Alex Neil is absolutely right: if anyone was under the impression that the Conservative Government was working hard on behalf of pensioners, that myth has been well and truly busted.
I thank Sandra White for giving us another opportunity to highlight the injustices that the WASPI women face. I also thank the WASPI women for making the issue live and bringing it here. They must not go away.
I was glad to debate the issue last year, and it is important that we continue to debate it until the wrongs are righted. Millions of women around the UK are retiring much later than they had planned because, over a long period, the Department for Work and Pensions and its predecessor departments repeatedly failed to ensure that women who would be affected by changes in the pension age were aware of the changes. Those women were not made aware sufficiently in advance to allow them to prepare accordingly.
Even worse, the UK Government had opportunities to correct that situation, but it did not. For instance, in 2004, a DWP survey found that although 73 per cent of female respondents who were set to be affected by equalisation were aware of it, only 43 per cent were aware of their new state pension age. It also found that awareness of the state pension age was lower in certain groups, including women who carry out unpaid work and those who carry out poorly paid manual work, which are the very groups that are least able to cope financially with having to work many more years at short notice. The survey found that just 2 per cent of those who knew about the changes were made aware through DWP or pension service communications, so the UK Government knew fine well that its message was not getting out.
The DWP concluded:
“This low figure provides cause for concern and shows that information about the increase in state pension age is not reaching the group of individuals who arguably have the greatest need to be informed.”
Why, then, was that not acted on? Why did the UK Government wait until 2009 to send out personalised letters to the women who were affected to inform them of their changed retirement age? If the DWP knew, as has been admitted, that letters are only read by one in three recipients and that many people were not getting them because they had changed address, why was more effort not made to contact the women concerned?
A House of Commons select committee report concluded that
“governments could have done a lot better in communicating the changes. Well into this decade far too many affected women were unaware of the equalisation of state pension age at 65 legislated for in 1995”.
That was more than 15 years later. Even now, despite the fantastic work that is being done by the WASPI campaign, too many people around the UK are still unaware of their state pension age, and it is certainly not up to the WASPI women to make people aware.
There was clearly a major failure to properly inform the 1950s women of changes to their retirement age, which is why the motion is absolutely right to support the WASPI request for bridging pensions and other forms of compensation.
We must also look at pension credit, with regard to which there is another injustice that will mean that some WASPI women are hit again. From May, mixed-age couples in which one partner is below the pension age will no longer be able to receive pension credit and both will have to claim universal credit—that great success story. Couples who claim after 15 May could be as much as £140 a week, or £7,000 a year, worse off. That will make it even harder for WASPI women to get by.
As Age Scotland argues, it is particularly disappointing that, rather than making sure that everyone is aware of that big change—it had been on the statute book since 2012, but not implemented—the announcement was made quietly through a ministerial statement on a busy day in the UK Parliament. Clearly, lessons have not been learned.
The Scottish Greens congratulate the WASPI campaign on the incredible work that it has done so far in raising awareness of this injustice, and fully back its calls for bridging pensions and compensation to right this wrong. Philip Alston, the United Nations rapporteur on poverty, concluded that some UK welfare reforms could have been written by a roomful of misogynists. This is another such example.