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State Pension Age (Women)

Volume 523: debated on Monday 14 February 2011

We published a full equality impact assessment as part of the White Paper on our proposals to bring forward the increase of the state pension age to 66, which sets out the effect on women of those changes.

The coalition agreement states that the parties agree to

“hold a review to set the date at which the state pension age starts to rise to 66, although it will not be sooner than 2016 for men and 2020 for women.”

Will the Minister explain why he saw fit to U-turn on that promise and to start to increase the women’s state pension age to 66 from 2018?

If the hon. Gentleman looks at the process of raising the state pension age to 66, he will find that early in 2020, the age will still be 65 and some months. It will not start to rise to 66 until April of that year.

Although I welcome the equalisation of the pension ages, does the Minister agree that a small group of women born, like me, in the middle months of 1954—a vintage year—will be affected disproportionately by the way in which it is being phased in? Will he look again to see what can be done to help that group of women?

My hon. Friend is right that of the 2.6 million women who are affected, 33,000 were born in the vintage months that he describes. That group will have to delay for up to two years before they receive their state pension. One reassurance I can offer is that those women—and indeed he, should he find himself in that situation—will be eligible to apply for jobseeker’s allowance or employment and support allowance, so they will not be left destitute.

The Turner commission recommended a 15-year lead-in for such changes. Those women who were born in 1954 will not benefit from that. Does the Minister think that fair?

The hon. Lady raises the important point that notice periods are important. The challenge we faced was that the time scale for raising state pension ages that we inherited was staggeringly leisurely. The Conservative party manifesto and the coalition agreement made it clear that we would move faster. The state pension age for men was set at 65 a century ago—I think we need to move faster.

A constituent of mine who has worked all her life and has saved for her own pension falls into the vintage year of 1954. She cannot bring herself to be on jobseeker’s allowance at the end of a hard-working career. It seems a little harsh to suggest that as the only outcome.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Jobseeker’s allowance and employment and support allowance are available as safety nets, but I appreciate that that is not what many people will want. The vast majority of the women in this birth cohort are still working. In the world that we are going into, we anticipate that more people will work into their 60s—that is part of the change. Many of them will be able to support themselves, perhaps through a part-time job, to cover the gap in years.

The Minister’s response is inadequate. The Government’s coalition agreement is clear. Under the Government’s plans, the state pension age will start to rise to 66 in 2018, not in 2020 as promised in the coalition agreement. Some 33,000 women, currently aged 56, will have to wait exactly two years longer to get their pension, with little time to prepare. The average retirement savings of those women will provide them with just £11 a week in retirement. They simply do not have the savings to draw on to accommodate these moving goalposts. Does the Minister honestly believe that these changes for women are fair and proportionate?

I have common ground with the hon. Lady on two points. First, I deplore the fact that the pensions policies of the previous Government have left women in this group with so little pensions savings to draw on. Secondly, she is right that we could go more slowly. We could, as she has proposed, delay until 2020 before doing anything, but we would then have to find an additional £10 billion that the present schedule provides for us. I have not yet had the letter or parliamentary question from her suggesting where that £10 billion might come from.