4. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the disadvantage experienced by women born in the 1950s as a result of changes to the state pension age. (900274)
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has regular discussions with all Cabinet colleagues on a range of issues. The Government will not be revisiting the state pension age changes implemented by the Pension Acts 1995 and 2011. This Government are committed to supporting 1950s-born women and men who cannot work, and those who wish to continue working, retraining or returning to work.
Yesterday, in response to the Westminster Hall debate, the Minister made the well-intentioned but ill-judged suggestion that an adequate response to the pensions plight of the 1950s-born women was for them to access apprenticeships. That shows how far out of touch some people are on this issue. There is a clear consensus across this House to address this injustice. When will the Government bring forward legislation to address that injustice?
Many companies such as the Co-operative, Barclays, Aviva, Centrica and others have committed to older workers by recruiting and retraining them. The employment rate for those aged between 50 and 64 is up 48,000 this quarter, and 213,000 on the year. That includes 57,000 people who started apprenticeships aged between 45 and 59, and 3,560 who started apprenticeships over the age of 60.
Following the appalling announcement in yesterday’s Westminster Hall debate, which was probably the best-attended debate ever in that Chamber, many of us have heard through our postbags that the poverty caused by this Government’s decision on equalising the pension age is appalling. Is that not just another sign of this Government showing yet again how out of touch they are with the real world, as they have over the past three weeks?
With the greatest respect, 22 years ago, when neither the hon. Lady nor I was in the House, the Government introduced the Pensions Act 1995 to require equalisation. That was then overseen by various Governments, who provided extensive information in many different ways over the following years. The 2011 Act then accelerated the process by 18 months. Following that, 6 million letters were sent out to individual constituents. If the hon. Lady knows of any individual issues, I urge her to write to me and I will make sure that there is support for any specific constituent that she has.
Although the Minister’s offer to meet representatives from the all-party group was very welcome, as he has heard his promotion of apprenticeships for 64-year-olds was perhaps less wise. This is clearly a matter of injustice and inequality for a group of women who have been affected disproportionately, so may we please get everybody back around the table for genuine discussions about finding solutions that will not break the bank but will bring some justice and solutions to hard-pressed women who are suffering now?
I look forward to meeting the all-party group when it is reformed, but I make the point that revisiting the 1995 Act and the 2011 Act would cost well in excess of £30 billion, as my hon. Friend knows. However, I look forward to those meetings and discussions.
Notification is clearly a key concern. Will my hon. Friend confirm what steps have been taken to raise awareness of the changes in the state pension age?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the question. As he will be aware, there have been multiple leaflets, letters, debates, advertising and discussion all the way through from 1995—for the past 22 years. He will no doubt be aware that there have been multiple debates in Parliament as well.