Women’s State Pensions (Compensation)

– in the Scottish Parliament at 3:30 pm on 1 May 2024.

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Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat 3:30, 1 May 2024

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-13041, in the name of Humza Yousaf, on Women Against State Pension Inequality. I invite members who wish to participate to press their request-to-speak button now or as soon as possible.

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party 3:34, 1 May 2024

I will undoubtedly miss being in the Government. It has been my life for almost the past 12 years. However, there will be some silver linings. The first, of course, is the time that I will be able to spend with my family, although I have to confess that my 15-year-old daughter Maya did not look overly excited by that prospect.

The second silver lining is that I will be able to dedicate more time to my constituents and my constituency. A part of my constituency that I share with Nicola Sturgeon is Govan, which is where the Mary Barbour statue is located. That monument was a very fitting end point to a march and rally that was organised by the WASPI women in 2019, which I had the pleasure of attending, alongside my daughter Maya. I took Maya to that march and rally not just to tell her about the injustices that have been done to the WASPI women, but to show her the hundreds and thousands of women who are standing up not only for their own rights but the rights of all women and girls, regardless of their age.

The injustice that has been done to the WASPI women is undoubtedly a gender injustice. There is no doubt in my mind—none whatsoever—that if men had been treated in the same way and had had their hard-earned money taken away from them, with little or no choice and no notice, not only would there have been an outrage but—crucially—the Westminster establishment would have found a solution.

For years, the pleas of the WASPI women have fallen on deaf ears in the corridors of Whitehall. They have been ignored by the United Kingdom Government, ministers, the Treasury and virtually every member and department of the UK Government. Any other campaign, or any other campaigners, might have simply run out of steam and given up due to the intransigence of the political establishment at Westminster, but not the WASPI women. A number of those incredible women are in the public gallery today, just behind me. They should be commended and applauded for not taking no for an answer. I say thank you to the WASPI women for their tireless efforts. [ Applause .]

The WASPI women have pursued every avenue possible to demand their rights, and I am pleased that the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has agreed that the WASPI women have been wronged and deserve justice. Let me be clear: the Scottish Government does not just support the WASPI women’s right to justice—that, of course, we do. We support their calls for compensation, too.

The PHSO report, which was finally published on 21 March after far too long a wait, criticises the handling of the Department for Work and Pensions communications on the equalisation of the state pension age for men and women, and it calls for the women who have been impacted by those failings to be compensated to the value of between £1,000 and £2,950. That is level 4 of the six levels of compensation that are available to the PHSO.

However, the Scottish Government recognises the WASPI campaign’s call for the highest level of £10,000 or more to be awarded, to properly reflect the harm that has been caused to those women over time. The Scottish Government will do all that it can to demand that Westminster does the right thing and fully compensates the women whom it has wronged.

It is deeply disappointing that I have yet to receive a response to my letter to the Prime Minister and to Sir Keir Starmer, in which I stated that the current—or, indeed, any future—UK Government must take action immediately to compensate the women who have been impacted. I look forward to the chamber uniting in agreement on righting an historic injustice. I note that all party leaders in this Parliament have pledged their support to the WASPI campaign and have committed to compensation for the WASPI women.

Although the recent commitments of Labour and the Conservatives to the triple lock are critical, it would be a complete abandonment of the WASPI women if neither Rishi Sunak nor Keir Starmer pledged to deliver compensation to the women who have been affected. Although—frankly—I would expect the Conservatives to shirk their responsibilities, for Labour to do the same is unforgivable. Labour politicians have taken great delight in turning up at photo calls with the WASPI women, wearing the purple sashes and promising to stand in solidarity with the women who have been impacted, but it is not pictures or warm words that the WASPI women want; they want justice and compensation.

If Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves—the woman who is likely to be the next UK Chancellor of the Exchequer—continue to turn their backs on the WASPI women by refusing to commit to compensation, it would be an absolute betrayal, for which they should never be forgiven.

The Scottish National Party-led Scottish Government has always supported the WASPI campaign, and we will always seek to do so. I was delighted to attend the WASPI gathering on 18 April in the Parliament and to talk to the WASPI campaigners, which I had the pleasure of doing before this debate, too. Each of the women—women who wanted to spend this chapter of their lives free of any financial worries—has a story.

To Anne, Kathy, Rosie and the many other WASPI women whom I have had the privilege of meeting, I say that your tireless campaigning has most certainly inspired not only me but politicians from right across the spectrum. Let me be very clear: on reaching this important milestone in your journey for justice, my colleagues and I—this Government—will stand shoulder to shoulder with you until compensation has been paid in full.

We also support SNP MP Alan Brown’s bill, which is currently making its way through the UK Parliament and calls for the UK Government to compensate women who were born in the 1950s. I hope that Tory and Labour politicians here, who will stand up shortly and tell WASPI women that they support their campaign, will put their money where their mouth is and that they will use any influence that they have, regardless of how small it might be, in their own parties and demand that their leaders in London do the right thing and compensate the WASPI women in full. Let us hear no more excuses about how tight money is—we know how constrained the finances are, but this is about priorities.

The PHSO report makes it clear that

“finite resources should not be used as an excuse for failing to provide a fair remedy.”

We agree. With each day that passes without justice, the financial harm that has been done to the women impacted increases.

Of course, with the passage of time, more and more of the women affected will not live to see justice. The WASPI website has two counters on the home page: one keeps a tally of the number of WASPI women who have died without receiving justice or compensation, and the other shows the total amount that the Treasury has saved through the disgraceful actions of the Westminster Government. This morning, those counters showed that 277,389 women have died without being given compensation and that the Treasury has disgracefully benefited to the tune of £4 billion.

In Scotland alone, 336,000 women have been affected. In total, they are owed between £300 million and £1 billion by the UK Government just for the compensation that the PHSO has recommended. That amount would be even more if it reflected the WASPI campaign’s assessment of the harm that has been done.

A survey of 8,000 WASPI women that was carried out in autumn last year found that 70 per cent of WASPI women had reduced their weekly spending and had cut their food shop in the past six months. The UK Government needs to step up and take responsibility for its failure to properly communicate the changes that have so adversely impacted those women. If the uncaring and uncompassionate UK Government is not willing to do the right thing, a potential future Labour Government must stop the dithering and delay and commit explicitly to full compensation for the WASPI women—and it should do so now.

As I stated at the outset of my speech, this is a monumental failing of the UK Government’s own making. WASPI women maintain that they do not argue against equalisation in principle. However, the UK Government’s approach to the equalisation of state pension age was badly communicated from the beginning and led to millions of women across the UK being unfairly penalised.

As I said earlier, I have written to the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition regarding the issue. In my letter, I provided a copy of a letter from Anne Potter, the co-ordinator of WASPI Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Dunbartonshire and Renfrewshire, who is known to many members across the chamber. In that letter, Anne references the historic injustice that the millions of women and their families across the UK have faced throughout the WASPI scandal. More pertinently, she makes the point that that can be overcome by politicians doing the right thing and working together.

If nothing else, we—all of us—owe that to those who have already passed away without receiving so much as an apology, let alone justice or the compensation that they deserved.

Let the voices in the chamber unite. Let them be unequivocal in their cry—no ifs, no buts, no maybes—that the UK Government, current or future, must deliver fair and full compensation to all the women who have been impacted.

I can give WASPI women a personal promise. Be it from the front benches or the back benches, they will always have my unwavering support and admiration. I thank all the incredible and unrelenting WASPI women for fighting not just for themselves but for my daughters.

