[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair] — Pensioner Poverty

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:50 am on 23rd February 2010.

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Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 10:50 am, 23rd February 2010

First, we all need to congratulate Jo Swinson on securing the debate. It has been useful and touched, as many of these debates do, on a range of issues that have a bearing on pensioner well-being and poverty. Some are not directly my Department's area, but that is only right because older people do not live lives according to departmental boundaries. Social care, carers, access to occupational pension schemes, the implications of what happens in the financial markets, and how the financial services sector deals with insurance policies and annuities all have a bearing on the experience of those over retirement age trying to reconcile their savings with their expenses. If I did not realise before I got the job, I know now that, with pension policy, many echoes of the past arrive on the desk of the Pensions Minister. They were germinated and generated in the history books but arrive in the present and give a Minister conundrums, problems and difficulties.

My hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn was right to give a historical review of some of what has happened because the history of pension policy has an acute effect today. Those of us who wish to see a simplified system, and perhaps long for it because some parts are so complex, can think about the history from which our pension policy descends. He was right to recall the contribution that my political heroine, Barbara Castle, made. He was also right to point out that the link between pensions and earnings was broken by the last Conservative Government, and the effect that that had on the overall value of the basic state pension. It is important to remember the history.

Steve Webb also mentioned some of those issues, particularly women's exclusion from not only occupational pensions, often due to the structure and shape of the labour market, but the basic state pension. Other hon. Members, not least the doughty feminist the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire, mentioned in passing that there was a gender issue with pensions. I feel strongly about that as well, which is why I am proud that I will be the Minister when the April changes come in to being. They will make a huge difference to women's access to the basic state pension in their own right. The reduction in the number of years of national insurance contributions required to qualify for a full basic state pension will reverse the historic exclusion of women from the basic state pension over time until the pension is almost completely equalised by 2020.