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State Pension Changes: Women

Volume 747: debated on Tuesday 12 March 2024

I beg to move,

That this House has considered compensation for women affected by state pension changes.

I thank each and every Member who has come to speak in the debate, and I am greatly encouraged that they have, as are those from the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign in the audience today, who are here to ask us, as MPs, to speak for them.

This is not an issue that any of us is unaware of. My emails in the last few days have been incredible. People do not understand the unfairness of what has happened, so let me take a moment to put the issue into context and to set the scene—I am conscious of time, Sir Gary, and I gave you a commitment earlier that I would give everyone else a chance to contribute.

The WASPI women are the generation of women born in the 1950s who have been adversely affected by the changes to the state pension age in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They argue that they were not given adequate notice of transitional arrangements to adjust to the increase in their state pension age from 60 to 65 or 66, depending on their date of birth. That is the crux of this debate.

I thank the hon. Member for securing the debate and for the great work he is doing. Unfortunately, Sir Gary, I have to leave early, so I will not be making a speech. The hon. Member said that the so-called WASPI women “argue” that they were not properly advised and informed, but the stage 1 report produced by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman actually confirmed that they were not properly advised and informed.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that, and he is absolutely right. I will come to that point and confirm it. The issue is all about fairness and equality, but, with respect to the Minister and the Government, they have fallen down on that.

I too congratulate my hon. Friend and colleague on securing the debate. He is a champion for women on this issue not only in his constituency but across the UK. Does he, like me, feel that last week’s Budget was a complete and total missed opportunity? The Government could have done something for these women if they really cared. They were able to step in and resolve issues to do with the Post Office, so why have they not been able to step in here, show a bit of compassion and demonstrate that they are prepared to solve this issue? Some 260,000 women have died since the campaign started in 2015. That is a disgrace, and the Government should act now.

My hon. Friend and colleague is absolutely right, which is why we are all here to make that case.

The WASPI women claim that the issue has caused them financial hardship, emotional distress and health problems. Many have had to work longer than expected, rely on benefits or use their savings to cope with the gap in their income. The hon. Member for Dudley North (Marco Longhi) is a strong supporter of WASPI women, and although he was unable to come today because of a prior engagement, he does support everyone else here.

I too thank the hon. Member for securing the debate. Some 8,000 WASPI women live in my constituency, and many have been in touch with me. They are at their wits’ end and do not know how they will manage financially—one constituent told me that they have had to sell their home. Does the hon. Member agree that Ministers should accept the clear findings of maladministration in the ombudsman’s stage 1 report and that the Government should commit to meeting the compensation recommendations as soon as the final report is published—if the Government care?

Absolutely, and we all say hear, hear to that.

The WASPI women also contend that they have been discriminated against on the grounds of sex and age and that they have been disproportionately impacted by the changes, compared with men and younger women. On behalf of those in the audience today, I very much agree with that assertion.

Actions to inform the women are felt to have been inadequate—I am using very gentle language in saying that—and did not go far enough. The changes to the state pension age were primarily enacted through legislative measures such as the Pensions Acts of 1995 and 2011. The Government claim that those changes were publicised through official Government publications in the belief that those were accessible to the public, but the fact is that they were not.

I too commend the hon. Gentleman on securing this really important debate. He puts his finger on the nub of the unfairness here: it was not just one Pensions Act that affected these women; many were subsequently affected by a further Pensions Act in 2011, so they were hit twice by the same injustice. It is all fine and well for the Government to say they do not accept that unfairness, but the reality is that the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has already ruled that there was maladministration in the functioning of the policy. Is it not time that the Government just accepted that and did what is right by these women?

Thank you, Sir Gary. I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Gentleman. Yes, there is maladministration, and I will use that word again shortly.

Many of the women concerned may not have been actively engaged with Government or have had knowledge of or access to Government publications. In that case, how could they have been informed to an extent that would have made a difference? That is the crux of the matter and of the debate, and it is why we are all here. This is about equality for women, and there has been a level of unfairness in the pensions system.

It is important to remember that women born in the 1950s entered a labour market and a society that was different from what young women experience today. They began working in the 1960s, in their teens, in a workforce where women were paid less than men and were expected to leave their jobs when they married or began a family.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate and on his powerful opening speech. I am sure he will agree that it is important that we get on the record from the Minister today that the Department for Work and Pensions accepts the findings in the stage 1 report of maladministration. Most importantly, it must also act swiftly to compensate the women and the families of the women who have passed while waiting for compensation.

I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. Everybody’s interventions so far have added to the debate and reinforced the issue.

Back when ladies started to work, there were no remunerated childcare schemes and it was not standard practice for ladies to be offered access to work pension schemes.

With all due respect to the Minister, the DWP has fallen down on this matter. The Department admitted in 2009 that direct communication with those affected by increases in the state pension age was limited. In 1995, leaflets explaining the changes were available from the Benefits Agency, but only on request. In other words, if someone wanted to know anything—if they even knew to ask—that is what they should have asked for. The fact is that the DWP has a responsibility.

