really important that the Minister takes this into account when looking at the pension implications for these women.
The final point I want to make about this specific constituent was that she had lived at the same address for 27 years—she had not moved house, and she had not moved around the country—yet she never received a single letter from the DWP about these changes. That is the inadequacy we have to look at.
I would like to echo the comments of Carolyn Harris—sadly, she is not in the Chamber at the moment—and my hon. Friend Tim Loughton, who spoke about the all-party group’s study into this issue, which I fully support—I was at the launch in Westminster Hall recently. It is great to hear that there have been 90 submissions so far, but we need more because this is an opportunity for WASPI groups and WASPI women across the country to get involved and to ensure that we go through the process and have something to offer the Minister and the Government. We want to identify a solution, and it is important that the women affected by these changes are involved in that.
All 3.8 million WASPI women agree with equalisation, as we have heard across the Chamber today.
Does the hon. Gentleman share my concerns, and those of many others in this Chamber, about women who are doing physical and perhaps menial work and who are unable to continue to work for another two years? Does he agree that the Government should consider those who are physically unable to work and to cope with the extra two years and that action should be taken to help those women?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. I was able to raise only some of the testimonies that I have had from Moray WASPI women, but I would have included those who are continuing in very hard labour jobs and have worked for a very long time in these sectors, where they have also experienced gender inequality. They suffered while they were working, they thought they were coming up to retirement age, and they have had to continue extremely strenuous work into a period where they thought they would have been retired. They have been hard-working, conscientious employees for so long, and they deserve our support. I hope that the many who are here with us today, and indeed the many around the country who are watching this debate, will feel that there is support around this Chamber and across the parties.
As I said, the key issue is the lack of notification. That is indefensible on the part of any Government. These decisions were made not only by the current Conservative Government but across these green Benches. Governments have let these women down by not ensuring that they had the notification they required to make their plans for the future. As we have heard, they were faced with a cliff edge with no prior notice. That is wrong, and that is why I support the WASPI women.
I also support the very positive comments that we heard earlier about the fact that we are fighting for these ladies’ entitlement to something that they have paid into for their entire lives. They should not have to fight for it—they should be given it. They entered into a contract with the Government that said, “At the end of it, you will receive this pension at this age.” That is why I support these women in fighting for that entitlement. It is why I support the Moray WASPI women who are with us today, all the WASPI women in the Gallery, and all the WASPI women who are watching at home.
This is a fantastic debate. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Grahame Morris for the hard and tireless work he has done on this issue.
Many of us in this House, on both sides of the Chamber, do not see pensions as a burden but as an expression of collective solidarity among generations. We are proud of pensions—they are part of the glue of a civilised society and we will always defend them. That is why we defend and speak up for the WASPI women.
Like so many others in the Chamber today, I am here to represent many constituents who are among the millions of women—it sounds as though half of them are up in the Gallery today—who have suffered as a result of Government policy on pensions. The basic facts of this whole issue are now well-known. Many of the cases that Members will raise today will tell fundamentally the same story, but it is important that those stories be told. That is because the injustice of this consists not only in its quality—the sheer, brazen wrongness of it—but in its scale, with 3.8 million women being robbed of that which they were promised.
This is a huge scandal that must be faced up to by Government as soon as possible. I have case studies of my own to tell—stories of constituents. Perhaps one of the most chilling and telling aspects is that I have been asked by my local 1950s women’s groups to anonymise them so as to not reveal their identities, because some of these women have been reduced to utter poverty and embarrassment. That is shocking. Women who have, in one way or another, spent their whole lives either working or caring for others—women in their 60s whose entire life plans were based on the knowledge that they would be receiving pensions in a given year—have been tossed casually on to the benefits system, with all its attendant humiliations. Some of my constituents have been forced to go out and get cleaning jobs on the minimum wage. Almost as bad as the financial robbery is the humiliation and insult. One woman is now forced to sell her home because she is unable to qualify for benefits—to sell the only asset she had acquired in a lifetime of work and service.
I have mentioned the quality of this injustice and its quantity—the numbers of those affected. However, there is another element that makes this scandal a terrible stain on all of us in this place—the perpetrator of the injustice. It has been carried out not by some faceless corporate financial mega-business domiciled in Panama, or by some fly-by-night wheeler-dealer, but by Her Majesty’s Government. I am chair of the APPG on fair business banking and finance. We have found in our work alarming evidence of malpractice and fraud in our financial sector that is truly disgraceful. We have also found that trust and faith in our financial sector are now shockingly low. But why should we be surprised by what is happening in the private sector if the Government themselves—the same Government who are supposed to regulate and keep the system fair—are so ready to casually rip off millions of women?
Trust, as we know, is hard won and easily lost. Yet without it, the entire basis of consent under which democratic government operates is lost. If we allow this injustice to persist, we will be doing our whole country a great disservice. I call on the Government to bring forward a fair and reasonable plan to solve this without delay.
It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Clive Lewis, who so eloquently described the problems in his area. I congratulate my hon. Friend Grahame Morris on securing this debate. I especially thank all the WASPI women up and down the United Kingdom who continue their fight for justice and for their voice to be heard.
We have rightly debated on many occasions, and at length, the technicalities of why we are in the position that we are in today. It boils down to poor notice, poor care and apathy for many years. It is time that that finished. There has been maladministration. It is time for us to stand up and admit that, face the consequences, and across this House—and, indeed, across the United Kingdom—find a way to successfully end it.
I would like to raise two cases from East Lothian—a constituency with just over 6,000 women affected by this. The first is that of Diane. She was born in 1952, and worked full-time. In 1969, she was told that she had to pay her full national insurance contribution to make sure that she would get her full pension at 60, and this she did. She started work at 16, attended evening classes and worked through day-release to carry on with her job. She was unable to attend college because her parents could not afford it. She worked her entire working life, going part-time when her children arrived in order to look after them. She has paid in for 44 years. Today, it is necessary to contribute for only 30 years to guarantee a full pension, so she has contributed for 14 years longer than that. She was not informed that her pension age was changing from 60, or that she was going to get a reduced pension. She genuinely feels, and rightly so, that she has been let down by her country.
The second case is that of Lorna. Born in 1954, she started work one month before her 16th birthday. She now has two grown-up children raised by her and her husband. She and her husband have both paid their way, and provided for their family, for their entire lives. She always believed that she would receive her state pension on her 60th birthday, but it did not occur. Her sister, born in 1953, received her pension at 63, but Lorna, born in 1954, has to wait until she is 66. Her husband works full-time on 12-hour shifts. Lorna is unwell. She has huge mobility problems and significant other problems. Her husband will not receive his pension until 2022. He is two years younger than she is. They still have a mortgage to pay and are still expected to contribute to that. If she had received her pension at 60, she would have been able to live a life in which she was shown some respect. This has been removed from her, as from so many women we have heard about today, so many women who are here with us in the Gallery, and so many women around the country.
