State Pension Age for Women — [Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:32 pm on 5th July 2017.

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Photo of Mhairi Black Mhairi Black Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Pensions), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Youth affairs) 3:32 pm, 5th July 2017

Not surprisingly, I agree with that statement. I heard some muttering from the Government Benches about how that is a lot of rubbish. Let me just say this: if that is a lot of rubbish in their heads, they should bring their plans forward. They do not get to criticise other parties’ plans when they have not even bothered to come up with their own.

Like I say, the debate is almost scripted, because I know that the Minister will say at some point, “We did look at this in 2011 and we did make the concessions at the time.” I guarantee that the Minister will say that. Let my reply be this: that is not how the world works. That is not how society works. If citizens come to them with a time-sensitive problem and say, “This still isn’t working,” it is the Government’s job to listen. It is not the job of the Government to look back and go, “We talked about that a couple of years ago, so I’m afraid there’s no movement there whatsoever.” If that is the case, I am looking forward to the next time the Army needs new funds, the next time this Parliament needs doing up, and so on. The idea that we cannot afford it is ridiculous.

Fundamentally, the worst part of this whole issue is that these women are targeted. The Government like to sit back and act as though these women are just unfortunate casualties of austerity and say, “Our hands are tied; we can’t do anything.” That is not the case; they are targeted. These are women who have suffered pay inequality and social inequality all their lives. We even heard earlier that women were told to use their husbands’ pensions. Society has changed a lot since then. What are we doing for these women now? And what about lesbian couples—women who are in equal marriages with other women? Are they just expected to bear the brunt? [Interruption.] It is not even a double whammy; it is a quadruple whammy at this point.

I am amazed that I feel the need to point this out. These women are blameless. They are guilty of nothing. They have done nothing wrong other than, for instance, not reading the back pages of the Financial Times in 1995. The only other two things they are guilty of are being born in the ’50s and being women. The Government do not get to plead that this is all in the name of equality; when only women are suffering under their definition of equality, it is time for them to reassess that definition.

Fundamentally, Governments should look after their people. When their people are coming to them and saying there is problem, it is their job to fix it. Let me put a little reality into this. I got an email today from a WASPI woman. I cannot remember where she is from—it is somewhere in England. She told me that her friend committed suicide after seeing the general election result because she could not face what would happen to her. Citizens are committing suicide over an issue that could be solved just like that—an issue that the Government could do a U-turn on at any given moment.

The Government managed to fork out a magical £1 billion to cling on to power; they must really want the job of having to fix these things. When they can find £1 billion for self-interest, they do not get to claim that money is the reason they cannot help.

The Government quite rightly dropped their manifesto pension plans—two of them in total, I think—because they saw how damaging, unworkable and unpopular they would be. That was wise. In actual fact, I have a bit of respect for them for being able to go, “Aye, we got that wrong, guys, so we’re pulling back. We’re listening to you.” I say, I hope for the last time: just drop one more plan. Realise that this issue is cross-party and affects people from different backgrounds and different areas. These are people’s mothers, aunties, sisters and cousins. Please do the right thing. Do the job of the Government—fix the problem and start looking after people.