Some 16 million voluntary letters were issued in the form of automatic pension forecasts projecting state pension entitlements, including to women aged over 50 at the time. Those letters did not include any details of state pension age or mention that it was changing, so those women were not fully notified. That is what this debate is about. When we look back specifically to the years between 1995 and 2000, we are reminded that we lived in a relatively pre-internet world, where information was not so readily available at the click of a button and social media did not exist. In the late 1990s, we had only five TV channels, and 24-hour broadcasting was still a thing of the future.

The DWP survey of 2004 asked working-age adults about awareness of state pension age equalisation. The results showed that, of those who were aware, 47% got their information from TV advertising, 37% were informed by reading a newspaper and only 2%—only 2%—cited the Pension Service as their source of information. The Pension Service had the responsibility, and it failed badly. Some 98% of those who qualified did not even know from the state Pension Service what should have been happening. That is a massive issue, and it has to be addressed. Furthermore, despite the efforts made through television and newspaper advertising, access to what we see now as the most basic avenues of communication was limited for women who were not securely housed or in unstable domestic environments.

WASPI women deserve to be compensated for the injustice they have had to face, and that compensation should be based on the principles of recognition, restitution and reconciliation. We could call them the three Rs—it is almost like going back to school—but here they apply to the WASPI women and pensions.

The first principle of compensation is recognition, and quite clearly there is a lot to do. The Government should acknowledge the harm and suffering caused by the changes to the state pension age, the inadequate communication of those changes and the failure to consult the women concerned for the reasons I have outlined. Recognition is important for restoring the dignity and trust of these women and for validating their experiences and grievances. It is also a precondition of achieving justice and reconciliation, as it shows that the Government are willing to take responsibility and to make amends for their actions. That is what this is about.

To date, there has been resistance to offering a formal apology to the WASPI women, and the Government have argued that the actions that were taken were lawful and reasonable. Let us be quite clear: they were not. That stance has been challenged by the PHSO, which found in 2021 that the Department for Work and Pensions had committed maladministration, as the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) referred to in an intervention.

The PHSO also found that, by failing to act quickly enough to inform the women about the changes to their state pension age, the DWP had not given due regard to the impact of the changes on the women’s lives and offered them no adequate support or guidance. The PHSO recommended that the Government should apologise to the women and pay them compensation for the distress and inconvenience caused by the DWP’s maladministration —I use that word because it is the right word; it describes exactly what happened.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the speech he has made so far. People have been waiting three years since the report he has just outlined. Does he agree that justice delayed is justice denied and that the Government should, as the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) said, compensate them now and use this Budget to deliver that compensation?

I thank the hon. Member for that, and he is right: there is a real onus on Government to reach out and help.

The PHSO also found that the DWP had not given due regard to the impact of the changes on women’s lives and had not offered women adequate support or guidance. It recommended that the Government should apologise to the women and pay them compensation for all those things, including the maladministration. The Government should take positive steps following the PHSO’s findings and recommendations and issue that sincere and public apology to the WASPI women. That would be a significant gesture of respect and remorse and a first step towards repairing the relationship between Government and the women we all represent.

The second principle of compensation is restitution. The Government should restore the affected women to the position they would have been in had the changes to the state pension not occurred, or at least mitigate the negative effects of the changes. Restitution is important for compensating the women for the material and non-material losses they have incurred and for ensuring that they can enjoy a decent and dignified retirement. Wow! How much do we all want to see a decent and dignified retirement? Restitution is also a way to correct the imbalance and inequality caused by the changes and to ensure that the women are not penalised for their sex and their age.

The WASPI women will have different views and demands in terms of what constitutes fair and adequate restitution. Some want a bridging pension or a lump sum payment to cover the gap between their expected and actual state pension age. There really has to be something, and we need to see that coming forward. The restitution that each woman should receive may also depend on their individual circumstances, such as their income, health and caring responsibilities.

I join the chorus of congratulations to the hon. Gentleman for organising this debate. Like many here, he will have constituents who are starting to receive draft reports from the ombudsman about the second report, which will trigger the payment of the restitution he just mentioned. Obviously, they are in draft and we cannot comment on them now, but does he agree that if there is a final conclusion of injustice, to go alongside that of maladministration, it is essential that there is a rapid reaction from the Government to deal with that and to respond promptly, with a proper programme of compensation? Does he also agree that this will be incredibly complicated because lots of WASPI women, depending on their age and conditions, will have faced a different level of injustice, and everything has to be adjusted to reflect that?

I do agree with that. The Minister is obviously taking copious notes, and the civil servants have not had their heads up since the debate started, so I suspect and hope that they will have the answers we need.

