I, too, thank Sandra White for bringing the debate to the chamber. I know that the fight for state pension equality is one that we both care a great deal about, as co-conveners of the cross-party group on the issue.
I welcome the WASPI campaigners from my constituency and across Scotland who are in the gallery, and I encourage colleagues to meet them after the debate to learn more about the impact on them and what each of us can do to help with the campaign.
More than 2.5 million women who were born in the 1950s have had their state pension age changed without fair notification—in fact, it is probably true to say that many of them have had it changed without any notification at all. Those women deserve recognition for the injustice that they have suffered, an apology for the way in which their complaints have been handled and compensation for their loss.
As I am sure that the WASPI campaigners would point out, there is an argument to be had about the Pensions Act 1995 and the equalising of the retirement age at 65, but it is the completely unreasonable way in which those changes were implemented that has meant that millions of women across the country are being discriminated against purely on the basis of the year in which they were born. They rightly feel robbed—of their entitlement, because they paid into their pensions all their working lives. The almost complete lack of notice that was given to the women, more than 250,000 of whom live in Scotland, has resulted in many of them experiencing significant financial hardship. They have had no time at all to plan for their retirement, despite the Turner commission saying that a notice period of at least 10 to 15 years was required.
To add insult to injury, through a recent freedom of information request, it was found that just three people at the DWP have been given the job of dealing with the thousands of complaints from women who have unfairly missed out on their pensions. That is downright offensive to the millions of women who have spent their working lives contributing to our country, and it shows that the UK Tory Government has a complete lack of understanding of the issue at hand.
Women up and down the country are being forced to wait for significant periods of time just to get an answer to a complaint that they should never have had to make in the first place. The Independent Case Examiner was set up to deal with WASPI complaints. I welcome the fact that it has assessed around 400 cases for examination and has investigated more than 40 cases, but between October 2017 when ICE was created and February 2018, fewer than 44 investigation reports into complaints were issued, and the number of published reports is stagnating because of the size of the complaints backlog. Then, more than 2,000 cases still had not seen the light of day, and I understand that there have been many more since then. At the time of the freedom of information request, it was calculated that, if the DWP kept up its average reply time of 9.75 weeks per case, it would be over 20 years before all 2,000-odd cases were examined. Frankly, that is a disgrace.
This fight could have been avoided. The Government failed to give the women due respect. The amount of time, energy and money that WASPI women have given to the campaign has been recognised in this Parliament and in the UK Parliament. Just three weeks ago, the WASPI campaign won the Sheila McKechnie Foundation grass-roots action support award for specialist lobbying, on which I congratulate the campaign. I had the pleasure of organising a meeting for WASPI women in Dumbarton to which hundreds upon hundreds of women came. I congratulate my local WASPI groups in Argyll and Bute and West Dunbartonshire. I stand side by side with them to address the injustice that they have experienced, and I encourage everyone in the Parliament to join the fight. WASPI women deserve justice.