I thank Sandra White for bringing this important motion to Parliament, and I pay tribute to the WASPI women who are here today, including those from my constituency of Dunfermline and from west Fife, and the many across the country who have been mentioned by Tavish Scott and others and who have campaigned tirelessly on the issue for years.
The UK Government’s mishandling of the issue is a grave injustice, and one that is sadly emblematic of the way that the UK Government has chosen to reduce public expenditure by laying the burden of austerity squarely on the shoulders of women. We pay our national insurance contributions in the expectation that we will receive a state pension at a certain age. As Sandra White and Annabelle Ewing said, the state pension is not a benefit; it is a social contract with the people. However, for more than 2 million women, that is not the case. The UK Government moved the goal posts just as those women were nearing retirement age and then, to make matters worse, did not even have the decency to tell them about it. The changes have shattered retirement plans. There is a deep financial cost, with many struggling to make ends meet while preparing for a longer road to their state pension. Further, many of those women will now miss out on valuable years of retirement with their families. They have been badly let down.
In principle, the Scottish Government is supportive of having an equal state pension for men and women. However, we do not agree with the unfair manner in which the UK Government has implemented the change.
When the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, concluded his visit to the UK last year, he said:
“The impact of the changes to pensionable age is such as to severely penalise those who happen to be on the cusp of retirement and who had well-founded expectations of entering the next phase of their lives, rather than being plunged back into a workforce for which many of them were ill-prepared and to which they could not reasonably have been expected to adjust with no notice.”
The UK Government fundamentally altered the life plans and life chances of hundreds of thousands of women and then neglected to properly inform them about it. Many of those women have faced staunch inequality throughout their lives. As Sandra White and Alison Johnstone pointed out, from next month, many of those women will be doubly disadvantaged due to the UK Government’s new rules around pension credit eligibility. Couples where one person is above the state pension age and the other is below it will now have to make a claim for universal credit rather than pension credit. Universal credit is, of course, significantly less generous than pension credit and comes with a host of other problems that we simply do not have time to go into today. However, that is yet another example of WASPI women being let down simply to save money.
Pauline McNeill and Neil Bibby rightly pointed out that many of the WASPI women grew up at a time when having a career and raising a family was even harder than it is now; the burden of domestic labour fell squarely on women’s shoulders, childcare was scarce and many worked part time—and still do. Of course, as is still the case for some, whether they were in full-time or part-time work, the vast majority of those women were not paid equally to their male colleagues.