The Government must adopt a flexible and tailored approach to restitution, based on the needs and preferences of the WASPI women. They should consult the women and their representatives to design a system of recompense that is fair, transparent and accessible. I call on the Government and the Minister to consider the PHSO’s recommendations when it publicises its final report on the financial remedy for the women in due course. If they do that, we will have taken a step in the right direction. The PHSO has indicated that it will consider the impact of the changes on the women’s standard of living, health and wellbeing, as well as the availability and adequacy of alternative sources of income and support.

The Government should also ensure that the restitution is delivered promptly and efficiently—do both those things—and ensure that the women are given clear and accurate information and guidance on how to claim and receive their compensation. The Government should monitor and evaluate the implementation of the restitution scheme and its outcomes, and adjust the scheme if necessary to ensure its effectiveness and fairness.

The third principle of compensation is reconciliation. It is a word often used in society, but reconciliation is what we want here. That means the Government should foster a positive and constructive relationship with the WASPI women and their representatives, and address the underlying causes and consequences of the changes to the state pension age. Reconciliation is important for healing the wounds and divisions caused by the changes and for building trust and co-operation between the Government and the women. Reconciliation is also a way of preventing similar injustices from happening in the future, which my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) referred to. If we do it right now, it will be in place for the future and will ensure that the pensions system is sustainable and equitable for all.

The Government should engage in a dialogue and partnership with the women and listen to their views and concerns. They should involve the women in the decision-making and policymaking processes related to the pensions system and ensure that their voices and interests are represented and respected. The Government should recognise and celebrate the contribution and achievements of the WASPI women, and support their empowerment and participation in society. They have done so much, and we salute and thank them for that.

The Government should address the broader issues and challenges that affect the pensions system and the ageing population, such as the adequacy and security of pension income, the availability and affordability of social care, the quality and accessibility of health services, the diversity and inclusivity of the labour market, and the promotion and protection of human rights. The Government should adopt a holistic and long-term approach to those issues, and seek the input and collaboration of the WASPI women and various stakeholders, including other pensioners, workers, employers, civil society and the public.

Compensating 3.8 million WASPI women is not only a matter of rectifying past injustices, but a recognition of the hardships they have endured due to the sudden and unexpected changes to their pension entitlements. Importantly, it is a recognition of the place in history held by this wonderful post-war generation of women from all communities across this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

I apologise. I was hesitating before saying anything because I did not want to stop the hon. Gentleman in his flow setting out what Government need to do. Does he recognise that there is a vital and pivotal role for Parliament to play when we receive the ombudsman’s final report in considering it and making recommendations to Government, which the Government should then properly and fully respond to so as to uphold the office of the ombudsman?

I had not finished; I was giving way to the hon. Gentleman. I am almost there, by the way. I will keep to your timescale, Sir Gary, simply because everyone here deserves to give their input. I told you I would do that and I will do that.

Compensating those 3.8 million women is recognition of the place in history held by that wonderful post-war generation. I say that again because that is why I am here: to speak for those ladies who contact me in my office all the time. Those are the women who have collectively and individually played a pivotal role in shaping and inspiring change in society. We salute those women for what they have done over the years. They have contributed to the workforce and society throughout their lives, and they deserve to retire with dignity and financial security.

The WASPI women were the mothers, nurses, cleaners, dinner ladies, shop workers, teachers, carers, factory and farm workers—the list goes on. That is only a small group of who those people were. They were trailblazers for women in society and role models for subsequent generations of women, so when the time comes in the debate, let us do the right thing by them—it is imperative that we do.

The hon. Gentleman is paying such a beautiful and wonderful tribute to that group of women that I feel I must rise to mention the more than 4,000 WASPI women in my constituency, the 700 who signed a petition in 2016 and waited all these years, and the two who are my sisters, who very much reflect everything he says. Time is toxic—they have waited so very long. Does he agree that we cannot wait any longer? Every year we are losing our WASPI women.

It is fitting that the last intervention on my contribution was from a hon. Lady who has staff who fall into that category, along with many in the Public Gallery today. For me, and for all of us here, it is a simple thing. Wrongs have to be righted—that is our job as MPs. There is pressure on all of us, on both sides of the Chamber, but there is more pressure on the Minister and the Government. They must deliver what is right. Let us stand by the WASPI women and make sure that they get what they should.

Colleagues, all of you who have eyes will recognise that we have a dozen or so contributions to squeeze in and just under 40 minutes. It will be three minutes each, voluntarily. I will impose it if colleagues do not play ball. I am sure we will all be on our best behaviour.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing this debate, and for his tireless work on the campaign. I also pay tribute to the WASPI organisation for its campaigning efforts across Britain. Over 4,000 constituents in Cynon Valley are affected, and I am currently working with an active group of women campaigning for justice for WASPI women.

In July 2021, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s stage 1 report found clear maladministration in the way the DWP communicated state pension age changes. The DWP has still never publicly accepted that finding. The release of the final pages of the stage 2 report will make findings about the impact of the DWP’s maladministration, and the stage 3 report will make recommendations on compensation. We have heard that both are expected in the coming weeks, and I echo colleagues’ comments for the Minister to give us an update, and a specific date on which the announcement will be made.

