Social Security

Part of Rail Update – in the House of Commons at 7:01 pm on 5th February 2018.

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Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs) 7:01 pm, 5th February 2018

I rise to focus on the pensions aspect of this debate. We would all agree it is the duty of the United Kingdom Government to make sure that pensioners fully understand the impact that pension changes will have on their retirement planning. This is, of course, an extremely complex matter, and we know that many people struggle to understand the impact that changes to their pensions will have on their pension pots. The movement from a basic state pension and a state earnings-related pension scheme—commonly known as SERPS—to a one-off calculation is far from straightforward, and it will have an impact on people’s ability to understand their pension pots. Indeed, some people who have been extensively contracted out will get just the basic state pension figure.

We have heard tonight from my hon. Friend Neil Gray that it is good that there will be a minimum guarantee linked to the consumer prices index, but there will also be some adverse impacts. We know, for example, that those who were contracted out were not necessarily aware and did not necessarily understand what it meant, and certainly could not and would not have anticipated that their future retirement income would be negatively affected by the Government’s changes to the state pension. Those without savings to fall back on, such as the WASPI women, are hit very hard. They face a significant loss of income and real hardship.

Many of us are tired of saying it, but I hope that the Minister is not tired of hearing it—he is hearing it, but he and his Government do not seem to be listening. The UK Government should have better communicated the impact of these changes on those who were contracted out. It is absolutely imperative that the UK Government make sure they adequately inform people of the impact of the new state pension on their pension pots, as they have a duty to do.

That is worth saying because, apart from Government Members, just about everyone agrees that the UK Government have completely failed in this duty with regard to WASPI women. Changes under the Pensions Act 1995 began to be made in 2010, but women were written to only from 2009. Many were simply not told, so they were completely unaware of the changes being made to their pensions. That is an appalling abdication of responsibility, and it shows complete disregard for the impact of such changes on the lives of those affected.

Many WASPI women were simply unaware of the changes, but the Government have not been listening. It is worth remembering that DWP research carried out in 2004 found that less than half the women surveyed were aware of the impact the changes would have on their state pension age, with awareness particularly low among those who would arguably be worst affected—women who were economically inactive.

In addition, the Pensions Commission said in 2005 that

“a policy of significant notice of any increase (e.g. at least 15 years) should be possible”.

In 2008, the Pensions Advisory Service also reported low levels of knowledge about the state pension and said that that “must be addressed” by the Government. The warning signs were all there, despite how much the UK Government insist that they did enough to inform women of changes to their pension age.

This whole episode has undermined the social contract that the state pension represents. If Members do not believe that, perhaps it is worth spending five minutes with a WASPI woman. With the impact of contracting out, it is extremely important that the Government tell the House what provisions are in place now, and have previously been in place, to ensure that people are fully informed of the impact on their pension pots. If some people are unable to make ends meet due to lower pension payments because of contracting out, the Government need to explain what support and advice will be made available to them.

The fact is that pensions are far too important to be kicked about by Governments of different political persuasions. Once again, as we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts, we in the SNP are asking for an independent pensions commission, and we will continue to do so. Only then can we properly address the needs of pensioners and prepare for the looming pensions and savings crisis that many fear will come to pass. I draw the Minister’s attention to the spike in pensioner poverty, which shows that many of those in the over-60 age bracket are being failed by the Government.