It is with great pride that I move,

That the Parliament welcomes the report from the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman into the pension injustices on women born in the 1950s; agrees that the UK Government must now urgently deliver on the ombudsman’s recommendations to pay compensation in full to those women without delay; echoes the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) campaign’s calls for a higher level of compensation to properly reflect the financial harm; notes the report’s conclusions on the UK Government’s failings of communication and maladministration; congratulates the WASPI women on this milestone in their campaign, and highlights cross-party commitments to delivering justice for them all.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

I advise members that we have absolutely no time in hand this afternoon, so speeches will need to adhere to the time limits.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative 3:45, 1 May 2024

The First Minister began with reflections on a constituency case and a constituency campaign, and I will do the same. I want to put on record in this Parliament that I thank and pay tribute to Sheila Forbes from Lossiemouth, who has been spearheading the campaign for WASPI women in Lossie, in Moray and in many parts of Scotland for many years. Her tireless efforts deserve recognition. Indeed, I had a surgery just a few weeks ago in Lossie and an issue about WASPI women came up, which I wrote to the Department for Work and Pensions about, and Sheila’s name was mentioned. Throughout some difficult times for the WASPI campaign and some divisions within it, Sheila has remained resolute in standing up for the women in Moray and wider communities who have been and continue to be affected by this issue, and their friends and family.

As the First Minister said, people who started out on this journey are no longer with us, and the campaign for justice for WASPI women is not just for those who remain campaigning—I welcome the campaigners who are in the gallery—but for those who fought this battle but, sadly, did not see justice.

I come to the motion for debate and my amendment. The motion was lodged yesterday, which was after the First Minister wrote to party leaders to speak about the new approach that we have to take, and, indeed, after the speeches that he made at the weekend. I hope that, on reflection, he might see nothing that he can disagree with in my amendment. That has certainly been my intention.

In this new era of minority Government, there is an opportunity for this Parliament to debate—

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

I will give way if I can finish this point. There is an opportunity for Parliament to debate these important issues and work across the parties to have a discussion about the motions that we are lodging and the outcomes that we can have as a Parliament. The First Minister might reflect throughout this debate on the contributions that members make and consider accepting my amendment, the wording of which particularly focuses on the PHSO report.

It is crucial that we consider issues in relation to the PHSO report and the wider campaign, but today we can have a very strong voice in the Parliament about the recommendations, including compensation for women who are affected by the changes and the maladministration that has clearly been identified in the report, while also considering the wider challenges that are faced by the bigger campaign. It has taken five years for the PHSO to conclude its report. That is a huge amount of work. I want to see those recommendations listened to, taken on board and acted on by the UK Government. We can send a united voice from this Parliament on that issue.

I give way briefly to the First Minister.

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I thank Douglas Ross for taking an intervention. It is important for us to work collaboratively. That also means being up front and honest with the campaigners and the public more generally. Can I get this on the record from Douglas Ross and understand it, because I have no doubt that he has read the PHSO report in detail? Does he believe that the current UK Government should be paying compensation to the WASPI women who have been affected—yes or no?

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

Yes—I do, and that is what I have said. In fact, my amendment states that the UK Government should urgently address and respond to the recommendations of the PHSO report,

“including the recommendation to pay compensation to those affected”.

The First Minister asked me a yes or no question, and the answer is yes.

I have been supporting WASPI campaigners in Moray, and in the House of Commons, with their campaign. They deserve justice, and part of the road toward justice involves taking the recommendations from the report and delivering on them. However, timing is crucial. In my letter to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, I urged him and the UK Government to respond to the report as quickly as possible. In his response, Mel Stride said that the UK Government is considering all of the recommendations, including the recommendation to pay compensation.

The First Minister was correct to say that this issue is not and should not be political. Members of every political party—individually, at a local level, or nationally, in Parliament—have raised the issue time and again. I pay tribute to Carolyn Harris, from the Labour Party, who co-chairs, with my Conservative colleague Tim Loughton, the UK Parliament all-party parliamentary group on state pension inequality for women. The Conservative MP Peter Aldous raises this issue time and again. On behalf of the SNP, Patricia Gibson recently challenged the UK Government to respond to the report and the recommendations contained in it as a matter of urgency. The WASPI women have managed to get people from across the political spectrum to listen to their issues and concerns. Crucially, the PHSO—which is non-partisan—has listened to them and has accepted that there was maladministration.

It is important to remember that the report could not look at whether it was right to change the state pension age for women. I agree with the First Minister: no WASPI women that I have ever met have been against equalisation; the issue has been how that was communicated. From the very first moment that I spoke on this subject, I have raised concerns about how it was communicated. Based on the summary of the complaint and the findings of the report, there is no doubt that there was maladministration. The report states clearly, “That was maladministration. That was also maladministration.” The maladministration has rightly been brought to the fore in the comprehensive report, which requires thorough discussion, debate and a response from the UK Government. That is why the amendment that I have lodged echoes much of what the First Minister put forward in his motion, but in a way that we can all support.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, I hope that in his reflections, the First Minister will consider—today, of all days, and given the words that he and the Deputy First Minister used about the Parliament working together—that perhaps he and the Scottish Government can accept our amendment, so that the Parliament sends a united voice that we support the efforts of WASPI women and that we want to see the recommendations of the report promptly responded to by the UK Government.

I move amendment S6M-13041.2, to leave out from “the UK Government” to end and insert:

“this is a substantial report, which specifically considered the communication of changes about the state pension age for women by the Department for Work and Pensions; calls on the UK Government to respond in full to the substantial report by the ombudsman and recommendations contained within it as quickly as possible, including the recommendation to pay compensation to those affected, and congratulates the WASPI women and campaigners for their individual and collective campaigns on this issue over many years.”

Photo of Paul O'Kane Paul O'Kane Labour 3:53, 1 May 2024

I welcome this debate, and I take the opportunity to join colleagues in saying to the First Minister that I wish him well after the past week. Indeed, it is nice to debate with him again. It is possible that we last did so when he was the health secretary and I was a shadow health minister. Perhaps we will have more time in the future to debate issues across the chamber.

I note what he said in his speech about this being a gendered issue. I also note what Douglas Ross said about the timetabling of the debate being quite rushed. I hope that we will soon have time to debate toxic masculinity, which was intended to happen in this slot. Those issues are important to women and girls, and they are important to men across the country, who can reflect on their responsibilities.

As I often do in debates, I will begin by pointing to the consensus in the chamber. We have already heard about the experiences of our constituents who are WASPI women. Scottish Labour welcomes the publication of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s report. The PHSO has produced an incredibly detailed and serious piece of work. It fully merits and must be given thoughtful and purposeful consideration, and action is required.

The report lays out clearly that there were failings in communications about changes to the state pension age. Labour opposed it when George Osborne took the decision to accelerate increases in the state pension age without giving sufficient notice to the women who were affected—an action that has, rightly, angered them.

On behalf of my party, I say to all WASPI women, including those who are in the gallery today and whom we represent, that we thank them for their efforts and congratulate them, as the Government’s motion does, on the work that they have done to bring the report to this point. Indeed, I have had the opportunity to talk to many impacted constituents and WASPI campaigners, including recently at the drop-in event that the First Minister referred to, which I thank Clare Haughey for arranging.

The PHSO has been clear that it is now for Government to respond, and that it must do so at pace. WASPI women have been waiting long enough, so the current UK Government must set out how it will take forward the recommendations and next steps. I have to say that the current UK Government has been slow to act on a range of injustices, whether that be the Post Office scandal or the infected blood scandal, which members will know are serious concerns of injustice at this time.

Although we appreciate that there is a process to be gone through and detailed work to be done, it is clear that the work and pensions secretary and the Government must respond with speed, because people have waited too long. Very often, on other issues, as I have mentioned, that slowness to act can cross the line into what feels like apathy and a lack of feeling towards those who are victims of those injustices.

It is crucial that we listen to the experience of those women who have fought and campaigned over many years and who have been seriously impacted by these issues. The Government needs to take the responsibility to engage with them and other stakeholders on how it will address the findings.

