I too thank my colleague Sandra White for securing the debate and representing the case of many thousands of women across Scotland who are being robbed of their pensions by the UK Government. I also welcome to the Parliament the Ayrshire WASPI women and their families who have campaigned long and hard to right this wrong.
Robbery is the appropriate term here, because that is what it is: state-sponsored robbery of some of the poorest people in society. What has the UK Government’s response been? Basically it has been to do nothing, claim it is too expensive to fix, blame Europe, as we heard earlier, and tell those women—as the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions did in December—that they should count themselves lucky because they will
“receive more State Pension on average over their lifetime than women ever have before.”—[
, House of Commons, 17 December 2018; Vol 651, c 8P.]
Across Ayrshire, about 14,000 women are affected, and it is a pity that they have had no support whatsoever from their Tory MP or MSPs who have given them a deaf ear on the subject. Personal losses for many are anything from in the region of £17,000 all the way up to £45,000 or £50,000. Let us also not forget that those women will continue to be required to pay their national insurance well beyond their previously expected years of service.
There is something fundamentally wrong about all this. The WASPI women upheld their end of the pensions contract when working and paying into their state pension all their lives. Surely it is unacceptable for any Government to break that contract for something as crucial as a pension, particularly so close to the point of retirement. Despite what the UK Government claims, those women did not receive any notification regarding changes to the state pension age, so most were shocked to find that they would not receive their state pension until they turned 66.
As a consequence of what has happened, many women have had to sell their homes or use up their life savings now, rather than keep what they had for their well-earned retirement. Many gave up work in anticipation of their retirement, and now have to try to get back into work. Disgracefully, many who gave up work in order to provide care for elderly parents or even their grandchildren are having to give those roles up, with the obvious consequences of that being clear to most of us in here.
There is no doubt that the pension-age changes are having a knock-on effect on the numbers of women over 60 who now have to claim jobseekers allowance or employment support allowance. Surely the Government assessed that before it decided its policy? There are many other consequential effects that the Government has either chosen to ignore, at best, or, at worst, simply does not care about. Think about the loss of the support for families and children that is very much a part of the caring role that retired grandparents offer. Think about the young people who will not be able to find work or get promotion because there are fewer opportunities as a result of older people being forced to stay in work longer. Further, think about the thousands of charities that rely on the voluntary work of older people who now cannot volunteer because they are being forced to work much later in life. All of those outcomes have a cost associated with them, both financial and social. The policy that we are discussing must represent one of the most deliberately callous policy decisions that has ever been taken by any Government.
As Stuart McMillan said earlier, even if the policy was justifiable, which it is not, it is not good enough to claim, as some have, that the Scottish Government should make up the shortfall. We cannot introduce a top-up benefit to mitigate this policy, which represents one of the worst Tory policies, because it would have to be an age-related top-up, which we cannot implement, because section 28 of the Scotland Act 2016 makes it clear that we cannot provide assistance by way of pensions to individuals who qualify by reason of age.
I once again thank Sandra White for bringing this important matter to the attention of the Parliament. Even taking Brexit into account, this pensions robbery must be the one of the most scandalous decisions ever meted out by a Government on its citizens, and it should be sorted.
The WASPI women have already paid their money in. It is their money, not the UK Government’s and the UK Government should not steal it now.