State Pension: Women

Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons on 7th October 2019.

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Photo of Maria Caulfield Maria Caulfield Conservative, Lewes

What support her Department is providing to women working for longer before reaching state pension age.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

We have extended the right to request flexible working, abolished the default retirement age, and introduced and financed the returner programme. I have seen the success of the returner programme through the company Release Potential, which is based in my Hexham constituency and which I have seen help many people back into work.

Photo of Maria Caulfield Maria Caulfield Conservative, Lewes

If WASPI women were successful in appealing last week’s Court ruling, would the Government abide by that judgment and compensate women accordingly?

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I spent 20 years as a lawyer, and my last client was a Mr Ed Balls, when he was Secretary of State for Education. I can assure my hon. Friend that this Government will abide by court decisions and follow the law. If there are any changes—two independent High Court judges heard the case and made the decision— clearly the Government will obey that decision.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Chair, Home Affairs Committee

I have been contacted by my constituent, who said:

“I have to work as a cleaner and it is hard physical work. I am nearly 63 and getting health problems. Our retirement age has been changed and we have had little time to plan for this so have little alternative but to keep working.”

Does the Minister not get that the real injustice here is that so many women have had no time to plan their pensions, no time to plan their savings and no time to plan for their families, and were told in their late 50s that they would have to work for so much longer? The WASPI women are not going to go away, so when will the Minister give them a fair deal?

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I say with great respect and gentleness that the right hon. Lady, I believe, served in the Department for Work and Pensions as a Minister during the period when the state pension age was raised by successive Labour Governments. The Court in the judgment last Thursday—[Interruption.] She asked me a question, and she should let me finish. The Court in the judgment last Thursday indicated that the state, including the Labour Government of 13 years, acted appropriately by giving due notification in the way that it did.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee

I accept everything that the Minister just said, but does he accept that successive Governments, despite their best efforts, failed to get the message across to enough people that the retirement age for women was rising exponentially? Will the Government try to look at some of the proposals from people such as Baroness Altmann for ways in which alternative schemes could mitigate the problems that have resulted?

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

With great respect to my right hon. Friend, I refer him to the judgment in last Thursday’s case, a copy of which I will place in the Library of the House of Commons—in particular, paragraph 118 and the successive paragraphs in which the High Court outlines the exact work that was done in copious detail.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

Some 3.8 million women born in the 1950s who built Britain face hardship as a consequence of pension changes by this Government. Before the Court, they were told with cavalier disregard that they had no right to be consulted on the change of retirement age. Labour has already committed to some preliminary measures—early retirement and pension credit—and we will now consult with the women concerned about how much further we can go to bring justice to them. Thus far, the Government have committed to nothing. However, the Prime Minister said during the Conservative leadership contest that he is committed to doing “everything” he can to bring justice to the 1950s women. Can the Minister update the House on progress, or will this be another cynical broken promise on the part of the Prime Minister?

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

This is the matter of a court case which may be the subject of appeal. With great respect to the hon. Gentleman—who is, to his discredit, a friend of mine—the honest truth is that he should be consulting with a 1950s-born woman who was Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions: Ms Harman, who is also his wife and who was responsible for the continuation of the self-same policy that he now objects to. For 13 years, the Labour party did the perfectly proper thing of taking due account of equality and the rises in life expectancy, and it should stick to that, having made those decisions for 13 years.