Let me be absolutely clear—[ Interruption .] Labour supports the delivery of justice for WASPI women, but we have also been absolutely clear—[ Interruption .]

The First Minister’s photo has appeared on the screens in the chamber. I assume that that means that he wishes to intervene. I am not sure when that photo was taken, but he certainly does not look like that at the end of the week that he has had—he may in the future. [ Laughter .] I will give way.

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

Putting that photo up is an awfully cruel thing to do—it is adding insult to injury. Actually, it was only yesterday that that photo was taken. [ Laughter .]

In all seriousness, the point of consensus between Paul O’Kane and I is that nobody is arguing about the maladministration and the bad communication from the UK Government. There is also no disagreement between us about the fact that the Conservatives are unlikely to act. The WASPI women whom I met this afternoon had a very clear question. It was no different to the question that I asked Douglas Ross. If there is a future UK Labour Government, can Paul O’Kane commit that it will pay compensation—let us not argue about the level of compensation—to the WASPI women affected if the Conservatives do not act? Yes or no?

Photo of Paul O'Kane Paul O'Kane Labour

I had that conversation with WASPI women in this very Parliament at the event that I spoke about, and Labour is very clear that we support the principles contained in the PHSO report, which includes the principle that we must compensate those women. The First Minister says that we do not need to talk about the level of compensation, but his motion speaks quite specifically about the level, so we have to reflect on that as well. [ Interruption .] I think that I have been clear that we are in support of the principle of compensation, so I am not quite sure—[ Interruption .]

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

Mr O’Kane, could you resume your seat for a second? Members—we have listened to all the speakers so far with courtesy and respect. Can we continue in a similar vein?

Photo of Paul O'Kane Paul O'Kane Labour

Thank you.

It was important that the WASPI women who are listening in the gallery could hear what I just said, instead of the barracking that we had from the back benchers, who clearly want to make this a political issue about the Labour Party.

As I have said, Labour supports the delivery of justice for WASPI women, but we are very clear that we need to ensure that WASPI women are part of that process and that any system of compensation is designed with those women in mind and that they are around the table when those decisions are made, because the ombudsman has made a number of recommendations about how any such system might work. Of course, it could involve blanket compensation or it could be about looking at individual cases, and I know that there is a variance of views among women on what should be done.

I am conscious that the Deputy Presiding Officer is looking at me to wrap up. There have been a number of exchanges. However, as I said at the outset, I am clear that Labour will support the WASPI women, support the outcomes of the recommendation in the report and support pensioners more widely, through the triple lock and other measures that we will seek to take.

I move amendment S6M-13041.1, to insert at end:

“notes the work of UK Parliament Select Committees to scrutinise the UK Government in response to the report; reiterates calls for the UK Government to publish its response to the findings of the report without delay; acknowledges the current dire state of the UK Government’s finances, due to the unfunded spending commitments of Liz Truss; notes the lack of action by the UK Government regarding compensation that is still owed to individuals as a result of other scandals, such as the infected blood and Windrush scandals; believes that there must be clarity on how any compensation scheme would operate; acknowledges the need for any credible government to only make spending promises that it knows it can deliver and pay for, in order to maintain wider economic stability; endorses the Labour Party’s calls for a clear system for notifications about any future changes to pensions, and supports the commitments from any incoming UK Labour administration to give pensioners greater security and stability through committing to the pension triple lock.”

Photo of Maggie Chapman Maggie Chapman Green 3:59, 1 May 2024

Every 13 minutes, a WASPI woman dies. Every 13 minutes, a woman who might have lost several years’ worth of her pension—maybe as much as £42,000—dies without justice. As a result of changes that were made in the Pensions Act 1995 that were designed to equalise pensions, women who were born in the 1950s have lost out, with as many as 3.6 million women affected. That number includes at least 23,000 women in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.

None of those women disagrees with the pension equalisation. They do, however, disagree with the unfair way in which the changes were introduced. Significant changes to their pension age were imposed without widespread consultation, with little or no notice, and much faster than they were promised. Some women have been hit by more than one increase, with subsequent pension changes in 2011.

As we have heard, in March this year, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman ruled that the UK Government had mishandled changes to the pension age, leaving many of those women facing hardship.

Until the 1990s, many women were not allowed to join company pension schemes and, because they did not have time to plan for the pension changes, they are now struggling to make ends meet. Many of the women who are affected started working before equalities legislation came into place in the 1970s. Many were forced to leave work if they got married, and many did not get maternity pay if they had children. Older women are now often unable to find appropriate jobs, and many cannot work, as they are carers for other family members or they have their own health conditions.

The WASPI women have been subjected to systematic discrimination, and the pension fiasco is just the latest example.

It should also be noted that many older women who are in receipt of either a salary or a pension tend to spend that money in their local economies. Therefore, it is not just the women and their immediate families who have lost out and suffered; their wider communities—our communities—have, too.

In its recent report, the PHSO also said that the affected women should be paid up to £2,950 each by way of compensation for the hardship that they have faced because the UK Government had mishandled changes to the pension age and the maladministration had left many of them facing hardship. WASPI women and probably many of us in the chamber think that the level of compensation that has been suggested is, to quote a WASPI woman,

“a slap in the face”.

It is appalling that the DWP, which was responsible for the maladministration, has said that it will not pay out even that measly amount. As Linda Carmichael, who is co-chair of WASPI Scotland, has said,

“an apology doesn’t pay the bills.”

After the publication of the PHSO report, another WASPI campaigner, Lorraine Rae, said:

“We are pleased that, after a long wait, we have been vindicated and have achieved a moral victory. But we must now also be compensated financially for the losses we suffered … We now require compensation without a protracted period of debate and stalling, during which many more Waspi women will die before receiving what they are due.”

I pay special tribute to Linda Carmichael and Lorraine Rae for their tireless work in Aberdeen and, indeed, to all the phenomenal WASPI women campaigners across Scotland. I know that they will not let up in their fight for fair and fast compensation. We should all be able to stand in solidarity with the WASPI women—our mothers, sisters, carers, neighbours and friends—in their fight for justice.

In closing, I am pleased to reaffirm my and the Scottish Greens’ unwavering support for the WASPI campaign. We believe that the WASPI women should have fair and fast compensation, and we urge the UK Government to act quickly to prevent any more damage to WASPI women.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

I remind members that we have no time in hand. Members will therefore need to stick to their speaking time limits from now on.

Photo of Beatrice Wishart Beatrice Wishart Liberal Democrat 4:04, 1 May 2024

I welcome the opportunity to debate the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s recommendations.

As deputy convener of the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party group on WASPI, I recognise the hard work of all those who have been involved in the campaign. In case it is not obvious, I should confess that I am a 1950s woman, too.

I have friends and family—as I am sure colleagues across the chamber do—who have been affected by the decision to increase the state pension age. As the First Minister said, it was never about the equalisation, but about how it was done. There is a distinct feeling that a lack of fairness is involved, and a sense that the goalposts were moved without women being informed. We can debate whether that would ever have happened if we were talking about another group in society, but a combination of misogyny and ageism resulted in older women being overlooked by grey suits in Whitehall. It is little wonder, therefore, that older women feel invisible in our society.

The term “WASPI” quickly became a catch-all for all the various groups that have campaigned about the lack of notice with regard to increasing the state pension. The WASPI campaigners have only ever asked for fairness and for injustices to be rectified. Sadly, some of those campaigners have passed away and will not see the justice that they sought.

