State Pension Changes (Compensation for Women)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 3rd April 2019.

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Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

First, I declare an interest, in that my wife is a WASPI. Secondly, I pay tribute to Sandra White, not only for securing the debate but for so persistently campaigning, along with others, on the issue. It is a great pity that decisions on the issue do not lie with this Parliament, because I am absolutely sure that, if they did, the problem would never have happened. Had we inherited the problem, we would have sorted it long before now.

Michelle Ballantyne used the term “failure in communication” about the failure of the UK Government to tell the WASPI women that they would have to wait much longer than they thought to get the pension to which they were entitled. I do not call that a failure in communication; I call it the deliberate deception of those women and an attempt to undermine their right to the pension that they have paid for.

I say gently to Michelle Ballantyne that I have been in this chamber for 20 years and I have never heard so much rubbish in one speech as I heard in hers. On the argument that the issue is down to financial hardship, I remember Cameron and Osborne telling us that we were all in it together. Well, we were not all in it together. Cameron is already worth an estimated £10 million and is reputedly about to make another £3 million or £4 million from his memoirs, while Osborne has about 100 different jobs, totalling millions of pounds a year. Nobody is delaying the payment of their pensions; nobody is punishing them for the damage that they have done to these women—and, indeed, to pensioners more widely, because, as Pauline McNeill said, there is a wider debate.

We are told that the money is not there. That is not true. Pension tax relief is worth £45 billion a year, 80 per cent of which goes to something like 10 per cent of the wealthiest people in the country. If they can get the same tax relief as the rest of us, the money is there to pay the WASPI women many times over. It is not accurate to argue that the money is not there. The money is there if the will is there, but the policy was introduced by people who want to keep the wealthy wealthy and to deprive people who have been working all their lives of the pension to which they are entitled.

As Annabelle Ewing pointed out, there is a £30 billion surplus in the national insurance fund, so £8 billion over the years that we are talking about is perfectly affordable. We can take from richer people to give to the WASPI women and use some of the surplus to pay out compensation.

This is not just about politics or economics; it is about morality in public life. These women are being denied their money—it is not someone else’s money. The whole point of the contributory system is that we pay in during our working lives and we get our pension from the age that we have been told that we will get it from. That was the deal, and the deal has been broken in respect of the WASPI women.

Relative to average wages, our pensioners are the poorest paid in the whole of Europe. Although this is primarily about the WASPI women, the fact is that our pensioners, in the fifth largest economy in the world, are living in poverty compared with our European brothers and sisters. It is high time that all our pensioners, especially the WASPI women, get the justice that they are entitled to.