Now is the time for this Government to listen. We have heard support across these Benches for proposals that would rectify this. Now is the time for us to give justice to the WASPI women.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Grahame Morris on securing this debate. I speak in support of this motion, delivering on the pledge I made when I was elected to this place that I would fight for the rights of 1950s women to obtain what they are entitled to. The way in which those women have been treated by the Government is disgusting and downright disrespectful. It is totally unacceptable that women born in the 1950s are suffering financial hardship because the Government failed to communicate state pension rises to them effectively. My hon. Friend Carolyn Harris, who travels widely across the country to fight for 1950s women, will be attending a 1950s women’s event in Gower on
Some women were given only one year’s notice of the change; others got up to five years’ warning, but many never received a letter at all. Labour Members recognise the injustice that those women have been dealt. Our policies complement the legal action for compensation that some 1950s-born women’s groups are seeking. Our policies are tangible, and they represent action that the Government could take now to ensure that women in their 60s do not have to face homelessness, claim through the broken system of universal credit or, like my constituent’s mother, sadly pass away without having told their families about the change to their pension age.
When we discuss this inequality, it is important to note that we are talking about women’s lives being affected. Indeed, many 1950s WASPI women in my constituency can tell harrowing stories that illustrate the personal impact of pension inequality. My constituent’s mother was born in April 1953, and she was an extremely hard worker who worked all her life. Some 20 years ago, she split from her husband and worked full time, raising her child as a single mother. She had always said that although she loved her work, she was looking forward to a much deserved retirement at the age of 60. After 60, however, her attitude changed. She would say things like, “I wouldn’t know what to do if I retired anyway.” During that time, she was still travelling and working five or six days a week at a garden centre in Llansamlet.
After my constituent’s mother turned 60, she decided out of the blue to take a job closer to home at another garden centre, which she said was not so difficult to get to. Her family kept on at her about why she would not retire, but she just said that she did not really want to. Changes in the state pension age meant that instead of retiring at 60 in April 2013, she would have had to until July 2016. Like many WASPI women, she was given very little notice that her retirement age had changed.
Sadly, my constituent’s mother passed away on
My constituent’s mother, and many like her, should not be put through such ordeals after a lifetime of work. The motion would provide for fair transitional arrangements for women born on or after
I start by paying tribute and dedicating this speech to my good friend and sister Mary Moore, aka Doyle. As I speak, her family will be attending her burial service, and I know that Mary would have been the first to ask me to speak out and stand up for her generation of women—the WASPI women. I would also like to say a word of thanks to my hon. Friend Grahame Morris. He is a tireless champion in this House of working people and the WASPI women.
We have come together to debate an issue of fairness, of decency and of what is right and wrong. I know that women affected by the inaction of this Government—particularly the WASPI women in Glasgow and Lanarkshire—are watching this debate live in Glasgow today, and I thank Unison in Glasgow for making that possible. The WASPI women are watching and listening, and they deserve action. They deserve honesty, and they deserve decency and equality. I say to them: “I am with you, and I know that Labour Members are with you, too.”
Like many Members of the House, I have campaigned with, welcomed to my surgery, cried with and listened to the stories of WASPI women. Take Helen, for example. Helen lives in my constituency. She was born on
“Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four?”
Yes, Helen, we do still need you, and yes, Helen, we will feed you.
I would like the Minister to let us know why he refused a meeting with the WASPI campaign. I know that he has turned down a request to meet several times, and I would like to know why. The Government have a duty to bring our country and its people together, and I want to know why they have not and will not. A few short weeks ago, I was very pleased to be able to lead my first Westminster Hall debate, which was on the state pension age. It was a good debate, and I was very grateful to the many Labour colleagues who joined us that day and stood up for their constituents. It was sad that during the debate, Tory Back Benchers made only two interventions. They had an opportunity to speak up then, but they did not take it.
I was sent to this House to stand up for working people, and there is no greater pleasure for me than to know that I give voice in this Chamber to decent, working people out there. I have had many emails, letters and calls from WASPI women, and it has been an honour to receive every one of them. I say to the Government, “Don’t mess with the WASPI women—they will sting.” I say to the WASPI women, the women in the Gallery and the women back home in Glasgow, “Until justice is done, I will be fighting with you.”
During the many questions and debates on pensions for women, we have heard the facts, the figures and the dates relating to the 3.8 million women who are affected, so I am not going to cite figures or talk about dates. Instead, I am going to talk about a woman I met a few weeks ago, whom I will refer to as Mary.
Mary came to see me in my surgery on a particularly wet and cold morning. When she arrived she was visibly shaken and upset, because she had slipped over on wet leaves as she walked into the room. I offered to meet her at another time, but she was insistent that she wanted to speak to me that morning. She apologised for being late, and explained that she was so tired that it was making her clumsy. I asked how I could help her, and she told me that she was on bereavement leave because her son had died in July and, despite support from work, her grief made it impossible for her to return to work in the local supermarket.
Mary told me that she acts as a carer for her husband, who has a degenerative condition. His health has declined to the point where he is unable to leave his chair and needs constant care, and that was why she did not want to rearrange our appointment. She was adamant that she needed me to hear her story. She told me that she had not found out until 2013 that she would have to work until 65, and that the memory was vivid in her mind. She was told about it by a colleague, and she did not believe it at first. She told her colleague, “You must have got this wrong,” and she went home and phoned the pension line. Afterwards, she was in shock.
We know that Mary is not the only one. The Department for Work and Pensions failed to record how many letters were returned undelivered, and no further action was taken to trace women who had not received letters. A few years previously, Mary’s mother had become ill, and Mary had had to choose between going part time and giving up her management position to care for her mum, or continuing to work and sorting out carers. Mary believed at the time that she only had a few years until she could draw her pension, so she decided to go part time and care for her mother in the last few years of life.
Because of Mary’s decision to care for her mum and go part time, her work pension is vastly reduced. Mary is so broken by grief that she cannot work. She is watching her husband decline, and she faces her retirement as a widow. Knowing that her pension would change would not have stopped what happened to her son, husband or mother, but it would have enabled her to have made an informed choice about whether to have continued in full-time employment. That could have resulted in her facing retirement as a widow in a situation much more comfortable than the one she now faces.
Millions of women across the country are living in financial difficulty because of the mismanagement of the changes, having made important life decisions in the expectation of receiving their pensions at age 60. I accept that even a Labour Government cannot change what happened to Mary, but I strongly believe that it is the job of every Government—no, of every person—to reach out a hand to help people back up when they have been knocked down by life. The Government can dress this up in any way they like, but we all know that an injustice has been done to 1950s women such as Mary. Now they must right that wrong by introducing transitional arrangements for all the women affected.
First, I thank Grahame Morris very much for securing the debate. One of his key, salient points was the complete failure of Governments—plural—to communicate the changes. Initially, there was the Pensions Act 1995; afterwards, there were the Labour Governments and the coalition. As I have flagged up in the House before, all of us are culpable—all the political parties let women down.
From 1995 to 2009, there was no communication at all from the Department for Work and Pensions to the women affected, some of whom are in the Gallery— 14 years during which Governments could have told them exactly what was happening; that way, at least, there would have been time for them to prepare. That did not happen, which is why so many women justifiably feel so frustrated, angry and hurt.
