State Pension Changes (Compensation for Women)

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

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Photo of Neil Bibby Neil Bibby Labour

The debate is about justice and fairness. I thank Sandra White for giving members the opportunity to put on the record our support for the women who have been treated so badly.

As Sandra White said, the WASPI campaign is not about opposition to the equalisation of the pension age or about the state pension age reverting to 60. It is simply a demand for fair transitional arrangements for the many women who were born in the early 1950s who are affected by the Pensions Act 1995 and the Pensions Act 2011. For the majority of their working lives, those women were told that the state would provide pensions for them at 60, only for the rug to be pulled from under them.

We should remember that the WASPI women entered the workforce in an era in which sex discrimination was rife. Women were often paid less than men for doing the same work. Even the welcome introduction of the Equal Pay Act 1970 did not end that unfairness. Not only did many women earn less than men, but they often worked in industries in which company pensions were inadequate or non-existent. Even when women were covered by workplace pensions, those pensions were badly hit when they took time off to raise their children. They certainly did not enjoy the levels of state childcare support that parents like me now enjoy. We are talking about a generation of women, many of whom did not have highly paid jobs with gold-plated work pensions.

Philip Alston, who is a United Nations independent expert, found that WASPI women had been particularly impacted by a

“poorly phased in change in the state pension age”,

and that the number of pensioners living in poverty in the UK had risen by 300,000. As Jackie Baillie said, the Turner pensions commission recommended that 15 years’ notice of the change be given, and Saga recommended 10 years. The reality is that many women were not personally notified in 1995 that a huge change was in the pipeline.

One of those women was my constituent Anne Ferguson, from Kilbarchan. In 2012, she was told by the DWP that her state pension age had not changed, then it changed to 63.5 years, then it changed to 65 years and three months. She was given no notice to prepare. Anne was lucky, in that she found a job to tide her over. Many others have not been as fortunate.

Where is the justice for the women who received letters 14 years after the 1995 act was passed? A large percentage received a letter advising them of significant increases to their pension age only when they were approaching their pension age, which gave them hardly any time to make alternative arrangements. As members said, some women report not having received a letter at all.

As Pauline McNeill said, in 2013, George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said that raising women’s pension age was

“one of the less controversial things we have done, and yet probably has saved more money than anything else we have done”.

The comment shows that there was a cold and callous calculation that there were huge savings to be made without provoking a major backlash.

What we have here is a scandal of major proportions. It is a sexist scandal, because it hits women more than it hits men, and it hits lower-income women disproportionately hard. It is a scandal that could be fixed, if there were the political will to do so. As a country, we have rightly had to make financial provision for the impact of Brexit. We rightly find the resources to respond to national emergencies. When it comes to war, the money can be found.

Therefore, if we are so minded, across the political spectrum we can make a pact and say that we will do the right thing. We should listen to the women who are in the gallery today and to the many thousands more in my community and across the country. We should honour the contribution that those women have made to society and take the necessary steps to deliver the money that would address the unfairness and injustice.