In January 2024, the Daily Mirror reported that 260,000 WASPI women had died since the start of the campaign back in 2015. I have heard some harrowing stories of women’s experiences, as I am sure everyone in the Chamber today has. People have even lost their houses because of the situation; there have been tragic cases. People have been plunged into poverty through no fault of their own, and have felt abandoned given the length of time the investigation has taken. That is why we desperately need action now.

I have supported, and continue to support, the case for full restitution, because that is in principle the right demand. I also welcome and support the WASPI calls for a one-off payment from the Government as fair and fast compensation. We must compensate these women, ideally at the ombudsman level 6 band of financial remedy—and the more, the better. Ideally it should be full restitution. I also welcome serious demands, such as those from the all-party parliamentary group for state pension inequality for women, and the State Pension Age (Compensation) Bill tabled by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown).

The Treasury saved over £200 billion through the changes that have been made to women’s state pensions. It is yet another example of horrific injustice, alongside the Post Office scandal, Hillsborough, and the contaminated blood inquiry. Time is of the essence. To reflect the comments of the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) earlier, justice delayed is justice denied. Please, can the Minister indicate a hard deadline for the awarding of compensation payments? Will the women receive the money before the general election? The women have waited far too long, and too many families have seen them pass on without compensation. We must deliver now.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing this important and timely debate. The Government’s failure to come forward with proposals for compensating the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign is a disgrace. Tens of thousands of women have been plunged into poverty through no fault of their own, and many of them now feel abandoned given the length of time that this investigation has taken. Their situation has also been severely exacerbated by the cost of living crisis. As others have said, the Government have shown that they can act swiftly to end long-running injustices when they feel the need to do so. I strongly feel that the WASPI women should be afforded the same justice and dignity as victims of the Post Office scandal, and that should happen without further delay.

We must never forget the reality of what has happened here: 3.8 million women were given the bombshell news that their state pension age would increase from 60 to 66, just as they were about to retire and when it was too late for them to do any proper financial planning. Many were already in ill health, and others had taken early retirement and were planning to hang on until age 60 when they would receive the state pension, but all their hopes were dashed.

Last week we celebrated International Women’s Day, and on Sunday we celebrated Mother’s Day, but all the fine words about women’s contribution to society mean nothing unless action is taken to compensate women who have been as badly treated as the WASPI women. In Ireland last week, we saw a salutary lesson of how a Government who try to write women off can be defeated when women and their supporters rise up to protect their rights. This Government need to remember that the WASPI women have votes, and so do their husbands, partners, children, friends and supporters.

It is important to be clear what this debate is about, because the Department for Work and Pensions sometimes has a habit of muddying the waters. The WASPI campaigners have spoken to me, and they want me to stress that their campaign is for fair and fast compensation. They have always supported pension equalisation between men and women, but their issue is the unfair way in which the changes were brought about. I would like the Minister to reassure me that when the DWP is asked for comment on the WASPI campaign in future, it will stick to the facts of what the campaign is about and will not issue misleading statements conflating it with other campaigns.

The questions that the Minister must answer today are very clear. Others will enumerate them but I make no apology for doing so now, because I want to ensure that the Minister and those advising him have the questions fully noted and that they answer them at the end of the debate. First, the PHSO stage 1 report was published in July 2021. Do Ministers accept the clear findings of maladministration in that report? Secondly, it was said around the time of the stage 1 report that Ministers could be proactive in finding a remedy. Do Ministers regret not taking that advice and moving more quickly, rather than leaving more and more women waiting and some dying with justice not being done? Finally, given that the investigation by the PHSO has taken more than five years and over a quarter of a million affected women have died during the lifetime of the WASPI campaign, do Ministers think that the system as a whole has treated women acceptably?

I shall be brief. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) who articulated many of our concerns.

There is a clear message that justice is on the side of the WASPI ladies. They are an uncomplaining group, but they have an overwhelmingly obvious case. They brought up families, often held down jobs and played a phenomenal role in many of our constituencies, including mine, through many different community groups and organisations such as the women’s institute. Not only was their rate of pay often not the same when they were in the workplace, but they now find a second injustice in the maladministration—probably—of their pensions.

We may not get a perfect situation, but my message for the Minister is very simple: if we find in the next few months, as I suspect we will, that the WASPI case is right and we need to act on it, and that the Government and the DWP have not behaved in the way they should have done, there is a simple remedy. I personally would love to see a May election, but if we go through to November, the likelihood is that there will be another financial statement this year from the Government. I beg the Government and urge the Minister to listen very closely to the voices here. If it is deemed to be the right thing to do, as it almost certainly will be, we have a chance—not only for reasons of politics but for reasons of ethics and doing the right thing, because we do not want another scandal on this issue as well as many others—for the Government to issue a recompense process of some kind in an autumn financial statement.

To sum up, justice is on the side of the WASPI women. We need to recognise that and act on it, and the sooner we do so, the better.

