I am pleased to have been called to speak in this important members’ business debate on the on-going plight of women who were born in the 1950s and are affected by changes to UK state pension provision. I congratulate my colleague Sandra White MSP on securing this timely debate and on her tireless work over the years to secure justice for those women. I take the opportunity to mention my Westminster colleague Mhairi Black MP, who is also is a real heroine of the campaign. I also commend the work of the west Fife women against state pension injustice group, which has also campaigned tirelessly to see that justice is done and has helped to ensure that the issue remains at the forefront of debate. I, too, welcome all our guests—all these fabulous women campaigners—to the gallery tonight.
As we have heard, the problem stems from the fact that the UK Government accelerated the increase of the state pension age for women who were born in the 1950s. Although it is true that there was a lead-in time for the changes, nobody knew about them. The first letters were not sent out until 2009, some 14 years after the Pensions Act 1995, which introduced them. In the intervening years, the DWP sent out letters about the state pension to the women without even bothering to mention that they would now not be getting their pensions at the age of 60. The accelerations under the 2011 act simply exacerbated the problems.
Regrettably, it has to be said that the UK Government has had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to even recognise that the problem exists. Whither, then, the social contract with the state that state pensions represent? It is a social contract that involves paying into the system over many years through national insurance contributions, and it means that there is, therefore, an entitlement and a legitimate expectation that, upon reaching a certain age, the state pension will be paid. Planning is done and family commitments and aspirations are dealt with on that basis, and for the UK Government to pretend otherwise just shows how out of touch it is.
H ow were the women supposed to build up the necessary resources to replace the state pension that they will now not receive? In that regard, we know that many of the women simply do not have private pensions to fall back on. Tens of thousands of women across Scotland and hundreds of thousands of women across the UK are losing tens of thousands of pounds. The UK Government has pauchled their money, and it is not on. This is the UK Government’s mess and it is therefore incumbent on the UK Government to sort it out.
In that respect, when suggestions are made that seek to transfer the responsibility to the Scottish Parliament, which has no power over the matter, we have to recall that the unionist parties—Tory, Labour and Lib Dem alike—have used their best endeavours to ensure that the Westminster Parliament keeps exclusive control over pensions. I presume that that is not on the ground that Westminster is doing a good job, given that the UK state pension is among the lowest in Europe, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The women are fed up with the UK Government’s stalling, procrastination, misinformation and outright rejection. The situation is all the more galling given that the UK Government is sitting on a surplus of some £30 billion in the national insurance fund, which is far in excess of what would be required to sort the problem—£8 billion is the current accurate estimate.
I entirely support the calls for the UK Government to provide the women with a bridging pension so that they will have an income until they reach their state pension age. I also support the calls for appropriate compensation for the women who would not otherwise benefit from that bridging option. It is time for the UK Government to pay out and honour the financial debt that it owes. Why will the UK Government not just do the right thing?