The irony is not lost that WASPI women are from the generation that campaigned for women’s rights. We should not forget that the rights that women have today are, in no small way, due to the women who were born in the 1950s. Maternity pay and maternity leave were not available to women who had their children in the 1960s and early 1970s, and when they came to retirement, some women made decisions about their future, such as offering childcare for grandchildren, only to find, cruelly, that financially they would not be able to do so. They have had to continue to work or take additional part-time, often low-paid jobs simply to survive the years when they thought that they would have their state pension.

Close the Gap’s briefing reminds us that there is a “gendered” element to pension inequality. Women are likely to take on more caring responsibilities, with interruptions in their careers, which reduces their opportunities to contribute to pension savings. Women are living longer and are more likely to live in poverty after retirement, with less savings than men. Close the Gap highlights that

“Two-thirds ... of pensioners in poverty are women, and half of pensioners in poverty are single women”.

I am quite sure that WASPI women know the reality of that.

The ombudsman’s report has been a long time coming, and the process needs to be moved along to ensure that those who are affected finally get compensation. I urge the UK Government to act on the ombudsman’s report, and I encourage whichever party forms the next Government after the general election to make the issue a priority. It should be remembered that this will not simply involve an outgoing from the Treasury—there will be returns to local economies and national taxes from compensation payments.

The 1950s women whom we have been talking about were among the first to vote at 18. They saw several waves of feminism and new protections under legislation, yet, as working citizens, they were let down by the state. It is past time to rectify that injustice.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party 4:07, 1 May 2024

I pay tribute to all Women Against State Pension Inequality campaigners, in particular those in Ayrshire WASPI, whom many MSPs met when the group visited Parliament two weeks ago. Their dedication, courage and tireless advocacy have shone the brightest light possible on the injustice facing women who were born in the 1950s.

The problem was created by successive Labour, coalition and Tory Westminster Governments, which raised the state pension age for women without giving them due notice. As a result, 3.7 million women across the UK who were born between 6 April 1950 and 5 April 1960 were thrown into an impossible situation. That includes more than 336,000 in Scotland and 6,940 in the North Ayrshire and Arran constituency alone. The DWP’s figures make plain the scale of the hardship. In North Ayrshire and Arran, between 2013 and February 2021, the number of women aged 60 and above who were claiming incapacity benefits rose by 315 per cent, while working-age out-of-work benefit claims increased by 472 per cent.

That generation of women had already been a victim of pay discrimination. Without enough notice to enable them to plan financially, WASPI women found themselves having to work years longer than they had anticipated. Many who could not retire or who retired from work anticipating a state pension have endured financial hardship because they were unable to access the pension that they deserved and were promised.

I know from speaking to women who have been affected by the scandal how much it has devastated lives. Pushed into poverty as what savings they had dwindled away, women have had to abandon plans to care for elderly or infirm relatives or take low-paid, insecure or manual work.

The scale of that injustice is matched only by the dignity of the WASPI campaign itself. After five long years, the UK Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman published its final report on “Women’s State Pension age: our findings on injustice and associated issues”. The report vindicated campaigners, finding that thousands of women were impacted by the DWP’s “maladministration” and failure to properly notify them about changes to the state pension. The report stated that women lost

“opportunities to make informed decisions about”

their finances, and that that

“diminished their sense of personal autonomy and financial control.”

Despite that vindication, the ombudsman cannot force the UK Government to pay compensation. Shockingly, the DWP indicated its refusal to comply, which led the ombudsman to take the rare but necessary step of asking Parliament to intervene. However, following a statement on women’s state pension age at Westminster on 25 March, neither the Tories nor Labour is committed to delivering any compensation. Despite at least 12 shadow cabinet members and Keir Starmer previously supporting calls for restitution, not a single one of them repeated that backing following the ombudsman’s report.

Meanwhile, more than 277,000 WASPI women have already passed away without receiving recompense. More WASPI women die on each new day of dither, delay and deferment from the UK Government and His Majesty’s loyal Opposition.

In contrast, the SNP demands that, after years of UK Government inaction, WASPI women must now receive the justice, apology and compensation that they deserve without further delay.

My wife, Patricia Gibson, who is the MP for North Ayrshire and Arran, has vigorously championed the cause of WASPI women, as Douglas Ross pointed out, and she is the only MP to have spoken in every Westminster debate on the subject since her election in 2015. She will lead a back-bench business debate in the House of Commons on 16 May, after which MPs will vote on whether or not they support justice and the delivery of prompt compensation for WASPI women. It is not the warm words that the Tories and Labour offer today that the women seek, but recompense. On that day, we will see where each party truly stands on that important issue.

Photo of Roz McCall Roz McCall Conservative 4:11, 1 May 2024

It would not be a contribution from me unless I started with a personal anecdote. I was a child who grew up in the 1970s in Glasgow, and I hit the job market in the late 1980s. At that time, the position of female equality was still moving on from legislation such as the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. It is hard for women now to imagine a Scotland where they were not allowed to have a bank account or loan without the additional signatory of a father or a husband, but that is how it was.

The idea of feminism and pure, undiluted equality was an absolute driving force for me. It was well discussed that there would have to be radical changes to allow women and men to be treated equally within the law. Some of the changes would be good and some would be bad, but it was universally accepted that radical change was needed nonetheless.

The plans in the Pensions Act 1995 to increase women’s state pension age from 60 to 65—with a gradual increase over a decade—were pretty much accepted, and I certainly have no recollection of me, my friends or anyone else disagreeing with the need for a more equal state pension process to encompass men and women. It is important to mention that, because we should be mindful that the report from the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman is not looking at that decision, as has been mentioned already. Rather, the report was to investigate how the decisions were communicated and explained, and the failings in that regard.

The fact that the ombudsman has taken more than five years to produce the final report reflects the complexities surrounding the matter, and I understand the strong feelings around it. It is right that due care and attention was given when producing the report; it is right that the investigation considers approximately 30 years and goes all the way back to 1995; and it is right that all changes that successive Governments made were thoroughly investigated.

However, as I said, the debate before us is about questioning not the decisions but their communication. The opening sentence from the motion says that

“the Parliament welcomes the report from the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman”.

That is the context of our discussion, and I do welcome the report. It is a serious report that requires serious consideration, and I want to place on record my view that we must continue to have dialogue with all those people who have been impacted.

As our amendment states, the UK Government must

“respond in full to the substantial report”

and the

“recommendations contained within it as quickly as possible”.

I also agree with

“the recommendation to pay compensation to those affected”,

and I add my congratulations to the WASPI women and campaigners for their hard work and diligence in getting to this point.

Now that the ombudsman has provided the information, the UK Government has agreed to consider the report’s findings and will bring back an update to Parliament. That is absolutely right, but it must do so at pace.

Of course, there were numerous findings within the report, and some of its conclusions around access to information, complaint handling and the introduction of transitional arrangements are also important to consider and should form part of a broader reflection by the UK Government.

In conclusion, I applaud the UK Government’s commitment to the full and proper consideration of the ombudsman’s report and to its continued, full and constructive engagement. I await with interest the Government’s findings and I state again that it needs to present them at pace.

Photo of Marie McNair Marie McNair Scottish National Party 4:15, 1 May 2024

It is a pleasure to speak in the debate, and I thank the First Minister for bringing it to the chamber.

WASPI women worked tirelessly throughout their lives only to find themselves facing a six-year delay to receiving their pension. That left many struggling to make ends meet and facing financial uncertainty at a time when they should have been able to relax and put their feet up.

It is estimated that, in my constituency, more than 4,700 women in East Dunbartonshire and more than 6,000 in West Dunbartonshire have been affected by the changes to the state pension age. I welcome the report from the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman on the pensions injustices for women born in the 1950s. The report is clear about the damning failures of the UK Government and the need for it to act now. It needs to deliver on the recommendations to pay compensation in full to those women without any further delay.

