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National Insurance (Married Women)

Volume 408: debated on Thursday 3 July 2003

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What discussions she has had with women's groups concerning the operation of the married women's national insurance stamp. [123241]

I have discussed the issue of women and pensions with a number of women's organisations, including the Women's Budget Group, the Women's National Commission, the National Black Women's Network and the National Federation of Women's Institutes. Of course, that included the operation of the married women's national insurance stamp.

Is the Minister familiar with the Support Women Against Poverty network, which we helped to establish, which brings together women throughout Britain who have a variety of concerns about the way in which the pension system works to the disadvantage of women? Would the right hon. Lady be willing to meet me and a group of these women from around Britain who have a range of concerns about the way that pensions are bad news for women, and listen to what they have to say?

Of course. However, I stress that in the steps that we have already taken on the state pension scheme, we have made a real difference for women pensioners in particular, including the proposals recently announced, for instance, to simplify pension splitting in divorce and to enable people to take the full pension value out of their occupational pension scheme, even if they have less than two years' service. We are taking further steps to improve pensions provision for women.

In the meetings, will my right hon. Friend include representations from those women who believe that their title of common law wife affords them legal protection, but who discover on the death of their invariably long-term partner that that is most certainly not the case in terms of pensions and the sharing of pensions?

My hon. Friend draws attention to an important point. Like her, some of my constituents discovered too late that being a common law wife has no status in law. I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend the Deputy Minister for Women and Equality has agreed that my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs will consider how we can better inform women in this position about the legal risks that they are running should their relationship break up.