While the Minister is here, I want to make some specific proposals about what the Government can do. They are in charge and have the responsibility. First off, as the hon. Member for Easington said, there should be an opportunity for early access to pension credit. The Government should consider doing proper actuarial research into whether WASPI women should be able to take their pensions earlier, even if the amount is lower, and then to the higher amount by the time they reach 66.
There has to be a financial cost-benefit, not least because many WASPI women are facing real financial challenges. Whatever happens, the Government should seriously consider providing a flat sum of transition money, and I have a proposal about how they could do that. The Government absolutely insist that they are the party of aspiration—sometimes they are and sometimes they are not. Some of the shambles that I have seen since I was re-elected would indicate that they are not very good on aspiration. When she took over from David Cameron after the referendum, the Prime Minister said that she wanted to help those who are just about managing: she wanted to be there for the common man or woman.
One of the things that the Government are continuing to do—it happened in the recent Budget—is cut corporation tax. I have a proposal that I think a lot of businesses would accept, particularly the giant corporates: why not defray one year of corporation tax cut and use that money to ensure that WASPI women have a sufficient amount for a transition payment that makes things a little less difficult? I think that suggestion would fly in the House across party and out there, and I suspect that an awful lot of corporations would say, “Fine—we’ll do it. We appreciate that WASPI women have been short-changed because for more than a decade they were not informed, so we accept the proposal.” That is just an idea.
Last but not least, I have something else to put to the Minister. Seriously, it is time for the Government to allow not just debates—Backbench Business Committee or otherwise—but a votable motion. I say directly to the Minister: listen to people across the House and give us a proper vote on this issue. I believe that a lot of Government Back Benchers would support us.
It takes a particular talent to transform a justice—the introduction of pensions equality for men and women—into a massive injustice for the 1950s women whom we are talking about. That is what has happened over the past three years. The righting of a wrong has been turned into a new wrong, and everybody in the House, apart from a few people who want to be desperately loyal to the Government in their hour of need, says that the issue really needs resolving.
The injustice is twofold; it is not just the sudden speeding up of the process. When I wrote to the 3,000 women in the Rhondda who we thought might have been affected, I was amazed when people told me at a subsequent meeting, “You know what? The first time I realised that I was going to be affected was when I got a letter from you.” For heaven’s sake, the Government knew when the women were going to retire and had all the information, so they should have been getting in touch. This is not a partisan point—it is as true of the Labour Government as it is of the coalition and this Government. Nobody carried out the due diligence of making sure that all the women who were going to be affected knew that.
Just as I say to Great Western Railway every time it forgets to give us any information about the delayed train or whatever, one announcement or one letter is not enough. These are complicated matters. All too often, the post gets mixed up with something else or delivered to the wrong house. It was the Government’s job to make sure that everybody knew what was going to happen to them. It is one thing for a person to be told that in 30 or 15 years’ time their pension will not be what they thought it would be; it is quite another for them suddenly to discover, with moments to spare, that they will have to work extra years.
The people whom we are talking about in my constituency are women who have been absolutely dutiful—they have slaved their way through life. Many have worked since the age of 15, doing tough, often physically demanding jobs for minimal pay. The phrase they often use is “clapped out”. They say, “Frankly, I’m clapped out. I don’t have the energy to go on to some apprenticeship scheme or to do something else. I would if I could—that is in my nature—but there is just nothing left in me.” The situation feels like a terrible injustice.
There is another thing that I mention as the MP for the Rhondda. This is not something we are proud of, but it is just a fact: if we look at the map of deprivation across the country, we see that people in my constituency are paid less and have less money. They probably end up working many more hours than others simply to put food on the table. In a community such as mine, this issue makes a phenomenal difference, so the injustice is very toughly felt. People do not have savings to fall back on, lots of extra money or family members to turn to. Often this generation of women are looking after elderly relatives in their 80s and 90s as well. The issue is really having an impact on the whole of my community.
Finally, I pay enormous tribute to Dilys Jouvenat, who is running the campaign in the Rhondda. I know that the Minister is a decent man, but trying to tough the situation out for years and years and hoping that it will all go away is not going to work. The Rhondda women want justice—and by heaven, they’ll get it.
I thank my hon. Friend Grahame Morris for his excellent work on this important and serious issue that is facing some women in this country born in the 1950s. Five and a half thousand women in Bedford borough are affected by the pension changes, which were drawn up with little or no notice, and with no time being allowed for people to make alternative plans for such a life-changing event. I was very pleased to hear last week that Bedford Borough Council voted unanimously to support those women through the WASPI campaign. Depriving people of the money they have worked for and ought to have been entitled to is one of the greatest injustices imposed on a large section of our society.
But it is not just about the injustice. Women from the brilliant Bedford WASPI group told me that they have been robbed of their money, their independence, their pride, their future and even their homes. Some of those women are here today. Many women are destitute. I know of one woman who is now living in sheltered accommodation with her mother, because it was especially women on their own without the safety net of a partner’s income who were simply unable to re-plan their lives with less than five—and sometimes less than two—years’ notice.
The women I spoke to told me they were opposed not to the pension age going up, but to the way it was handled. The first shift in pension age was bad, but the second time the goalposts were moved, under the coalition Government, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. One women told me that although she tried to carry on working, health problems got the better of her and she could not carry on. She said that decades of working and looking after an elderly parent left her with nothing more to give. Her story is a common one, which was why hearing the Government telling women in their 60s who had worked all their lives to get on their bike and find another job was yet another insult.
One woman told me she was particularly upset that WASPI women were pitted against the younger generation, and made to feel greedy, or branded as scroungers, for fighting for the money they had saved for at a time when young people could not even afford a home. But she said that her grandchildren were right behind the WASPI campaign because they knew that fighting for her rights was also fighting for their future rights. Divide and rule is not working on this issue, and the Government need to understand that young people also feel very strongly about this on behalf of their grandparents.
Another woman said that the whole experience had made her feel less of a human being, and that only the support of the WASPI movement, and the knowledge that millions of women feel the same way, had helped her to cope. The Government have yet to come up with one good reason not to award a non-means-tested bridging pension until the women affected reach state pension age as well as compensation for those who have already reached state pension age.
The WASPI women are asking for less than they are due, and it is about time they were given it.
I thank my hon. Friend Grahame Morris for securing this debate.
The Government’s shambolic handling of this situation is the rightful source of much frustration and anger from women born in the 1950s. As we have heard from Members on both sides of the House, the lack of communication from previous Governments meant that a large proportion of women born in the 1950s received letters stating that their pension age had increased by six years only when they were 59, and therefore within a year of their expected retirement age of 60. From the stories I have heard, they were the lucky women, as some received no communication at all. If these women had been adequately informed, sufficient measures could have been put in place. I will be speaking on behalf of those women today.
I have heard at first hand from a woman in my constituency who has a disabled husband and therefore has been the breadwinner, despite being in a low-paid, physically demanding job. At 63, she still has to work every single weekend despite being in very poor health herself. She works weekends instead of resting, and then during the week, like most people of her age, she helps to care for her grandchildren, who live quite a distance away, in order to help her son and daughter-in-law with the cost of childcare. This woman never rests and is terrified of going off sick in case she loses her job.