Sometimes we do not have a collective memory in Parliament. I will briefly go through some of the history of the last 10 years in which I and others have been dealing with this issue, because we need to learn its lessons.

In debates held here in 2015 we recognised the immense suffering people had gone through and the injustice of the case itself. Between 2015 and 2017 we tried to ger cross-party agreement for a compensation scheme, but it was rejected. As shadow Chancellor at the time I met with all the various campaigning groups, including the WASPI women, and we asked Bryn Davies—now Lord Bryn Davies—a prime pensions expert in the field, to develop a scheme, which we brought forward in 2019. In a normal electoral cycle it would have been implemented by agreement, hopefully by 2020-21, but it was not, as we had an election campaign at that time.

The scheme balanced compensation with ready implementation and was relatively straightforward and simple. However, at the time the argument against it was cost—that at £12 billion a year over a four-year period it was too expensive. The Government had already saved £200 billion from those affected women; £48 billion may well have seemed expensive, but I remind people that at that time interest rates were on the floor.

The compensation scheme was relatively cheap, would have been paid over a limited period of time and would have delivered compensation to those women. I believed it was a legal contingent liability anyway and that it should have been brought forward from the Contingencies Fund, even if we were then forced to borrow, relatively cheaply. Had that happened, that scheme would have been paid out by now and the affected women would have been compensated. The 216,000 women who have died would have received something—but tragically they are now lost.

The conclusion is that I do not want to be here in another five or 10 years’ time arguing the case. I agree with the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely): we have the autumn statement. A relatively simple scheme should be brought forward so that the money can get out the door very quickly. I fear there is no sense of urgency from the Government, so we must create a cross-party sense of urgency. My other fear is that the ombudsman will bring forward its final report and the compensation levels offered will be trivial, which would be unacceptable given the suffering that people have gone through.

I appeal to the Government to listen to hon. Members on both sides of this House. The Government rejected and opposed the our earlier scheme, and by doing so they have probably enhanced the cost of compensation now. Let us grasp the nettle. Sometimes tackling injustices can be expensive, but it is right.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing this debate in Jim Shannon hall this morning—[Laughter.] He is an assiduous supporter of the WASPI women.

There are over 12,000 WASPI women in Renfrewshire, and one is a constituent of mine whose case is currently with the ombudsman. She has worked alongside me and my office team for nearly nine years, trying to get justice for herself and the other 1950s women—that is how long this saga has been going on. Just the other week I held my thousandth constituency advice surgery, and she came along to it; we joked that I think she had been to 100 of them—but like the rest of my jokes it is not funny.

The ombudsman was in no doubt that maladministration took place under the DWP’s watch. What is scandalous is that the DWP refuses to accept those findings and instead has buried its head in the sand and left complainants in limbo. The ombudsman stated, “We would also have proposed recommending DWP provide appropriate remedy for others who have suffered injustice because of maladministration... However, DWP has refused to accept our findings of maladministration. Complainants, and others affected by DWP’s maladministration, urgently need resolution.”

1950s women have experienced huge financial detriment to themselves and their families through no fault of their own. Life-changing decisions were taken without the correct information, and only years later were those women suddenly confronted with the consequences of this issue—consequences that could have been avoided if the DWP had done its job properly.

The ombudsman said that the DWP is “not directly responsible or accountable” and that any “financial loss resulting from choices they made was not direct financial loss.” I could not disagree more with that conclusion. Women should have been taken at their word, not asked to provide counter-evidence to a standard that is utterly unrealistic and impossible for many. There has to be accountability for those failings that the ombudsman clearly highlighted, and be justice for the women let down by the system and compensation for those adversely affected by decisions taken by the DWP that were outwith their control.

My constituent has worked for 50 years, paying her national insurance contributions all the way, yet does not receive a full state pension, and the ombudsman concluded that she would be due compensation at only a low level—1 or 2. That in no way equates to the enormous impact this issue has had on her physical and mental health, following decisions she took long before she was made aware of any changes to her pension age. There are too many women who have sadly passed away over recent years before seeing some closure for the injustice they have suffered. They will never see compensation or any kind of remedy for what they and their families have gone through.

It is time for this Government—or indeed any incoming Government—to do the right thing by these women and ensure state pension justice for all the women, including my constituent, who have been victims of the DWP’s failings and who have campaigned tirelessly against this injustice.

I too congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on a very eloquent speech putting forward this case.

The two aspects I wish to concentrate on are injustice and restitution. There is a manifest injustice. Others have mentioned similar injustices that have taken place in our society: Horizon, which is ongoing, the blood scandal, Windrush and others. They may be down to individual, corporate or departmental error. In many instances, they may require criminal proceedings, or disciplinary action may be required—but equally, as a society, we need to resolve that manifest injustice. That is why we have schemes such as the criminal injuries compensation scheme. We live as a society, and a sin against one is a sin against all. The state requires to ensure that those who suffer are compensated, especially when it is because of a Government Department.