The ombudsman’s report is clear that some women born in the 1950s were not adequately informed of the impact of the changes. Accurate and timely information was not given to millions of women in the UK, including 356,000 in Scotland. Those women were unfairly penalised for circumstances outwith their control, and they faced the consequences of a policy that was not properly communicated to them. That gave most of them no time to prepare.

I commend my colleague Alan Brown MP for his unwavering commitment on the issue. He noted that the WASPI women are the very same women who were paid less than men, who did not have maternity rights and whose private pensions were smaller than men’s pensions, if they had them at all. By raising the pension age without due notice, those women were further penalised.

I met WASPI women, including some of my own constituents, at the parliamentary demonstration a couple of weeks ago. I was proud to stand with them in their fight, and I was glad to get the chance to speak more with them. The recommended pay-outs are paltry sums, and I echo the WASPI women’s calls for compensation that reflects decades of mistreatment. Those women are here to stay, and we will keep fighting for them. In the face of injustice, the WASPI women have shown determination and courage. They have spent considerable time advocating for change and raising awareness of their plight.

Many WASPI women groups have done so much amazing work. I am proud to support the West Dunbartonshire WASPI group in my constituency. Its chief co-ordinator, Liz Daly, whom I have met several times, has committed much time to the cause, and for that I am grateful. The group and all WASPI women will be remembered for their resilience, determination and unwavering commitment to justice. I will always be a supporter of the WASPI women, alongside my SNP colleagues here today.

Of course, the fight is not over. The Westminster Government made a real mess of this, and it is time for the women to receive their rightful compensation. The Tory Government must act and right this wrong. If not the Tory Government, Labour must commit to compensating WASPI women. I genuinely ask Labour MSPs here for their commitment. I do not want a fake, manufactured position to be taken in Scotland in this debate. So far, the Labour leader has refused to commit to compensating those women, which is shameful. That is a betrayal of every single WASPI woman. We need cross-party commitments to ensure that justice is delivered for those women. They have waited too long—the time to provide fast and fair compensation is now. Time will tell, but, unfortunately, time is what WASPI women do not have.

Photo of Baroness Katy Clark Baroness Katy Clark Labour 4:19, 1 May 2024

It is a pleasure to contribute to this important debate and to call on the UK Government to take action now to deliver justice and compensation for WASPI women.

WASPI women are calling on the UK Government’s Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Mel Stride, to come to the House of Commons to outline his response to the recent report from the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman and with his Government’s proposal to address this injustice. This Parliament should also be calling for that. Frankly, it is astonishing that there has not even been a statement in the House of Commons up until now.

I have been the convener of the WASPI cross-party group since 2021, and it has been a pleasure to work with WASPI campaigners in Scotland, some of whom are in the gallery today and some of whom have made three visits to this Parliament in the past fortnight to lobby politicians. They have consistently campaigned for justice for women who were born in the 1950s and for compensation. Many of the women who are affected are in financial difficulties.

MSPs and MPs from all political parties that are represented in this chamber have been involved in the cross-party group, and it would have been helpful if the Parliament had agreed on a motion today.

A great deal of work was undertaken by Labour prior to the 2021 general election. That work included a manifesto commitment with a detailed package of compensation. Labour, of course, was not elected, and it is for the Conservatives to deliver justice now.

Last month, the then Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman published his long-awaited stage 2 and stage 3 reports on the Department for Work and Pensions maladministration. That report deals with maladministration only. The WASPI campaign was launched in 2021 and we know that, since then, it is estimated that 277,400 WASPI women have died. It is estimated that one 1950s-born woman dies every 13 minutes. One third of WASPI women are in debt, and one in four is living under the poverty line.

In Ayrshire, it is estimated that 26,590 women have been affected, and WASPI campaigners in Ayrshire have done considerable work to quantify the loss to those women and the communities in which they live and to make the case that compensation paid to those women would be spent mainly in local communities and be of benefit to the whole local community.

It is fair to say that many WASPI women are very disappointed that, after a 67-month investigation, the levels of compensation proposed are relatively low. Of course, the ombudsman’s report related to maladministration only. The UK Government must come forward quickly with its response to that report and to the proposals. If it does not deal with it, the next UK Government must. We must deliver justice and compensation to those women.

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party 4:22, 1 May 2024

I thank the First Minister for bringing this debate to the chamber. I know that many folk heard him speak at Clare Haughey’s event with WASPI women the other week, and his passion for the issue is very clear. I had the pleasure of meeting some Aberdeen WASPI campaigners at Clare Haughey’s event: Linda and Helen, who have campaigned very hard for justice. I always enjoy meeting them, but I would like to meet them under different circumstances—after they have been paid the compensation that they rightly deserve.

We must look very closely at the scenarios. These women, many of whom had built their lives around a specific retirement plan, were forced to keep working for years longer than anticipated, in many cases. That was not just an economic hardship; it was a betrayal of trust. It is estimated that almost 356,000 women in Scotland were impacted by the WASPI pensions scandal. Many of those women were already in ill health. Others had taken early retirement and were planning to get by until the age of 60, when they thought that they would receive their state pension.

The UK Government continues to argue that communication happened, but let us be clear that the rug was pulled out from underneath those women’s feet. The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has judged that the UK Government failed to adequately inform thousands of women that the state pension age had changed.

The WASPI women are not asking for handouts. They are asking for recognition of the burden that was placed on them and compensation for the additional years that they worked. The strength and perseverance of the WASPI women are an inspiration. They have raised their voices, and it is time for the UK Government to listen and, more important, to act. We have heard from some speakers today about a need for more dialogue, but now is not the time for more dialogue—there has been too much dialogue. It is time to compensate these women.

All of this is not just about the past, but about the future. We cannot allow similar situations to happen again. Transparency and clear communication about pension changes are absolutely essential. Supporting the WASPI women is also about ensuring that today’s working-age adults do not have their pensions whisked away by the swish of a Westminster ministerial pen. Let us be crystal clear that, if the Tory Government—and, maybe, a Labour

Government to follow—gets away with this outrage against the WASPI women, it will be coming for the pensions of the rest of us next. Just today, the UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, refused to rule out raising the state pension age to 75. What happened to the WASPI women sets the stage for what Westminster may well do next. If it gets away with its outrageous treatment of the WASPI women, it will try it on with everyone else. Let us make sure that the WASPI women get justice. Let us compensate these women now.

Photo of Jeremy Balfour Jeremy Balfour Conservative 4:26, 1 May 2024

It is always good when we get to discuss social security in the Scottish Parliament. The front benches are possibly the most stacked that they have been during a social security debate for a long time. However, I suspect that it is not just the topic but the person who moved the motion that has drawn people here this afternoon. I hope that the First Minister chose the topic as his swan song not just in order to take one last shot at the UK Government, but to bring members together in the chamber so that we can unite. I hope that he has taken the offer in the Conservative amendment seriously and that the Government will accept it so that a voice goes back to London that represents the whole of this Parliament.

The picture that we see before us is that the UK Government is taking time to consider the findings of the report carefully in order to find the best and most sustainable way forward. That has to be correct. We must get this right, because people have waited too long. No one in this chamber and no one in the debate is denying that the situation that we have reached is regrettable. Women planned their lives around the information that they had at the time, and there can be no doubt that this situation has left them worse off. However, that does not negate the fact that the Government has a responsibility to ensure that any and all possible unintended consequences are taken into account before any decision is made. We cannot rush into making decisions. We have seen in Parliament that, when rushed decisions are made and bad legislation is introduced, it does not survive in the time afterwards.

Of course we want the WASPI women to be given a fair deal. Apart from the fact that it would be the right thing to do, they have fought hard and run a successful campaign over the past number of years that deserves a just solution. However, we must ensure that the compensation is affordable and that it allows our social security system across the whole of the United Kingdom to remain sustainable. After all, that must be our consideration when we take any form of social security decision. There has to be an acknowledgement that decisions that are made today will have consequences that reach far into our future.