Such stories are common throughout the country, particularly in places like Leigh where low-paid work is, unfortunately, commonplace. Had these women been able to plan for a late retirement, or received adequate support during their time of crisis, they might have been able to retain their independence.
The Government have been treating these women with total disregard. They have failed to show any sympathy to those who planned their entire lives around their state pension age only for the Government to start moving the goalposts. The total communication failure has resulted in understandable stress and anxiety, and this has already begun to have an effect on their livelihoods, families and health.
Fortunately in Leigh, our women born in the 1950s have become a support group for other women affected. The group is constituted and has become a support organisation. The women can talk with others in the same situation, help one another and plan for their futures, so I give particular credit the Leigh Pension Group. I know its members are watching this debate with great interest. They are an inspirational group to be around and I am sure the whole House will join me in thanking them for providing such fantastic support to the women affected.
I thank my hon. Friend Grahame Morris for securing the debate.
I declare an interest because I am one of the women affected by these changes, as I was born in the 1950s—[Interruption]—surprisingly, even unbelievably. But I am not speaking in this debate just for myself; I am speaking for the 7,000 women in my constituency who have been affected by these shambolic changes that the Government have brought in without due warning or notice.
We have heard time and time again that Conservative Members care about 1950s WASPI women. They make impassioned speeches about the issue, but they then advise the women to take on an apprenticeship. I do not want to spend time focusing on those Members, however; instead, I will focus on the issue before us. But we all know that the way the Government chose to roll out these changes was just plain wrong.
We need only look back through the Official Report to see how often right hon. and hon. Members have spoken on the issue. Today, I would like to add my voice and tell the House about a constituent of mine, Susan, who lives in Colne Valley. When Susan was 49, she injured herself at work. She tried to work for several years, but had to leave—she just could not manage. Susan was meant to get her pension at 60. Then the age was moved back to 62, and now it is 65.
Susan gets £535 a month from a private pension. She is also a carer for her mother, and she earns £63 per week for 36 hours’ care. Susan has £800 per month to live on. Of that, £114 goes to paying council tax, and £80 is the cost of her bus fares to see her mum. After her expenses are taken out, Susan has £50 per week to live on. She usually eats Weetabix for her evening meal when she gets home, because that is all she can afford. She does not get a bus pass and she does not get a heating allowance. Susan is on her own, so she does not have support from a partner.
Can the Minister really tell me that these changes are not having a detrimental impact on Susan’s quality of life? Let us all for a moment put ourselves in Susan’s shoes as someone who, through no fault of their own, is unable to work and has no disposable income at the end of the month, while providing the vital service of being a carer for her mother.
Poverty for those affected by the state pension changes is a reality. No one in the UK should be facing a choice of heating or eating because of the changes this Government have made to the legislation. I say to them: do not ignore the voices of us 1950s women, because we are not going away—pay us what we are due.
I am very pleased to follow my hon. Friend Thelma Walker, who spoke beautifully. I, too, am a 1950s woman, but I am speaking in the debate because this issue affects 6,300 of my constituents. We are all in favour of equalisation, but we need a proper transitional period. That is what these women have not been given and that is why it is unfair. They had no time to prepare, no time to save and their legitimate expectations have not been met. Some have lost significant amounts of money, even though they have been paying national insurance contributions for many years. Ministers say that this is because life expectancy is rising, and it is, but it is no use to a person born in 1953 to know that a baby born now will live to the age of 83. When they were born, the average life expectancy was 72. Let us look at the differences in life expectancy in different parts of the country, and even in my constituency. In the most well-off ward, the healthy life expectancy is 71, but in Woodhouse Close and Shildon the healthy life expectancy is 55.
When I started work in 1979, I expected to retire next year aged 60, but now I have to work until 2024. The big difference between me and my constituents is that I started work aged 21, having stayed on at school and gone on to university. Many of my constituents started work on leaving school aged 15. Ruth started aged 15 and worked in local government and health. She has three children and six grandchildren. She thought she was retiring at 60 to look after her dear old mum. Now she has to go back to work to sustain her husband, her children and her mother. She asks, physically, emotionally and financially, where is the time, health and energy going to come from? Shawn is in the same situation. She has had three jobs to keep herself and her family. Aged 15, Pamela left school on the Friday and went to work on the Monday. Jane—the same. She worked 70 hours a week from the age of 15. She finished at 54 with a disability. Jane and Pamela exemplify those people who are being moved on to employment and support allowance. They are using up their savings, which they had put by for their retirement. They are not exceptional or unusual. The number of women aged over 60 on ESA has shot up fourfold.
My hon. Friend is making some very powerful points that other Members have not yet made, especially with regard to women in the north-east where many of us are from. It is probably the same for Wales and other industrial heartlands. Women who have worked for almost 50 years are going to be in the position of having a very short life expectancy after they retire. Does she agree that that is so unfair?
I do. My overall message to Ministers is that they should stop looking at actuarial tables and start listening to the way lives are lived. I have more examples. Chris wanted to stay on at school and get more education, but her father made her go out to work aged 15. Sue, Jane, Diane, Judith and Jane all say the same thing. Jane has lost £48,000 through this and Dot says, quite simply, “I am so tired.”
We need to be honest about this issue and look at it in a radical way. My Front-Bench colleague made many sensible suggestions, as did my hon. Friend Grahame Morris. We need to think in terms of a pensions system that takes account of when people started work. Obviously, a person who started work at 15 should not have to work 10 years longer to get their pension than a person who probably has better health and probably has an easier job, having carried on with their education into their mid-20s.
I thank Grahame Morris for securing this debate.
I was wondering what to say today, because I have spoken in every single WASPI debate since I was elected and I am struggling to find anything new. I would say that in their treatment of the WASPI women the Government are behaving like dodgy used-car salesmen. This is the political equivalent of being mugged in the street. I thought, “I know what I’ll do, I’ll talk about the injustice.” But the Government already know about the injustice. I am sure the Minister is going to trot out the old arguments about people living longer. Actually, that is no longer true, because life expectancy is in decline. Whether we are living to 80 or 150 is not the point at issue today. The point is that the WASPI women were not given proper notice. That is the issue today and that is the issue I would really like the Minister to focus on.
I was also going to talk about the hardship and the penury in which these women have been placed, but the Government and the Minister know about that—they have heard it time and again. I was also going to talk about the cruelty of moving somebody’s pension age further and further away every time they approach it, but of course the Minister knows about that as well. He has heard it a dozen times. I could also talk, as many other Members have, about the caring responsibilities these women have taken on, but the Minister knows about that, as well as everybody else in the Chamber.
What I will talk about briefly is the social contract. Members have talked about what this will cost and asked, “Can we afford it?” I suggest to the Minister that we cannot afford not to address this matter. This goes to the heart of the social contract between those govern us and those who are governed by us. If people cannot have faith in the contract they have with those they elect to represent them, where can they find justice and support? The Government have cruelly and callously ripped up that social contract. Jo Churchill, who is no longer in her place, talked about WASPI women as though they are some kind of burden on the state. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Minister and other Members have spoken about apprenticeships. There might be some WASPI women out there who are terribly excited at the prospect of a £3.50 an hour apprenticeship, but I just have not met them. Perhaps the Minister has. Perhaps his colleagues who have been lauding that have met them. WASPI women are not interested in whether they will get a telegram from the Queen. The fact is that that does not pay the bills and it does not put food on the table. Unless the card is edible, it is not much use.
