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State Pension Age (Women)

Volume 531: debated on Monday 18 July 2011

19. What steps he is taking in respect of women affected by proposed changes to the state pension age. (66548)

While the Government remain committed to treating men and women equally in state pensions sooner, and to equalising at age 66 sooner, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions said on Second Reading of the Pensions Bill:

“I recognise the need to implement the change fairly and manage the transition smoothly…I say to my colleagues that I am willing to work to get the transition right, and we will.”—[Official Report, 20 June 2011; Vol. 530, c. 50.]

I thank the Minister for his answer, but 1,300 women in my constituency will have to wait up to two years to receive their state pension following the changes made by this coalition Government. Indeed, I have received a huge amount of mail on this issue, in which constituents have described the Government’s plans as unfair, unbelievable and cockeyed, among other things. Notwithstanding transitional relief, will the Secretary of State think again and give those affected enough notice to plan adequately for their retirement?

Clearly, there is a balance to be struck between catching up with the very dramatic improvements in life expectancy, which are moving ahead faster and faster, and recognising the need for fairness and notice. We are trying to strike that balance. We recognise that we need to refine the Bill’s proposals to do so, and we will come back with proposals.

May I thank the Minister for his answer in that regard? Will he give some reassurance to those in Thirsk, Malton and Filey who have written to me? Successive Governments, and the Turner report, have said that it takes some 10 years to plan for retirement. Will that be reflected and recognised in the Government’s transition proposals?

As my hon. Friend will be aware, if we were to delay the whole transition for 10 years we would need to find an extra £10 billion of savings out of the £30 billion in the Pensions Bill. We believe that many of the people who are affected by the transition are affected by a lot less than the two years that the hon. Member for Livingston (Graeme Morrice) mentioned. We are therefore trying to tackle those who are most adversely affected, and I am confident that we will be able to do so.

May I take this chance to wish the Pensions Minister a happy birthday?

The House knows that changes to the state pension age mean that 500,000 women in their mid-50s will have their pension delayed by more than a year, and 33,000 will have to wait an extra two years. We all welcomed what the Secretary of State and the Minister said about transition on 20 June, yet in Committee the Government tabled no amendments to their legislation, and we have heard not a word from the Minister or the Secretary of State on what those transition arrangements will look like. With the recess starting this week, what hope can the Minister give to those 500,000 women that the Government will put in place some transitional arrangements for a fairer timetable that gives people the chance to prepare, and gives them some certainty as they look forward—they hope—to their retirement?

I thank the hon. Lady for her good wishes for my birthday, and reciprocate by offering her good wishes for her wedding later this summer.

On the specific issue that the hon. Lady raises, she and I have spent the best part of 20 hours debating such things in Committee over the last couple of weeks. The Government wanted to give the Opposition the chance to bring forward some fresh thinking, and we were therefore rather disappointed when they simply retabled the amendments that they had tabled in the House of Lords. We were looking for some fresh thinking—but as it has not come from the Labour party, we will have to do it ourselves.