Photo of Jeremy Balfour Jeremy Balfour Conservative

Unfortunately, I do not have time to take an intervention on this occasion.

Unfortunately, that consideration has sometimes been lacking in Scotland since the partial devolution of benefits. We in Scotland are quickly racking up a bill that will become unsustainable, even by 2026. On the topic of pension compensation, as with social security more broadly, we must balance our generosity with our responsibility.

I welcome the report and look forward to the UK Government’s full response when it has fully considered how to move forward in a fair and affordable way. All who are involved deserve nothing less, and I hope that the UK Government will respond in a speedy and appropriate manner.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 4:30, 1 May 2024

First, I commend the WASPI women in Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale and across Scotland for their resilience and their determination to see justice for all women who have been affected by the unilateral changes to the state pension. I lodged a motion on the issue in March. I will truncate it, but it said:

“That the Parliament ... recognises the report’s findings, which reflect on failings by the DWP ‘to provide accurate, adequate and timely information about changes to the State Pension age for women’; acknowledges what it sees as the significant detrimental impact that the DWP’s failure to communicate effectively has had on the affected women’s ability to plan for their retirement and the financial implications that this has created; believes that women ... have been ... deprived of the pension that they rightfully deserve, and further believes that their fight for justice is taking far too long to be adequately addressed; urges the UK Government to acknowledge the DWP’s failings as highlighted in the ... report, issue an immediate apology and deliver fair compensation”.

I want to be consensual, but I note that nobody from Labour, the Tories or the Liberal Democrats signed that motion, which I do not think is a hostile one.

I consider it a fact that the provision of the state pension is a contract between the Government and the people, so the unilateral variation of the terms of that contract should not have been implemented. I think that, as times have moved on, we all agree on the equalisation of men’s and women’s eligibility for the state pension, but the manner in which the age of eligibility for the state pension was increased was at best clumsy and at worst brutally unjust. The latter view is supported by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s report.

That brings me to the yawning gap between the compensation level that is recommended in the report, which is between £1,000 and £2,950, and the claim of the WASPI women for £10,000, which I do not consider to be over the top. Maggie Chapman rightly drew attention to the situation in which a woman who has lost seven years of pension might have seen their pension pot lose £40,000 in value. Even the £2,950 figure is derisory, as the moving finishing line of the retirement age has left and will leave many in financial difficulties. The recent announcement that a failed asylum seeker who volunteered to be transported to Rwanda was given £3,000 in cash and had other expenses paid puts that in even more context, showing what a slap in the face that recommended compensation level is to the WASPI women.

A survey of 8,000 WASPI women that was carried out in the autumn of 2023 found that 25 per cent had struggled to buy food in the previous six months. What a condemnation.

I say to Beatrice Wishart that, unfortunately, I was born in the 1940s. I had planned my finances on the basis that I would retire at 60, when I became eligible for the state pension—I did not know that I was coming to the Parliament. That was especially timed for paying off my mortgage, having divorced in my late 50s. Divorce is not uncommon in older people these days, and it adds to the financial pressures on women who may have been relying on a partner to support them and on them mutually financing each other.

UK ministers must set up a compensation scheme that provides full and genuine compensation for the women concerned. I ask members to look at the figures that I quoted. So far, neither the UK Conservative Government or the Labour Opposition has come forward with such a scheme. It is time to walk the walk. There should be no more talking about it. We know the position. It has fallen to the SNP people, such as Patricia Gibson, to push for justice. I have to say—perhaps this is not the kindest of notes on which to end my speech—that that may be why no Labour or Tory MSP signed my motion in the first place.

Photo of Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour 4:34, 1 May 2024

I recognise the debate’s significance for the WASPI women and their on-going work in the pursuit of justice. They have been tenacious in fighting for their cause.

It is important that the UK Government makes no further delay in responding to the findings of the ombudsman’s report. The current Government must respond, and it cannot leave it to the next Government to clear up the mess. The chancellor’s comment that there is

“no secret vault of money”

is a far from helpful response. We are well aware of the sorry state of the UK Government’s finances, as a result of mismanagement and unfunded spending commitments at the hands of the Conservatives.

Regrettably, there are other examples of the UK Government trying to delay resolution when it comes to having been at fault. The Post Office Horizon cases, the contaminated blood scandal and the Windrush compensation scheme all have parallels. Although the UK Government argues that the information on the changes was provided through some routes, the ombudsman’s report is clear in its conclusions that it failed in communication and that that was maladministration. Decision making by the DWP did not give proper weight to targeted information, and research on the need to appropriately target information was ignored and, as a result, the public were not provided with the fullest information possible.

The DWP also failed to promptly write to affected women. It took years longer than it should have, which further restricted many women’s ability to adjust their retirement plans. The WASPI campaign argues that many affected women did not find out about the change until as late as 2012. Some had only one year’s notice of a six-year delay to their retirement, and many had already left work.

Across the chamber, it is true that some of us are closer to retirement than others, but most of us will have thought about our retirement or are actively planning for it. For many people who are approaching the end of their working life, finding out that, rather than being able to retire in a year’s time, they have another six years before that can happen would have a huge impact not only financially but mentally.

Women who had planned for retirement at 60 may have been expected to take on caregiver roles, which they were then not able to do if they had to continue working. Those who were unable to stay in employment had to rely on savings to get by. There was no secret vault of money for them either, but they had to somehow make it work.

Today, if someone wants to check when they will reach state pension age, they can do it almost immediately on the Government’s website. That comes with the caveat that the age may increase by up to a year for those who were born between April 1970 and 1978, as well as a general note on the potential for change. However, we know that misleading information on the pension age for women was still on the Government’s website until as late as 2016.

Labour has called for an improved notification system that will ensure that future generations are able to properly plan for retirement with timely and targeted information. We must take lessons from this process. It has highlighted the importance of properly considering correspondence and complaints, and particularly of looking at patterns and potential consequences. There are similarities with the Horizon scandal.

We also need to be aware that, as the DWP’s research showed, making policy announcements is not enough. As members of Parliament or Government, we need to be realistic and recognise that, at times, we operate in a bubble, and that most people do not keep on top of policy announcements. The personalisation of news consumption, the fog of disinterest, the sheer breadth of information that is available and the burying of bad news can all add up to a lack of awareness that we need to work to address.

We need to ask ourselves whether the duty of Government to communicate is always sufficient or whether more needs to be done to engage. On the issue of WASPI women, we need to see an immediate response from the UK Government and a resolution to the situation.

Photo of Maggie Chapman Maggie Chapman Green 4:38, 1 May 2024

The First Minister is absolutely right to say that, if such an injustice had been experienced by men—if they had been treated in the way that the WASPI women have been treated—something would have been done years ago to remedy the injustices that they faced. Those injustices are typical of the structural and systemic inequalities that women face in many—some would say all—aspects of life.

Despite equalities legislation being in place for decades, we still see gender pay gaps and unequal access to services, the labour market, benefits and so much more. We know that inequalities and discrimination do not stop there, so it is right that, perhaps in stark contrast to the past couple of weeks in Scottish politics, there has been a fair degree of consensus across the chamber today. I wish that we could get such agreement on all equalities issues.

I thank those who have contributed to today’s debate. It is important that so many different WASPI groups and women have been recognised and celebrated in the chamber. I hope that we see political action at Westminster to match the words that we have heard here.

I turn briefly to the two amendments that are in front of us. I have listened carefully to the contributions from Douglas Ross, Paul O’Kane and their colleagues. Despite our agreement, I am afraid that I cannot support the Conservative amendment, because it would remove the clause that talks specifically about the need for a “higher level of compensation” for WASPI women to properly reflect the financial harm that they have faced.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

As I explained, we can come back to the wider issue of full compensation in a separate debate, but there is the opportunity today to focus on the PHSO report, which covers the bulk of the Government’s motion. It would send a very strong message if we united around that, and we could come back to the other issues at another time.