That takes us to restitution. The damage inflicted upon these women is not simply that which can be quantified, because there is also an unquantifiable loss. Therefore, the restitution must take some account of the pain and suffering. When we grow up and move from childhood to the world of work, our dreams and aspirations may often not be fulfilled—but those dreams exist. Similarly, as people reach an age where they prepare for retirement, many have dreams about what they wish to do.

Some may not wish to retire, and that is perfectly legitimate, but others feel that they have contributed their bit and they wish to have some time of their own, doing what they want. That might simply be looking after grandchildren or tending the garden; they might wish to sail around the world or write a novel—that is a matter for them. But they have those dreams that they were entitled to receive.

The problem is that the changes that were made and the injustice inflicted upon those people have taken those dreams away. Many have not been able to look after the grandchildren or tend the garden as they wished, never mind any of the other, less prosaic things I suggested, because they have required to keep body and soul together.

In damages claims in Scotland we have quantifiable loss, but we also have something termed solatium, which is for the pain and suffering inflicted on and sustained by the individual. That is very hard to quantify—one cannot say that they have not been given a certain level of benefit or that they have had to pay out some amount in some other aspect—but there must be some recognition that these women’s dreams were taken away in many instances, and that they have not simply suffered a financial injustice, but been denied the ability to do what they wanted, prepared and should have been entitled to do.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on his introduction to this important debate. I also declare an interest: my wife is one of the 3.8 million who were affected by the changes to the state pension age—although she can count herself as one of the lucky ones. Unlike hundreds of thousands of other women of her generation, this scandal did not condemn her to destitution in her retirement or undo the long-made plans she had spent her life working towards.

For others, of course, the situation is very different. One of my constituents, whose story has been recorded by the WASPI campaign, described her feelings as

“being robbed of the way of life that I thought I would have”,

after being informed that she would have to wait until the age of 66 to receive the state pension. This constituent, who was also affected by the collapse of Equitable Life, found herself unable to secure employment in a jobs market defined by systematic discrimination against older women, and thus became reliant on her husband’s earnings to survive.

There is a grim irony here. Women born in the 1950s were at the forefront of the fight for equal pay and rights in the workplace. A considerable number would have been the first women in their families to have their own job. For many, that independent income would have given them the opportunity for the first time to leave abusive or exploitative relationships. Yet later in life, many of these women, to whom all of us workers owe so much, have found themselves once again reliant on their spouses just to get by.

We cannot overstate the sense of betrayal felt by those who have been affected: a generation of women who upon leaving school were promised, as I was, that the state would be there to provide a level of safety and security later in life. Instead, they find themselves struggling to survive during the worst cost of living crisis in living memory.

Last year, the WASPI campaign found that 70% of its members had been forced to reduce their weekly spending, with more than half struggling to pay essential bills and one in four struggling to afford food. Women who have worked all their lives have been left impoverished. A covenant has been broken.

That the WASPI women have been subject to grave injustice is beyond question. The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s report is absolutely clear that there was maladministration in how the DWP communicated information about the state pension age changes and the Department failed to act upon its own research, which showed that women born in the 1950s were not aware of those changes, but more than three years on the DWP has yet to come clean and publicly accept these findings.

In that time, tens of thousands of affected women have lost their lives, with one WASPI woman dying every 13 minutes. The Government’s approach seems to have been to hope that the WASPI women would simply go away—but anyone who has met the WASPI campaigners, as I have during some of their many lobbies of Parliament, will know that that that is not going to happen.

In a few short weeks, the ombudsman is expected to publish the next stage of their report, detailing its findings concerning the impact of maladministration in relation to the WASPI women and its recommendations on compensation. The Minister will no doubt urge patience, but the question that many WASPI women are asking is this: how much longer must they wait to receive some form of financial restitution, and will they even still be here by the time it arrives?

I start by paying tribute to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for his persistent and powerful advocacy of the WASPI cause.

I am here to speak up for the WASPI women of Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, who I have had the honour of working with these past nine years. Their campaign has been dignified yet determined, but, while it has been an honour to work with them, it is appalling, as other Members have already said, that they and their brilliant colleagues from across the UK have had to keep fighting for so long.

Along the way we have lost some brilliant campaigners. I pay particular tribute to my constituent June Miller, a key figure in the Cumbernauld WASPI group who marched just outside this Chamber in support of WASPI women in October 2018. Tragically, she is one of about 260,000 WASPI women to have died during the lifetime of this campaign.

It is surely beyond any doubt now that WASPI women have suffered injustice as a result of DWP maladministration, for all the reasons that the hon. Member for Strangford set out. The key point is that the PHSO stage 1 report recognises precisely that, so now the DWP must recognise that stage 1 report and the stage 1 findings.

The recommendations from the PHSO should be the starting point, or the bare minimum, for the DWP. To go further would be absolutely welcome, but coming up short most certainly will not be. The PHSO has encouraged the DWP to be proactive. Instead, Ministers continue to bury their heads in the sand. Many billions of pounds have been saved by the Treasury through pension reforms; some of that must be used to put right the wrongs that have been suffered.

