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 Carla Lockhart Carla Lockhart DUP 5:45 pm, 26th September 2016

I thank those who brought the motion forward. I will speak in favour of it, and I commend those who have already spoken in support of the motion.

My research and engagement with affected women in the Upper Bann constituency has highlighted that this is not an equalisation issue — as has been mentioned throughout the debate — but an implementation issue. Its implementation has been what I would class as rather clumsy and badly communicated. Let us be honest: it is a blunt and crude instrument that the Government have used as a saving technique, and it is not a case of equalising the playing field.

Communication from the Government to date on this issue has been lamentable. Many women have not been informed at all of the changes and others have received one year's notice. For anyone who is planning financially with regard to cash flow, one year's notice is not sufficient. I believe that a wrong has been committed, and the Government should be held to account. My colleagues at Westminster have highlighted this matter, and I commend our DUP team on the Westminster benches for their robust action against the way in which this is being brought forward and the fact that they have been very vocal and supportive of the WASPI campaign. We need a fair transitional process for the many thousands of women — our colleague mentioned that there were 68,000 — in Northern Ireland. That is a sizable number of our population. We need a very fair transitional process for those 68,000 people.

As an Executive, we have highlighted mental health and physical well-being as being a key issue to address during this mandate. This is certainly having an effect on the mental health and well-being of the women within our society, and we have heard today of many of them. Cases have been brought to me in Upper Bann. One, for instance, is a lady who is caring for an ill husband and is also caring for a mum who has Alzheimer's. That is the harsh reality; these people are now carers. We have got to take this into account and think of the contribution that they are making to society even through that caring role.

Like most Members, I have been contacted by constituents who are gravely concerned about these changes and who are worried about how this will affect them financially. Many are now reliant on small amounts of savings to top up their modest pension. Let us be honest: women who are single, divorced or widowed are amongst the most heavily affected — women that have given so much to our society but, owing to this change in legislation, they have no other source of income and have been subjected to going to the jobs and benefits office to inquire about JSA and consider going into zero-hour contracts. As my colleague Emma Pengelly highlighted, they are also having to look at very heavy-duty jobs. I do not think that that is acceptable in this day and age.

A woman born in early 1953 received her pension in November 2015. However, a woman born one year later will not receive her pension until May 2019. This is a delay of around three years because of the Pensions Act 2011. The women who worked throughout this period did so when the gender pay gap was even more significant than it is now, until a so-called remedy was implemented by the Equal Pay Act 1970. These women do not have gold-plated pension pots to look forward to but rather are reliant on the state pension to help them through retirement. The reality is that the age discrimination Act did not apply when these women were seeking employment. Studies that were carried out recommended implementation over anything between 10 and 15 years. The Parliamentary Select Committee recommended 10 years, and this should be the minimum amount of time.