Photo of Maggie Chapman Maggie Chapman Green

We have agreement on the PHSO report, but I consider the element that the Conservative amendment would remove—the need for fuller and fairer compensation—to be a vital and intrinsic aspect of the WASPI campaign, and it is one that Scottish Greens support, so we should retain that element.

I agree with the principle and the sentiment of the Labour amendment and with the detail of most of it. Greens have long supported and called for a clear system of notifications about future pension changes. We have always supported the pension triple lock, and I am glad to have the opportunity to put that on the record again today. However, we cannot endorse what is clearly part of the Labour general election campaign machine, so we will abstain on the Labour amendment at decision time.

I thank the Scottish Government for bringing forward the debate, and I thank colleagues across the chamber for their contributions. However, most of all, I thank the WASPI women for their tireless fight for fair and fast compensation—for justice. While we have been here this afternoon, seven WASPI women might have died without that justice. We should act together for them, and the UK Government definitely must act.

Photo of Michael Marra Michael Marra Labour 4:42, 1 May 2024

I join all colleagues in paying tribute to WASPI and its campaigning. Scottish Labour supports the women in their campaign for justice. The report from the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman is a major and vital step forward in that campaign and search for justice, and the Labour Party welcomes it. The report demands full consideration by, and robust action from, the UK Government.

It is clear that the women have been dreadfully let down by the changes that the UK Government made to their pension provision. Lives were altered for ever by the Government’s failure to communicate the impact of changes to the state pension age. Beatrice Wishart eloquently set out the impact on many women across Scotland. Their plans for retirement—the life that they had hoped for, caring for grandchildren—were snatched from them, and the hopes that they had held for their later years were cruelly dashed.

As many colleagues have highlighted, parliamentarians from all parties have stood alongside the WASPI women, sometimes when they were less listened to and less vindicated than they are now, following the PHSO report. Those parliamentarians listened, demanded action and changed the debate in their own parties.

I met Patricia Gibson MP for the first time on a Finance and Public Administration Committee visit to Westminster just a few weeks ago. She had come directly from the House of Commons chamber, where she had been raising this exact issue, as she has done time and again alongside colleagues from many parties. I pay tribute to her for that work, which was mentioned by Kenneth Gibson earlier.

Far too often in our society, it is women who bear the brunt of injustice, who are forgotten and who are left behind. More broadly, I hope that the WASPI campaign has changed how some such issues are discussed and dealt with. I pay tribute to the tireless campaigners who knew that what had happened was not right and called for justice. The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman report exists only because of that campaign. Labour members know just how much the campaign means to them, and we are pleased to see them finally receiving that recognition.

However, recognition is clearly not enough. The UK Government must urgently respond to the PHSO report, and the Labour Party urges it to get on with that important task as quickly as possible.

Labour is, of course, not in power, so it is for this Government to act now on the recommendations in the PHSO report. WASPI women have been let down for too long and they deserve better than Government intransigence, dither and delay. They must be engaged with and the UK Government must work with them to develop the scheme.

I reject Kevin Stewart’s view that the time for dialogue is at an end. This is a scheme that must be developed with the WASPI women, rather than something that is done to them. Our Westminster Labour colleagues are also engaging with the report fully and developing a response.

We in the Scottish Labour Party are desperate for a UK Labour Government and we believe that it can make significant changes in these areas. Any party that has a realistic chance of forming a Government owes it to the public to be as honest as it possibly can be about the economic and fiscal realities that are bequeathed to it—in this case, the economic carnage of the Conservatives’ 14 years of austerity and the Truss-induced economic meltdown.

Labour will not make uncosted spending commitments or promise to make unfunded tax cuts, as the Tories do. We must be honest with the public about the challenges in our public finances and the difficult decisions that would be required if we were to have the privilege of forming the next UK Government and fixing the mess that the Tories leave behind. For that reason, I cannot make uncosted commitments with specific compensation numbers. However, in opening the debate for Labour, Paul O’Kane set out our agreement with the principle of the recommendations in the PHSO report. We want to see it being acted on.

We are also determined that a Labour Government will look after our pensioners. I reject wholesale some SNP members’ rhetoric about future pension provision. That is why we are committed to the triple lock and why we have included it in our amendment today. I hope that the SNP Government is able to back it. When we were last in Government, we lifted a million pensioners out of poverty and introduced pension credit. When the Tories broke the triple lock, we campaigned against that and pledged to retain it, should we have the chance to serve in Government.

If the public gives us the chance to serve in Government again, we will grow the economy, get our public services and, crucially, our NHS back on their feet, and we will restore the public finances to a sustainable footing.

Photo of Michael Marra Michael Marra Labour

I am just closing, I am afraid.

That is the kind of sensible and grown-up Government that people across our country, including pensioners, are crying out for. I close by paying tribute again to the WASPI women and I look forward to justice being delivered.

Photo of Meghan Gallacher Meghan Gallacher Conservative 4:47, 1 May 2024

The Parliament was not scheduled to hold a debate on WASPI women today; the original debate for this afternoon was on positive masculinity. I was looking forward to talking about men’s sheds and how they are helping men to open up about their mental health and creating generations of role models who will help and support younger men so that they can become role models in their family and among their friends, especially when it comes to relationships with women. Considering that the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee is looking at suicide prevention, and that suicide is the biggest killer among men under the age of 35, I hope that the debate can be rescheduled. I am pleased that Paul O’Kane also called for that debate to take place at another point.

I turn to the crux of today’s debate. My party leader, Douglas Ross, set out the Scottish Conservatives’ position on the WASPI campaign. I echo his remarks and those of others in congratulating the women who have been relentless in their efforts to obtain compensation for the changes to their state pension. That view has been echoed by many members during their contributions today.

Since being elected in 2021, I have often stood up in the chamber and fought for women’s issues. I recognise how painful the campaign has been and I do not think that any Government would ever intentionally try to cause hurt and anger. However, I see the reason for creating more parity and equality for men and women who are in receipt of the state pension.

The WASPI women recognise that it was never about the decisions, but about how the decisions were carried out. That is why it is right for the UK Government to consider carefully the ombudsman’s findings before updating MPs at Westminster.

Some MSPs have reflected this afternoon on the WASPI campaign and the journeys of particular women. We have heard that women have been negatively impacted financially and emotionally by decisions that have been taken. The First Minister rightly mentioned that all political party leaders have pledged their support for the WASPI campaign.

Colleagues have given a long list of women who have never given up, who have kept going and who have made sure that their voices have been heard. It is right to pay tribute to Sheila, Linda, Lorraine and every woman who has written a letter, attended an elected member’s surgery or given evidence about how they have been affected by the changes in state pension age.

Some of our MP colleagues have also been mentioned—Carolyn Harris, Tim Loughton and Peter Aldous have all taken the issue to Westminster to fight on behalf of women.

This afternoon, MSPs have referred to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s report. It is fair to say that the outcome of that report has been the subject of a lot of today’s speeches. The process has taken five long years, and the issue has been raised consistently by Roz McCall and others.

Even though the report concluded that timely and accurate information was available about changes to the number of qualifying years that were needed in order to receive a full state pension, it recognised that there have been significant issues. Many women did not understand the situation as regards their own personal circumstances and how the new state pension would impact on them, and the DWP did not adequately use feedback and research to improve its service and performance. Jeremy Balfour and others referred to unintended consequences.