The other relevant context here is the ongoing cost of living crisis, 14 years of austerity and decades of entrenched wage and pension inequality. All those factors have impacted WASPI women more than anyone else, so fair compensation is not just due, but absolutely urgent.

Strong arguments have been made that “fair compensation” should mean level 6 compensation, because of the profound, devastating or irreversible impacts that the pension changes have had on WASPI women. The women in my local WASPI groups have undoubtedly endured a reduced quality of life for considerable periods thanks to DWP maladministration and they will continue to suffer in that way until their losses are recognised and compensation is paid.

The time taken to get to this stage is clearly unacceptable. The Government need to look at making PHSO and other ombudsmen better able to deal with cases of that scale. More immediately, when recommendations on compensation are finalised, every effort must be made to get it paid urgently. Those steps must start now, so that there is no more unnecessary waiting. The WASPI women are not going to go away, and neither will MPs in this Chamber today—not until justice is done.

I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for securing this important debate, and for all his work on this very important matter in at least the seven years that I have been in this place

I rise to speak in support of over 5,000 WASPI women in Ceredigion, and I begin by commending the WASPI campaign group there that has done so much in recent years to support those affected by pension changes. It has also done so much to raise awareness locally, and indeed nationally in Wales, of the injustice that women born after 6 April 1950 have suffered as a result of the changes introduced by the Pensions Act 1995 and the Pensions Act 2011.

I want to reinforce the point, mentioned by others, that we are talking about a generation of women who have suffered greatly throughout their lives. The injustice that they are suffering now has sadly come upon a lifetime of many injustices. As we have heard, they will have entered an unequal workforce, and they will have suffered greatly in society due to the inequality that previously plagued the United Kingdom as they grew up and came into adulthood.

Nevertheless, they are a generation of women who have contributed so much to bringing about positive change for the benefit of us all. Not only are they the mams, the mamgus, the sisters and the aunties, but they are ones who work tirelessly in various campaign groups, community organisations and causes. Yet after a lifetime of working diligently, they find themselves at the very end having to suffer financially and emotionally due to changes introduced by the state that were not communicated to them as they should have been.

The fact of the matter is that many of these women do not complain, as the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) said. They live their lives according to the law and they expect, very reasonably, that the state then recognises their contribution—that social contract—yet they have been failed so terribly by the failure of the Department for Work and Pensions to communicate the changes to their pension entitlements. To top it all off, after the ombudsman found that maladministration had taken place, the Department and the Government refused to acknowledge that maladministration. That is rubbing salt into the wound—I would venture—and I hope the Minister can address that.

Others have mentioned how these women have suffered not only financial harm but social harm, and their quality of life has been severely impacted. For that reason, I believe that when it comes to compensation we have to move away from the level 5 offered by the ombudsman. It needs to be much higher to reflect the fact that not only have they suffered financially but their lives have been put on hold and, as has been mentioned, sadly many of them have passed away before seeing justice. We cannot waste any more time on this matter.

Like everybody else, I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for bringing this debate forward, and also for sponsoring my private Member’s Bill—the State Pension Age (Compensation) Bill—which is aimed at compelling the UK Government to bring forward a compensation framework for the 3.8 million women affected by the state pension increase without proper notification, including 13,000 in my constituency.

Given that the ombudsman concluded at stage 1 in July 2021 that the DWP was guilty of maladministration, we in this place should not be having to force this issue. Would it not have been comforting to see, for once, our Government care to step in and do the right thing by way of remedying an injustice? Of course, as have others said, as with the infected blood scandal, the postmasters scandal and the green deal mis-selling, they do nothing and hope the issue just goes away. They have ignored this issue for nine years, but at least it still has not gone away, even if too many politicians have already given up for my liking.

We are talking about women who did not have maternity rights back in the day, who were paid less than men, who were more likely to work part time, and whose private pensions, if they had them, were smaller than men’s. In reality, the pension age equalisation was a further prejudice against these women, especially the many who had already retired before they got the bombshell notification that they needed to wait six years before they could access their state pension.

They then found out that the number of national insurance-contributing years required to receive the full pension had been increased, so many did not even have the opportunity to contribute enough NI to receive the full pension. That is another double whammy for these women. It really is time that the Government accepted the WASPI call for fair and fast compensation—for money that can be paid out to these women. That money will eventually be clawed back for the Government in taxes anyway, but it will also provide a local spending boost.

We also need to hear today from the Labour Front-Bench team what their position is. For too long, they have been quiet on this topic. For too long, we keep hearing that Labour is going to stick to Tory spending plans, which means austerity 2.0, including £19 billion of future departmental cuts. I hope that the Labour Front-Bench team commit to providing fair and fast compensation for the WASPI women if the Government do not step up to the plate. Let us not be kidded: we cannot have any faith in this fag-end Government stepping up to the plate.

