State Pension: Impact of Changes on Women

Part of Opposition Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 5:45 pm on 26th September 2016.

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Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance 5:45 pm, 26th September 2016

No, I will continue, if that is OK.

I have supported similar motions in Westminster concerning the pension injustice facing women, and I am wholly supportive of the campaign being run by Women Against State Pension Inequality. They deserve praise for how they have run their campaign since early last year, most notably for having engaged directly with the decision makers by submitting evidence to Westminster and petitioning for debates in Parliament, as well as making regular appearances in national media, organising rallies and developing their social media presence to raise awareness of the issue. Their cause is a just one and is aimed at delivering fairness for those women born in the 1950s, who deserve to have proper transitional state pension arrangements introduced.

The Pensions Act 1995 announced that the pension ages of men and women would be equalised by 2020, which was a fair measure under equality law. However, that was fast-tracked by the coalition Government in 2011, along with provisions to raise the state pension age, with pension age equalisation going to happen in 2018, not 2020, and with the age rising to 66 by 2020. That decision left a sizeable proportion of women underprepared for the changes and without sufficient time to make adjustments to their plans for retirement.

No one is disputing that the pension age has to rise, given the growing older population relative to our working age population. However, any such reforms should be fair, be properly notified to those affected and be implemented in a time frame that allows individuals to adjust their future provisions. Sadly, due to the manner in which this was handled, thousands of women who have worked from their teens, with an expectation of one set of pension arrangements, now find none of those opportunities afforded to them to adjust to those changes. Many have received correspondence from the Department for Work and Pensions informing them of the change only relatively recently or have been left totally unaware of the changes so many years after they were made. These women are being disproportionately affected and have a right to feel aggrieved.

Despite evidence of the harm that the current policies will have on women financially, physically and mentally, and despite the £1·1 billion concession by Parliament in 2011, many thousands of women who have worked hard and contributed to the economy stand to lose out financially and face uncertainty and hardship. Thus far, the Conservative Government have consistently opted to ignore the plight of these women, raised by Opposition parties and backed up by clear evidence. Unfortunately, recent comments from the Department for Work and Pensions Minister, which I think the Member for South Belfast also referred to, simply restated their position, confirming that a policy reversal is unlikely.

Women Against State Pension Inequality has confirmed that, regardless of the Government's intransigence thus far, it will continue to fight this injustice and seek fair transitional arrangements for the women who are bearing the brunt of these changes. I believe that it is right that they should do so with the full and unequivocal support of this Assembly. Therefore, I am happy to reiterate Alliance support for their cause and to call on the UK Government to put in place necessary transition arrangements to ensure that all those affected by the pension changes are treated fairly and equitably and relieved of the stress that the mishandling of this issue has created.