The report also concluded that the maladministration of the DWP’s complaints handling had caused unnecessary distress and anxiety, and that women had lost the opportunity to make informed decisions about personal autonomy and financial control. Most importantly, the report recommended that those who have suffered injustice should be compensated financially. I do not think that anybody who has spoken in the debate has argued otherwise.

That is why the Scottish Conservativesamendment

“calls on the UK Government to respond in full to the substantial report ... and recommendations contained within it as quickly as possible, including the recommendation to pay compensation”.

Douglas Ross gave a passionate speech that aimed to unite Parliament; our amendment is also one of consensus. Earlier, MSPs were asked to rise to the challenge—

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I think that the issue with your amendment is that you seem content—

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

Speak through the chair, Ms Grahame.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

—that the maximum level of compensation is £2,950. Surely the member cannot think that that is a reasonable offer.

Photo of Meghan Gallacher Meghan Gallacher Conservative

As Douglas Ross explained in his intervention on Maggie Chapman, our amendment is about getting consensus in Parliament today. We could certainly return to such issues. I think that our request is reasonable. We are seeking to unite Parliament, as was made clear earlier, and I hope that we can all rise to that challenge today, especially now that we have different circumstances and we are working in Parliament with a minority Government.

This debate is the first test, and it gives us the best opportunity to unite behind the WASPI women. It should not be about party lines; politicians of every party have raised the issues of the WASPI campaign. We can come back to the issue of compensation at a later date. We can have another debate on WASPI women and the WASPI campaign. It is a really important issue, so there would be no issue with our coming back and having discussions again.

I will reflect on Beatrice Wishart’s speech, to which I really enjoyed listening. She spoke about the rise of feminism in this country and how some of the women who were behind the rise of feminism have been impacted. They fought for equality and equal rights. By standing up for rights through really difficult times, they tried to make the lives of future generations better. They are the stalwarts who have passed the baton on to younger women so that they can continue that fight to achieve equality.

I echo Douglas Ross’s calls and ask the Government to support our amendment. We are trying to reach beyond the political divide to send a unified message to the UK Government that the PHSO’s recommendations be implemented in full and that the women who have been impacted receive the compensation that they deserve.

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party 4:54, 1 May 2024

It is a privilege to close this very important debate on behalf of the Scottish Government. It is also a privilege to do so alongside my friend and colleague the First Minister. His support for the WASPI women is unquestionable and unwavering, as is his support for equality and his fight against injustice. I look forward to campaigning side by side with him once again in the future, just as we did long before we got involved in elected politics together.

I move to this very important issue. The Scottish Government has been consistent in our calls for the UK Government to immediately right the wrongs that the WASPI women suffered. With the publication of the PHSO report, the UK Government simply cannot waste any more time. Compensation must be delivered now and in full.

Along with the First Minister, I had the privilege of meeting some of the WASPI campaigners here in Parliament once again today, to hear directly from them, once again, about the need, which I fully agree on, for urgent action from the UK Government. As the First Minister said to them and repeated in the chamber, this is about justice and compensation. I think and hope that we can unite on that.

The PHSO report clearly identifies the need for compensation due to “maladministration” through the DWP’s failures to “act promptly” in writing to the women who were impacted by the changes in the state pension age—incidentally, the DWP also called on Governments to prioritise that action. It is vital that the UK Government and the DWP take responsibility for those failings but also that they deliver that full compensation package at the earliest possible time.

I call on the UK Government to listen to the WASPI women’s calls for comprehensive compensation that takes into account the financial hardship that they suffered coupled with the fact that the UK Government has one of the worst gender pension gaps in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. It is time to stop letting women down.

In the PHSO report, there is—quite rightly—criticism of the “maladministration” in the communication of the equalisation of state pension age for men and women. As the First Minister noted in his remarks, the Government fully supports Alan Brown MP’s bill, which carries full cross-party support and calls on the UK Government to publish a compensation framework for WASPI women, which is set at £3,000 to £10,000 or more—the WASPI campaigners, too, feel that that outcome would be fairer, given the wider financial hardship that the devastating policy has had—and Kenny Gibson has, quite rightly, highlighted Patricia Gibson’s back-bench business debate. Those are two opportunities for Tories and Labour to support WASPI women—or not—and they will be judged on their action or inaction on the case.

The PHSO has taken the highly unusual step of urging the UK Parliament to intervene to ensure that the UK Government acts on the recommendations in the report. I hope that the debate will add to those calls. Not only has the UK Government failed to clearly commit to addressing the report seriously or urgently; it is disappointing to note that there have been no calls from other UK Parliament parties for the UK Government to act on the findings of the report, with the exception of the SNP.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

The cabinet secretary is summing up the debate in the spirit in which it has been held, that is, one of fairly consensual contributions. The amendment that I have lodged states that the UK Government should

“respond in full”

to the PHSO report,

“including the recommendation to pay compensation”,

and do so as a matter of urgency. The language is almost identical to that of the Scottish Government’s motion. Could the Government, even at this late stage in the debate, consider supporting my amendment, so that the message that goes to the UK Government is one of unanimity from the Scottish Parliament? We would then come back at a later time—scheduled by the Government and supported by us—to have a full debate on the entire WASPI compensation.

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

I was going to come to the Tory amendment later, but let me do so now. The Government cannot support it, and I will be clear about why. The Scottish Conservative amendment takes out:

“the UK Government must now urgently deliver on the ombudsman’s recommendations to pay compensation in full to those women without delay”.

It then also takes out the WASPI women’s

“calls for a higher level of compensation.”

With the greatest respect, I listened carefully to what Douglas Ross said today, but we cannot just go on the words in the chamber. Let us look at the devil in the detail of the Conservative amendment, which, I am afraid, means that it is letting WASPI women down again. We simply will not do that today.

This is a minority Parliament, which brings new and greater responsibility for those of us in the Government and for members across the chamber. I am very aware as a Scottish Government minister of my responsibilities in a minority Government. I know that whoever takes office as First Minister in the coming weeks will be, too. I take that very seriously, but my ask today is for members to unite on the WASPI women campaign calls. That is what we in the Scottish Government are trying to do.

Minority government does not just shine a light on the Scottish Parliament; it shines a light on how we all act within it. It shines a light on what we will vote on at decision time. This is the first substantive vote since we began to serve as a minority Government, and we all—every one of us—have a choice. Representatives of the WASPI women are in the gallery today.

I have dealt with the Tory amendment; now let me come to Labour. I ask Labour members what they will do at decision time. Many of the WASPI women will have met them over the years. They will have marched with the WASPI women and applauded them, but the difficulty with the Labour amendment is that there are now caveats on that compensation. There were no caveats when they marched together, and there were no caveats when they applauded the WASPI women. There is a real, genuine possibility not to delay, as the Conservatives have done, or to put caveats on, as the Labour Party has done, but to come together to serve the WASPI women, as I think they want us to do.

Photo of Paul O'Kane Paul O'Kane Labour

I find it bewildering that the Government has decided not to back a reasonable amendment from the Labour Party that seeks to create a consensus and support the voice of WASPI women in the preparation of that compensation scheme. Crucially, the amendment also seeks to protect the triple lock. I find it very strange indeed.

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

I greatly respect Paul O’Kane, so I am sure that he did not mean to suggest that, if we back the WASPI women, we cannot back the triple lock. We can do both things, but I do not think that that is what he meant, and it is important to say that.

The reason why there is a difficulty with the Labour amendment is that, as Maggie Chapman pointed out, given the figures that we have, seven WASPI women may have died as we have talked about this today. They do not have time for us to have another debate or to think about the level of compensation. Their asks have been clear for years now. We have the opportunity to unite. We kept the motion simple—it is about what the WASPI women have asked for.

This is what I urge Parliament to do today. Do not listen to me—do not even listen to the First Minister. Listen to the WASPI women in the gallery and those they represent.