We need to stick to the matter at hand. These women have been let down. They have been sold a pup. They are now living in hardship through no fault of their own. It really is time the Government recognised that in contrast to their impassive, stubborn and unfeeling lack of response, the WASPI women are showing dignity and fortitude. Everybody watching this debate can see the difference between the two camps. I urge the Minister to get a grip, do the right thing and give these women the money they are entitled to.
Order. Before I call Luke Pollard, I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members will be very pleased to hear that the Speaker of the Kosovo Parliament is with us. Welcome, Mr Speaker Veseli.
First, I would like to declare an interest: I am the son of a WASPI woman and am very proud to be so.
There are so many WASPI women born in the 1950s who, instead of being treated with dignity in their retirement, are struggling to make ends meet, without enough money to spend on food or to heat their homes. They have worked hard all their lives, paid their taxes, raised children, contributed to society, cared for their loved ones and believed that when they retired the state would honour the obligations set out to support them. That has not happened, which is a disgrace.
In Devon, there are 78,000 WASPI women who deserve pensions justice. Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have a further 33,000 women in that situation. In Plymouth, there are 8,000 WASPI women. As the only Plymouth MP here today, I speak not only for the 5,703 WASPI women in Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, but for all of them. All these women deserve justice for their pensions, which have been stolen by this Government. Since standing to be a Member of Parliament, I have found the WASPI campaigners to be decent and honourable women who are passionate and determined to get justice. Jackie, Morticia and so many others are an inspiration. But, as my hon. Friend Tonia Antoniazzi said, there are many WASPI women who are not here to see this debate. They are not clustered together in trade unions or around computer monitors looking at the internet, because they have lost their battles. They are no longer here, and they were denied pensions justice.
Many WASPI women were not previously active campaigners or political activists. It is so important to stress that these incredible campaigners did not choose or want to have the life of an activist, as many of us in this place have chosen. I am sure that many would have enjoyed a quiet life in retirement with their pension, embarking on the plans that many had taken years to prepare, but the injustice that they face has been sprung on them. It has forced them to stand up and campaign on this issue. These women are the same generation that fought for equality and against poverty. Now they are fighting for the very justice that they deserve in retirement—a decent pension.
I have spoken to many brave WASPI women and campaigners in Plymouth and across the far south-west, such as Bernice, Val and Jackie. They wanted to share their stories so that they could be heard. There are so many women who saved, put aside and hoped for dignity in retirement, but who face poverty and humiliation. A point raised by many Members on both sides of the House is that these WASPI women are proud. They wanted to do the right thing and they thought that they had been doing the right thing, only to find out at the last moment that them doing the right thing was, in fact, actually not right, because the Government failed to communicate to them. They are proud women who have worked hard, and they deserve a decent pension.
I will not. I apologise, but I do not have much time.
The WASPI women have been betrayed. They have been robbed of their dignity and were insulted when they needed help from the Government. I believe the Minister to be a good man who has taken a lot of stick on this matter, so he is in the perfect position to give the WASPI women hope, although his comments on apprenticeships have not built trust in this Government.
Let there be no more debates after today, and no more excuses. Let us have a decent settlement for women. The Minister and the Government are on the wrong side of history. These WASPI women are not going away. They will fight on, they will not tire and they will not give up. As the son of a WASPI woman, let me say that neither will I.
I stand to speak again on behalf of the 6,500 women affected in my constituency. I would also like to pay tribute to the campaigns up and down the United Kingdom, including by my local Ayrshire WASPI group.
In the last debate on this matter, I compared the different world that many Tories live in with the real world, and then—right on cue—up popped Rachel Maclean, arguing that women aged 65 should be able to get apprenticeships. It beggars belief to think that that is a credible option. It is even worse given that year-one apprentices over the age of 19 are entitled to a minimum wage of only £3.50 an hour. In the same debate, giving bus passes at an earlier age was also considered to be some mitigating concession, but that would go no way to make up for this injustice. In Scotland, the Scottish National party Government already give bus passes at the age of 60, so that measure would do nothing for women in Scotland. While I was thinking about these things yesterday, I got an email from Craig Mackinlay, who is looking to raise funds to bring back the Royal Yacht Britannia. You could not make it up—that is actually considered to be a serious campaign when there are all these other injustices.
In the real world, life expectancy has dropped this year for the first time in decades, as actuaries have shown. In the real world, The BMJ report estimates that 120,000 deaths are attributable to Tory austerity measures. In this real world that I live in, I get notified of a WASPI woman, suffering from cancer, who is likely going to lose her house. Her husband is stressed by having to work much longer to try to keep the household going. Meanwhile, her MP, Bill Grant, has confirmed in writing to another Ayrshire WASPI woman that
“in Government difficult decisions have to be made and whilst in opposition you can promise the earth but do not need to deliver it”.
No one here is promising the earth. We want justice for these women. They should get the money that they are entitled to.
The hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock also says that he believes
“that successive Governments have taken adequate steps to inform the public about these changes”.
That is effectively saying that it is these women’s fault that they did not know about the changes. No one can credibly say that successive Governments have notified the women properly. Then there is the myth the Tory Government mitigated the impact on those most affected by the Pensions Act 2011. That is like saying that the school bully only took £2 rather than the £3 they demanded, so it is therefore a £1 mitigation measure. That is not mitigation at all.
In the wider world of the Scottish Tories, they argue, on some technicality, that the Scottish Government have the powers to do something about the situation. The Scottish Parliament does not have the competence to deal with pensions. At the same time, the Scottish Government’s budget has been cut by £2.5 billion and the Scottish Government are having to mitigate the effects of other measures, including bedroom tax and council tax. It was Westminster that refused to devolve pensions and voted against full fiscal autonomy for Scotland, so there is no way that the blame can be levelled at the Scottish Government.
There have been arguments about how much mitigation measures may cost and the Government have queried the independent report commissioned by the SNP that said that such measures would cost £8 billion. In the last debate, the Government Minister threw in the figure of £70 billion for good measure as an estimate of the cost of reversing the Pensions Act 2011 and the Pensions Act 1995, even though we did not call for that. I have updated figures from the Library on the Government’s tax giveaways such as corporation tax, inheritance tax, savings concessions and the higher tax threshold, extrapolated until the year 2025. These will cost the Treasury £63 billion. Corporation tax giveaways until 2025 will cost £50 billion. There is the solution. It is staring the Minister in the face. These are the choices that the Government have to make.
I thank my hon. Friend Grahame Morris for securing this debate. My mam is a WASPI woman. As the daughter of a WASPI woman, worse than the so-called burden on my generation or younger generations is seeing my mam not getting what she deserves, and the consequences of that, so I definitely do not see it as a burden.
There is an overwhelming case to reach a compensatory and transitional arrangement for women who were born in the 1950s—women who, through no fault of their own, have been robbed of a decent retirement. However, despite this long debate, I am sure that those women do not feel as though their voices will be heard by this Government. We will see when the Minister rises to his feet. If the hardship was really heard, the Government would take action.
