State Pension: Impact of Changes on Women

Part of Opposition Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 5:30 pm on 26th September 2016.

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Photo of Emma Little-Pengelly Emma Little-Pengelly DUP 5:30 pm, 26th September 2016

I add my voice in support of the many hundreds of thousands of women in their 60s across the United Kingdom who are suffering severe financial difficulties because of this situation. I have had first-hand experience of this. My mother has been caught and is one of those women who have to face this and, despite having worked every day in a school kitchen in a local primary school, she still has the difficulty of having to wait for years for pensions to come through and is looking at what are very low-level benefits.

The impact is on many thousands of women across Northern Ireland, not just the hundreds of thousands across the United Kingdom. In many cases, these are women who have worked, have been mothers for perhaps 10 or 20 years, and have continued with caring duties, including looking after elderly parents and grandchildren. They contribute a huge amount to our society and have found themselves, unexpectedly, in a very difficult financial situation. Many of them have had their retirement plans thrown into doubt; at times, as has been pointed out, with just one year's notice that added a three- to six-year wait to draw down their pension. Some who had planned for redundancy or early retirement took irreversible decisions and are now really suffering as a result. It is too late now to go back and change plans that were communicated in a different context.

For the first time, many thousands of women in their early 60s have had to go to the jobcentre seeking employment. Jobcentre staff have been placed in a situation of trying to recommend what are often very low-paid manual or physically demanding jobs to women who have effectively been full-time mothers for decades. Women who are single, separated or divorced have been particularly hard hit and are trying to survive on jobseeker's allowance alone, with little option but a few hours of low-paid work. For women who are in a marriage or who are co-habiting, there are options with pension credits, for example, but that does not apply to women who live alone and who have been particularly badly hit.

The campaign Women Against State Pension Inequality has done great work in raising coverage and awareness of the issue. They have made it clear that it is not an issue about equality but fairness: had these women known in time, they could have planned for their retirement and put a little aside that would have made things much easier for them. They now find themselves in very difficult financial situations and in financial stress. Many are suffering from poverty and are struggling to get by.

DUP MPs have been at the forefront of campaigning on the issue at Westminster. It is a UK-wide issue — I think that we are all aware of that — and it has been a product of the Westminster process, particularly the legislation that was passed in 1995.

I wholeheartedly support the campaign to keep the pressure on the United Kingdom Government to look again at the issue. It is a small cohort of women, but the impact is profound.

The recent statement by the Pensions Minister at Westminster that there would be no change to the Government's position was disappointing. The arrangements for these 1950s women, who have been treated very badly, are a mess and have not been appropriately implemented. The matter needs to be looked at again — urgently, given the poverty and stress that these women in their sixties experience. Unfortunately, it is difficult for the House to make an impact in any specific way, but he campaign should continue and has my full support. These women have given a huge amount to families and to the community and are the very backbone of our society.