The Government will not be introducing further transitional protection beyond the £1.1 billion already in place. Going any further could not be justified, given that the underlying imperative must be to focus public resources on those most in need.
That is a very disappointing response. There are 10,000 WASPI women in Hull, and with 4,100 names, Hull’s was the largest WASPI petition presented to the House last month. Labour has suggested changes to pension credit that could be financed by clawing back handouts to the wealthiest in order to help these women. Is it not about time that the Minister understood that these WASPI women will not go away until justice is done and they get a fair deal?
As the hon. Lady has mentioned, Labour proposed using pension credit as a transition mechanism for helping these women. This was discussed extensively during our debates on the Pensions Act 2011 as it went through Parliament, and it was decided that £1.1 billion would instead be used as transitional relief.
It is quite obvious from the Minister’s response that he is fed up with these questions, but I will keep asking them so long as I have women, such as my constituent Gillian Purcell, coming to me and saying, “I’m 60. I’ve worked all my life, but my body is telling me I can’t do it any more without a pension”. When will the Government do the honourable thing and start looking after the WASPI women?
The cost of reversing the changes varies depending on whom one asks. The different political groups have come up with different amounts, varying between £7 billion and £30 billion, and that is quite apart from the substantial practical problems, such as risk of legal challenge, deliverability and all the problems associated with such options.
I recently spoke to a constituent working in a care home who was incredibly distressed at the thought of having to work another seven years in an increasingly physically demanding job, especially as she had made retirement plans to look after her daughter’s children so that her daughter could go back to work. What assessment has the Department made of the implications not only for the women affected but for their families too?
As the hon. Lady implies, the Department has considered this matter long and hard. The current average age of exit from the labour market for women is 63.1 years, which is well above the previous women’s state pension age of 60.
I just want to make it clear that it is not just on the Opposition Benches that there are concerns about this matter. Of course we do not know what the autumn statement will say on Wednesday, but we ought at least to keep options open, because the current state of affairs is not very satisfactory.
As my hon. Friend knows, the public finances are very complicated, and I know that he intends to wait until Wednesday to hear what the Chancellor has to say, but this matter has been looked at long and hard and transitional funds of more than £1.1 billion have been allocated. The change to the state pension age was discussed and enacted in 1995. Since then, there have been further Acts and all this has been extensively discussed.
I understand that reverting to the 1995 state pension timetable would cost something in the region of £39 billion. Does the Minister agree that it is easy to criticise the Government over this policy, but more difficult to explain where the money would come from for any policy changes?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question, and I totally agree with him.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the difficulty with Labour’s proposal on pension credit is that it does not reflect what is actually sought by the WASPI campaign, which goes right back to the Pensions Act 1995? That would almost certainly be illegal—[Interruption]—under the rules of fair progress for both sexes on pensions, and it would cost an absolute fortune?
I totally agree with my hon. Friend. I heard a Labour Member shouting, “Tell that to the destitute.” Well, we have a very good benefits system in this country, and I am sure that those people who are destitute are very familiar with it.
The Minister has made it very clear that the Government will not act further to help those affected by the ill-managed change to people’s pension age. Will he tell us whether he or the Secretary of State have had any discussions with the Chancellor ahead of the autumn statement about whether there might be additional help for those most affected?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I can do no better than repeat that the transitional arrangements have taken place and that Government policy is very clear. I would not want him to think or believe that there will be any change on this.
Clearly there have been no discussions with the Chancellor. In the Westminster Hall debate on the issue, we heard about many people who have been left destitute and are living in poverty as they care for elderly relatives who may be unwell, but not ill enough to qualify for employment and support allowance, and about many others who are in dire straits. The Government have no intention of doing anything to help them and they have rejected Labour’s first-step proposal of extending pension credit to both women and men who are being denied their state pension for years to come. I ask the Minister to think again. Assuming that his hands are tied by the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, will he set up a dedicated proactive helpline for those affected so that they can access the social security benefits that the Minister says are sufficient to meet their needs?
As the hon. Gentleman is aware, there is a very good benefit system in this country and people in every area are well aware of how to access it. There are Jobcentre Plus offices and help available in every local area. If right hon. or hon. Members wish to write to me about individual constituents, as they do, I will be happy to refer them to the places in their local areas.