I asked women to share their experiences, and they were stark and heartbreaking. Contrary to the comments on the Government Benches about the individualised nature of these experiences, there were patterns. It was a collective experience. For example, it is clear and cannot be disputed that these women have been left without information by the Department for Work and Pensions. The word that they used repeatedly about how they felt was “cheated”. The lack of notification has consequences; that is clear and cannot be disputed.
Women who often started work at the age of 15 have been suddenly asked to rip up their retirement plans and scratch around to make a living. Because of those new and sudden realities, they have been forced into often back-breaking temporary zero-hours work with no security or job satisfaction just to make it through to their retirement age. Illness has made them desperate and trapped, and having to search for ways to make ends meet is frightening in this new financial environment. Financial insecurity and poverty have caused many to experience acute mental health problems. Caring responsibilities have left them exhausted and with gaps in their pensions through no fault of their own.
Overall, these women, who have worked all their lives and have not had the advantages of many in this place—and for many, life has been a struggle—have felt utterly let down by the DWP, by their representatives in the House, and by the Government. What happens in this place has massive consequences.
This is one woman’s reality. She says that she is living from “hand to mouth”. It really is about whether she can “heat or eat”. She writes:
“I am not in the best of health…If I am unwell and cannot work I don’t get paid. I should not be in this position! I should have been informed years ago of the massive increase in state pension age! An additional six years to work is…unfair, it’s the best part of a decade and that means a lot when you’re in your 60s! I feel hopeless and frustrated. What will my health be like in another four years’
time? Will I ever get to enjoy my retirement?”
Those words are truly heartbreaking, and there are thousands of similar stories from thousands of women in my constituency.
These women want to know where their money is. They want to know how a contractual relationship with the state can just be ripped up. They want to know how there can be no consequences for the administrative inadequacies of the state. They know, deep down, that where there is a will there is a way. I say to the Government, “Please give these women the future that is rightfully theirs.” When they do win, they will not be grateful, but they will be glad that they did not give up.
I too woke up this morning and thought, “What the hang am I going to say?” I have said everything multiple times, and there are only so many ways you can state the same facts.
I had an e-mail from a lady called Hazel. She said that, just out of curiosity, she wanted to look at the old TV adverts for the multi-million-pound campaign that the Government had apparently launched. Given that we have focused so much on communication today, I think this is a very valid point. Hazel showed me various adverts; having searched the whole archive, we could find three. The first was presumably aimed at women. It is very patronising, as is the one that is aimed at guys.
Two dogs are talking to each other in a field. One says that it is very confused by pensions because there are so many different types. The other dog says, “Well, the Government have this great new handbook that you can request to be sent to you.” The punchline is “Is that you a guide dog now?” Oh, the banter. That is very good, right? But it was not adequate in the slightest when it came to getting across to people the grave changes that were being made.
My favourite is the third advert. It is only 10 seconds long, and half of it shows a dog chasing its own tail. There is no dialogue whatsoever. That summed up, for me, the Government’s reactions to this entire saga. They are just spinning in the one circle, refusing to acknowledge the facts that people are pointing out to them.
I raised that for two reasons. First, it is the only new thing that I have to add, and secondly, the onus is still on the women to request the information. The onus is still on them to go and find out what the Government might or might not be up to with their pensions.
It is incredible that we are still having to have this debate. As far as I am aware, this is the 13th in which I have taken part since I was elected, and I know that there were others before that. The key issue is that at no point have these changes been explicitly mentioned, and at no point have they been communicated to the women affected.
Until the speech made by my hon. Friend Alan Brown, I thought that everyone here agreed that there was poor communication for many years. I think that that still stands. It is a historical fact that both Labour and Conservative Governments totally ignored the problem and, to an extent, there is still a huge communication problem that we have to look at.
From the admission that there is a communication problem, we can safely draw two conclusions. The first, which is the more important, is that the women are utterly blameless. The second is that it is actually an admission of guilt on the Government’s part. It is a recognition that the institution of government has failed those same women again and again.
Scott Mann said earlier that the 2011 Act had been rushed, and I agree with him. It was shoved in at the last minute. Then, all of a sudden, people said, “Wait a second: there is a 1995 Act. Oh my God, this has kicked off.” Instead of doing the sensible thing and saying, “Let us step back and see what we can do to soften the blow”, the Government decided to vamp ahead with it anyway. Can we deal with the fact that the job of current Governments is to fix the mistakes made by previous Governments? That is what we are all here for. We are trying to move society forward, and it is not going to get anywhere if the response is always, “We looked at that; it is rubbish, but let us move on.” However, that is all that we are getting from the Government. We can shout about whose fault this is until we are a Tory shade of blue in the face, but it will not fix a damn thing. I recognise that the Government have made slight concessions to the 2011 Act. That gave some women an extra few months, but it was a wholly inadequate response because it totally neglected the chaos that started back in 1995, and the huge leap that nobody knew about. Can we focus on how to fix the issue now, rather than getting drawn into the blame game of whose fault it is or is not?
As has been mentioned, the SNP produced a report that did the Government’s job for them. It stated that with £8 billion spent across five years—one whole Parliament—things could effectively revert back to the original timetable of the 1995 Act. That would allow a lot of breathing space for a lot of women, especially those worse affected. The national insurance fund has a surplus of £23 billion. People can disagree with that all they want—I am happy to talk to them afterwards.
I am about to come specifically to the hon. Gentleman. He mentioned the problems faced by the pensions system, and I completely agreed with the spirit of his speech. I understand that Gordon Brown had a field day with the pensions pot and made things a hell of a lot more complicated for everybody. I accept that as reality and a historical fact. However, the fact that I agree with the hon. Gentleman about those grave concerns shows why we need to fix this problem. We always hear the argument about it being unfair to put costs on to the younger generations because they are the ones who will be footing the bill—the pay-as-you-go system that the hon. Gentleman referred to. I am from that generation, and I am looking at this problem and thinking: these women have done nothing wrong, yet the Government are still able to afford all these things that I really do not think are that important. Are the Government really not going to act because of me? Wait a second—why should I be paying national insurance, if at the last hurdle the Government can change the rules and move the goalposts? Why should my generation take anything that the Government say seriously? We must be grown up about this—I can’t believe I have to say that in here—and we need to address and fix this problem. This is above party politics, so let us be practical.
Where James Cartlidge and I will disagree is when I say that this comes down to tough political choices. The Government have a deal with the DUP to maintain power, and billions of pounds are being spent on Trident. There is the refurbishment for this place, and we have heard about some ridiculous campaigns for boats and royal yachts and so on. I am sorry, but those things are not the priority right now. These women entered a contract—national insurance is a contract; it is a basic fundamental of our welfare state as it functions. We cannot undermine that, yet that is all the Government are serving to do. If this were a private company it would, rightly, be getting dragged through the courts right now, and the Government should reflect on that.
Jo Churchill said that section 28 of the Scotland Act 2016 gives the Scottish Parliament the power to mitigate these changes. I have a problem with that argument because section 28 of that Act states that we cannot give pension assistance or assistance by “reason of old age”. We are not allowed to do that—pensions are completely reserved, and when we campaigned for the devolution of pensions we were told no.
