Before I respond, may I say, on behalf of our Front-Bench team and, I hope, of the whole House, how proud we are of the Lionesses for their exceptionally inspirational performance in the women’s World cup?
Recent state pension reforms have meant that by 2030 more than 3 million women will be £550 a year better off on average. Automatic enrolment has helped to equalise workplace pension participation, and the Government’s gender inequality road map sets out our proposals to tackle financial instability in later life.
Equalising the pension age has been very painful. We understand the reasons for it, but it is very painful for many of my constituents—females born in the 1950s. What has the Minister’s Department done to militate against that? What more can be done to avoid hardship for that age group?
My hon. Friend is a strong advocate for his constituents. This Government have already introduced transitional arrangements costing £1.1 billion; this concession reduced the proposed increase in state pension age for more than 450,000 men and women, and means that no woman will see her pension age change by more than 18 months, relative to the original Pensions Act 1995 timetable. For those experiencing hardship, the welfare system continues to provide a safety net, with a range of benefits tailored to individual circumstances.
The Minister must recognise that, particularly for working-class women in the north-east who started work earlier, sometimes at the age of 14 or 15, and are in manual trades, which take a huge toll on the body, this pension inequality is really affecting lives. What is he doing to meet the just claims of the WASPI—Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign—women and provide support for those women so disproportionately affected?
As I say, the Government have already introduced transitional arrangements costing £1.1 billion. We have considered the alternative options and found that there are substantial practical, financial and legal problems with all alternative options offered by stakeholders so far to mitigate the impact on those affected.
In addition to the Lionesses, will the Minister also congratulate the Scottish women’s football team on their efforts and wish the Scottish Thistles netball team all the best in the netball world cup, which is coming up this week?
The WASPI women have already been cheated out of their pensions by this and previous Governments, but a further issue is emerging, with the Association of British Insurers talking of £20 billion of unclaimed pensions, in 1.6 million pension pots. That will disproportionately affect women, as they are more likely to have changed jobs multiple times during their careers. What is the Minister going to do to make sure that those women do not also lose out on pensions to which they should be entitled, in unclaimed pension pots?
I will certainly echo the comments made by the hon. Lady about those sporting teams in Scotland. Her question is better related to the Pensions Minister, so I will ensure that he responds fully to the points she raises. However, I would say, on WASPI women, that any amendment to the current legislation that creates a new inequality between men and women would be unquestionably highly dubious as a matter of law, and the Government’s position on the changes to the state pension age remains clear and consistent.