State Pension Changes (Compensation for Women)

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

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Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

I reassure my good friend Alex Neil that David Cameron will never make £3 million from his memoirs, because not even the Tory members will buy them.

More seriously, I thank Sandra White for her powerful advocacy on behalf of WASPI women and Jackie Baillie for her work on the cross-party group that is supported by so many colleagues across the Parliament.

When the state chooses to change the pension age, the people affected by the change have a right to understand why it is happening and to be fully consulted on the change. Why, then, is it that WASPI women are so understandably aggrieved by the changes that now directly affect them? Why is a landmark judicial ruling, expected this year, so eagerly awaited? Why does the redoubtable Janet Ainsworth lead a public demonstration at the South Lochside roundabout in Lerwick every Saturday at noon no matter the weather? Janet and women like her have formed the Shetland pension justice group and have a Facebook page to prove it, so that people—not just from across Shetland but from the widespread campaigns across the nations of the UK—can keep in touch. Why have more women attended meetings hosted by Alistair Carmichael in recent weeks in both Orkney and Shetland than meetings on any other major issue?

It is because that generation of women speak about being robbed: robbed of the money from their hard work and service; and robbed of their rights. Shetland women talk about losing sight of and touch with their loved ones in retirement; of not being able to be a granny; of having to make a choice between giving up work, often to care for loved ones, and taking a drop in the hours that they work, with the financial shortfall that that means for the household. Why was there no direct consultation with the women affected by the pension changes? Would that have been so difficult? For those and many other reasons, the issue needs to be addressed. It cannot be right that a legal case is the only potential solution that 3,000 women in Shetland and Orkney alone will see to right this wrong.

Annabelle Ewing mentioned that the pension changes make women tens of thousands of pounds worse off. That money could be spent on many household things, not least on heating the home, as elderly people are particularly affected by fuel poverty. Shetland spends more per household on heating and keeping warm than most of Scotland, and that is even more true for people in elderly households. The cost of living for the 1950s generation of women is 20 to 60 per cent higher in the islands than the UK average, and state pensions do not include such geographic variations. The Shetland population is ageing faster than the rest of Scotland, with 19 per cent of it over 65, which is 4 per cent more than a decade ago.

Women in their 60s care for their elderly spouses and parents. Many look after the next generation, especially those with disabilities. They have been described as the sandwich generation—in Shetland that might be better termed the bannock generation. No matter the title, Janet Ainsworth, the Shetland pension justice group and the 1950s generation of women deserve better. It is time that that happened.