“I accept that ‘old age’
is not defined in the legislation, and that most people would not regard this age group as old”?
When she speaks about pensions, does she agree that these women are not pensioners because they have not received their state pension? There may be an opportunity to use that—an opportunity, that is all I ask.
I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says, but the WASPI women are not receiving a pension because the UK Government will not give them one, so that is a ridiculous notion. I commend the hon. Gentleman because he supported us during an Opposition-day debate. That was commendable and brave, so fair play to the guy, but that is a totally ludicrous point of view and I will explain why.
As I have said—I am coming to a conclusion, Madam Deputy Speaker—I disagree with Labour on constitutional grounds, but that is because I want to cut out the middle man. This is the perfect example of why I support independence. Why are we paying taxes to come to London to be told by a Conservative Government what we can and cannot spend the money on? The irony is that, when those policies start to take effect, the Government turn round and say, “We want the Scottish Government to fix it”. I don’t think so! If they want to devolve pensions, great. Until then, this is a UK problem and a Conservative problem, and it is not going away. It has to be fixed, and it has to be fixed soon as. Do the right thing.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Grahame Morris on securing this important debate, and I am absolutely delighted to be able to speak in support of his motion. We have had an excellent and passionate debate with some fantastic contributions, and I would like to thank each and every one of you. On the whole, it has been completely cross-party, recognising the real injustice that women born in the 1950s have been dealt. There can be no doubt that women have borne the brunt of this Government’s cuts over the past seven years, but that applies particularly to women born in the 1950s, who have been dealt a real injustice with the accelerated increase in their state pension age.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is absolutely no surprise that 1950s women such as my constituents Jane Yates and Glenys Daly feel robbed? They have worked hard for 45 years and they say that their bodies are giving up, yet they cannot get the pensions that they have paid for.
There are so many cases like theirs, and I shall touch on a couple of them, if I may.
Women born in the 1950s have had their state pension age quietly pushed back, many without receiving any notice. They expected to retire at 60, only to find that they had three or more years to wait. In spite of some appalling stories of the dire circumstances that some of these women are facing, the Government have still refused to provide any transitional support. During our national pensions tour, which my hon. Friend Alex Cunningham and I started this summer, we have heard from many women who are not only struggling but facing destitution. I shall mention a couple of cases, all anonymous of course. The first woman states:
“I’ve been paying national insurance for 43 years, but have no private pension or anything else for that matter. I’ve supported 2 children on my own salary as a divorced, single parent. I had no notification of the 1995 Act but in Feb 2012 I was told that my retirement date was May 2019. I’ll be 65 and 4 months. I’ve worked, got extra qualifications, had good jobs, but at 63 I am unemployed and am claiming JSA which finishes soon. I’ve little savings. Have applied for over 40 jobs since Sept. I’m at my wits end”.
The second woman states:
“I don’t remember ever getting a letter saying my pension age had changed. I’m disabled and have had a lot of stressful things going on in the last few years. Incapacity Benefit changing to ESA and worrying about that, then the bedroom tax and having to downsize, then news that DLA is changing. The change in State Pension Age just sort of crept in there and came to my attention when WASPI highlighted it. I kept hearing the words that no one will wait longer than 18 months! Then I realised not only would I not get a state pension when I was 60 but also the winter fuel allowance and bus pass would be affected. I’m tired of not mattering.”
Those women deserve more than this.
As we have heard, many of these women have had to rely on the wider social security system beyond the state pension to survive. This means that if they are claiming jobseeker’s allowance or universal credit, they will be expected to undertake 35 hours a week of job search activity, or be sanctioned. I would be grateful if the Minister would comment on the recommendation in the final report of John Cridland’s review of the state pension age, which suggests that older jobseekers should be required to find only part-time work. Do the Government support that recommendation?
When the plight of women born in the 1950s was first raised by Women Against State Pension Inequality and various other groups two years ago, they stated that 3.8 million women were affected by the lack of notice of the changes in the Pensions Acts of 1995 and 2011. The change in the 2011 Act affected 2.7 million women, of whom only 150,000 have reached their revised state pension age to date. By 2026, they will all have retired. Those women feel palpable and justifiable anger. As they have said, they have done the right thing. They have worked all their lives, paid into the system for decades, cared for their children and cared for their parents, only for the goalposts to be moved. Many are seeking legal redress against the Government. They need action now, not in 10 or 20 years’ time.
Labour has presented two options that the Government could take forward now. The first, which was included in our manifesto, is the extension of pension credit to those most badly affected by the accelerated increase in the state pension age, enabling them to get additional support based on the 1995 state pension age timetable. That would provide approximately half a million women on the lowest incomes with up to £159 a week. We have repeatedly called on the Government to implement those costed measures—about £800 million, as my hon. Friend the Member for Easington mentioned—but they have sadly refused to act.
Our manifesto commitment said that we would consider other options as well, and I set out an additional option at conference that would give women the opportunity to retire up to two years early, rather than as expected under the Government’s plans. Given that the Government have so far refused to set aside additional expenditure, we felt that it was imperative to present cost-neutral proposals, so that there was no excuse to rule it out. Under the second option, women born in the 1950s would see a small reduction of 6% in their weekly state pension entitlement for each year that they retired early. Based on the state pension today, a woman retiring a year early would receive £149.98 a week instead of £159.55. That option would be available to all those waiting to retire—around 2.6 million women. However, as I said then and want to reiterate now, that proposal is a starter. It is to complement additional action on transitional protections. These women need action now, and the Government could introduce these options now, which also do not preclude compensation. We want to continue working with women to right the wrong that they have been done.
Labour’s options were developed after listening to women and men as part of the national state pension tour to discuss the future of our state pension system. We also met the various 1950s women lobby groups, and something that struck us profoundly was the urgency for many women. They need something now and cannot wait six months, let alone three, four or five years. As we all know, most 1950s-born women will retire in the next few years, so something needs to happen now, but this Government have ignored their pleas for help and have ignored the tangible measures that could be taken. Their approach is not only morally bankrupt and shows that they have no commitment to tackling burning injustices, but, given the prospect of a lengthy and costly court battle as women seek compensation for the years that they have lost, it is also extremely foolhardy.
Last week, my hon. Friend Alex Cunningham challenged the Government on their contingency planning in the event of the courts awarding compensation to the affected women. The Minister said the Government believed that they were on firm ground, but history is littered with court and other decisions when injustice has been proved and Governments have had to pay up. It is clear that this Government have even less support in the House for their position on 1950s women than they do for a meaningful vote on the negotiated settlement with the EU, so I ask the Minister to work with us and with these women on a comprehensive set of bridging arrangements now.
I congratulate my good friend Grahame Morris on securing today’s debate on the state pension age and the 30-odd colleagues who have spoken.
The decisions by successive Governments concerning the rise in the state pension age were reached by reason of equality legislation, increased life expectancy and sustainability of the state pension. Since world war two, we have seen huge changes in life expectancy. Thanks to a better NHS, changes in the job market and improvements in medicine, there have been improvements for men and women such that they are living longer, staying healthier for longer, and leading far more active lifestyles, regardless of age. People living and staying healthier for longer is to be welcomed, but the Government must not ignore the fact that it also brings enormous financial and demographic pressures. The key choice that a Government face when seeking to control state pension spend is to increase the state pension age or pay lower pensions, with an inevitable impact on pensioner poverty. The only alternative is to ask the working generation to pay an ever larger share of their income to support pensioners, as my hon. Friend Jo Churchill made clear in her speech.
In July 2017 the Government published their first review of the state pension age, which set out a coherent strategy targeted at strengthening and sustaining the UK state pension system for many decades to come. It accepts the key recommendation of John Cridland’s independent review which was to increase the state pension age from 67 to 68 between 2037 and 2039.
The review is clear about increasing life expectancy and the challenges it poses. People are living longer. Almost 6,000 people in the UK turned 100 in 2016, compared with 3,000 in 2002. By 2035 there will be more than twice as many people over 100 as there are now.
What does the Minister have to say about my two specific asks? First, the Government should give us a meaningful vote on this, because I know there is a lot of support on the Government Back Benches. Secondly, rather than giving one year of the corporation tax cut to business, I think business will be happy to give the money to WASPI women.
The hon. Gentleman and I both voted for the 2011 Act to increase the state pension age, with the circumstances that apply, after much consideration of the variety of options that had been proposed. He and I, and certainly the Scottish National party and the Scottish Government, have differing views on taxation, such as on whether it should support Trident, but, with respect, the tax reduction he proposes would reduce the job-creating power of the businesses upon which we rely for the jobs and public services we all wish to support.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that specific point, because I genuinely believe she is scaremongering—[Interruption.] Oh, yes. On the issue of life expectancy, there are two fundamental sources. The first is the ONS, which has repeatedly made it clear that life expectancy is rising across the board. We cannot get away from the fact that the ONS reported only this month that life expectancy continues to rise.
The Labour party manifesto sought an independent review of all aspects of the state pension age. Well, the Government did that with the Cridland report, which makes it critically clear that life expectancy has increased. Life expectancy at birth in 2016, for example, was 91 years for females and 89 years for males. In 50 years’ time, by 2066, life expectancy at birth in the UK is projected to rise to 98 years.
Healthy life expectancy has also been increasing in recent decades. Healthy life expectancy at 65, as a proportion of total life expectancy, has been relatively stable since 2000. Healthy life expectancy at 65, according to the latest ONS statistics, has been increasing Scotland in recent years, as has disability-free life expectancy.
If the hon. Lady will bear with me, I will answer her point.
In relation to specific areas of Scotland, the long and short of it is that I do not have the life expectancies for specific constituencies, as has been asked for, but in the Glasgow city area, for example, life expectancy at birth, according to the December 2017 ONS figures, has increased by more than four years for men. Life expectancy at 65 in Glasgow city is 15 years for men and 18 years for women, an increase on 2001 to 2003. [Interruption.] Debbie Abrahams asserts from a sedentary position that I am using the wrong data. The data I am using is what the Office for National Statistics has said and from the Cridland report.
I am conscious of your restrictions on the length of time available to me, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I will come back to the hon. Lady in a moment, if she will allow me.
The state pension was initially addressed in the 1995 Act. The need to do so arose because of life expectancy changes and the anticipated increase in the number of pensioners in the years to come. As I have said, the Labour Government introduced the Pensions Act 2007, which again increased the state pension age. I should point out that the Labour party has now resiled from that position and seeks to argue that both the Blair and Brown reforms were wrong.
The Government listened to concerned voices during the passage of the 2011 Act, as I indicated to the hon. Member for Easington. The proposed two-year acceleration was reduced to 18 months, benefiting more than a quarter of a million women, with the concession being worth more than £1 billion. Going as far as some campaigners have argued—he mentioned early-day motion 63 and what he described as “full compensation”—would represent a cost of more than £70 billion to the public purse. With respect, the requirements those changes would make in relation to taking into account the difference between men and women would require new legislation, meaning that an ongoing inequality would potentially be created between men and women.
Perhaps the Minister could offer me some assistance. He talks about life expectancy increasing, and I do not want to argue the toss about whether it is or is not. I am curious about something, and I hope he will be able to explain this to me. Just because people are living longer, I do not understand why this particular generation of women should pay the price, given that they expected to receive their pensions at 60. The argument about life expectancy might be one about reforming pensions in the future, but we are talking about this particular group of women, who feel very let down and cheated because at 60 they have not got their pension.
I am conscious of Madam Deputy’s Speaker’s desire that I should end my speech speedily, so I will write to the hon. Lady with a detailed reply to the point she just raised.
I have barely had a chance to address the arguments made by my hon. Friends from Scotland, which include the point raised eloquently by my hon. Friend Douglas Ross that Jeane Freeman, my opposite number as Pensions Minister in Scotland, has indicated that her Government have the powers to act under sections 24, 26 and 28 of the Scotland Act 2016. I stress the point strongly that there is no question that they have this power, because this is not about dealing with pensioners as such; the provisions we are dealing with concern people who are of working age, according to the law. I rely strongly upon the words not of this Government but of the Scottish Government, as set out in her letter of
The issue of notification was raised, and I can answer the points on that briefly. Clearly, there was massive parliamentary debate, on repeated occasions, in 1995. Thereafter, we saw multiple articles in the press and media; the distribution of a huge number of leaflets; a campaign in 2004 to educate people about their state pensions; adverts in a variety of ways; correspondence in two different ways, both prior to 2010 and after 2011; and state pension forecasts sent to 19 million people over the past 17 years.
I wish to make a couple of final points. We recognise that some men and women are forced to reduce their working hours or cannot work for reasons of sickness, disability or caring responsibilities. The Government are committed to supporting the vulnerable, and we spend about £50 billion a year on benefits to support disabled people, those with health conditions and carers, as my hon. Friend Mims Davies particularly mentioned. That equates to 6% of all Government spending. With increased financial pressures, we cannot change a policy that was implemented over 22 years ago and supported by all three political parties.
I finish with a point about life expectancy, as the hon. Member for Easington and I are good examples of that—we have both suffered from cancer. I am delighted to see that he has made a recovery from lymphatic cancer. I have made a recovery from a brain tumour. Those illnesses would have killed us both 30 to 40 years ago. There is no question but that the life expectancy changes are what has driven this approach on the part of successive Governments. With increased financial pressures, it would be unaffordable and not right, in the light of the changes we have had, to place an unfair financial burden on future generations.
I thank the more than 30 Members who have participated in the debate, either directly through speeches or in the numerous interventions. I hope that the Minister has taken note of what has been said. I am an eternal optimist, perhaps formed by my experiences, and I think that all sides are going to build momentum and bring this campaign to a successful conclusion. I point out to the Minister, with all due respect, that if the maladministration cases are found against the Government, we could be looking at a huge settlement, so it may well be in the Minister’s interests and those of the Government to seek a parliamentary solution. These women, many of whom were in the Gallery today, deserve justice, and we are here to try to deliver that. I hope that Parliament will speak with one voice in support of the motion.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
calls on the Government to publish proposals to provide a non-means tested bridging solution for all women born on or after