When I presented my ten-minute rule Bill, I put a number of personal testimonies on the record. I hope the Minister will look at some of them, because they show what life is like for many people affected by the state pension increase. Unfortunately, I do not have time to go through those testimonies right now, but they talk about people losing their homes, being dependent on partners, being forced to try to get back into work, struggling on benefits to get by, and struggling on small private pensions because they did not have enough money or enough warning from the Government. Yet again, I say, pay that compensation and step up to the plate.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for his efforts in fighting this injustice.

There are 5,360 women in my Liverpool, West Derby constituency who are affected by the changes made to the women’s state pension age by the Pensions Act 1995. Of those, 4,000 have been further affected by the Pensions Act 2011, which accelerated the increases to ages 65 and 66. It is important that they have their voices heard in this place. Those in West Derby who are part of the 3.8 million women affected in the UK have been left in an entirely unacceptable situation as part of this historic wrong.

I firmly and wholeheartedly support the campaign for pension justice. I want to put on the record the efforts of all the campaigners for justice, including the fantastic women I have met from CEDAWinLAW and WASPI. Without their hard work, this debate would not be happening. This is something they should never have to fight for in the first place, because the Government have the power to right this injustice. I was proud to stand in 2019 on a Labour manifesto that would have righted this injustice.

It is clear from the correspondence that I have received, and from speaking to campaigners in West Derby, just how much hurt has been caused by the DWP’s actions. I want to talk about Jane, who phoned me at the weekend and wants her story heard in Parliament. She told me that the loss of her state pension, with no notice, meant that she had lost her cherished family home of 30 years. She broke down on the phone. It is completely devastating for her and her family. The plans she had made for retirement—to have a home with space for her grandchildren to visit her—are all now lost, taken away by the injustice and actions of the DWP.

After several years of investigations, it has been reported that stages 2 and 3 of the PHSO findings on the communication of the changes to women’s state pension age could be published soon. Will the Minister confirm the timeline? This is an injustice that needs to be addressed urgently. It is completely unacceptable that the Government have so far refused to take action to right this wrong. There is nothing to stop the Government taking immediate action to provide compensation, as has been outlined in this place today.

In November 2022, I went to Downing Street with campaigners and handed in my early-day motion 430. That motion was signed by 87 Members of this House and called for full financial restitution to women born in the 1950s. In the 16 months that have passed, this terrible injustice has only grown. Even more women are now facing poverty and total destitution as a result of the Government’s inaction. I ask the Minister to reflect on what he has heard and to begin the parliamentary process to provide the full compensation that thousands of women in West Derby and millions across the country deserve, without delay.

First, I want to say how much of a pleasure it was on Friday to join the WASPI Glasgow women at the Mary Barbour statue, to mark International Women’s Day. The clear message from those women is that they are not going away and nor is this issue.

I want to make three quick points. The first, which other Members have touched on, is about the historical injustices that women born in the 1950s have suffered throughout their lives, whether it is not receiving equal pay—far too many of these women are still fighting for equal pay and looking for compensation for unequal pay in the workplace—or the fact that while going about their lives they could not, for example, hire goods or services, or even get a cheque book, without the express permission of their father or husband, because society at that time decreed that it was a man who was the responsible person. What a quaint and fanciful notion that is! We have to recognise the injustices these women have suffered throughout their lives, and certainly the fact that they were not told that their pension age was changing and that many of them would have to work for an additional five years.

Secondly, it is almost certain that the ombudsman will send this issue back to Parliament to say that Parliament must now decide how to resolve the issue and how to compensate. That much is certain. The Government could have grasped the nettle. They could have recognised that this was coming and that it was time to address this issue, along with the issues of compensation for the infected blood and Post Office cases. They could have done all those things.

That brings me to my third point, which is that justice delayed is justice denied. The longer the Government wait and do not address this issue, the more the price tag will go up. That is an inevitability. We had the announcement of a Budget last week that has £46 billion of unfunded tax cuts, which is £46 billion that could have addressed all three of the issues I have mentioned. When he is on his feet, I hope the Minister will tell us how this Government should resolve this matter, because it should be up to this Parliament to decide it, instead of trying to dump it on the next Parliament.

Thank you, colleagues, for your co-operation; we are now bang on time as we turn to the Front-Bench spokesmen. I call the SNP spokesperson.

I am delighted to participate in this debate and, like so many other speakers, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for bringing it forward. I also pay tribute to the WASPI women who have campaigned so very hard and with so much dignity and determination, and in particular to the Ayrshire and Cunninghame WASPI campaigners, whose resilience and strength in their quest for justice has been truly inspirational, especially in the face of ongoing extreme provocation through the inaction and intransigence of the UK Government on this important issue of social justice.

The UK Government have a moral duty to deliver the justice that the WASPI women need and deserve, and we need that to happen urgently. There are 10 clear and perfectly reasonable asks from the WASPI campaign to reach a fair conclusion for the women affected, all of which my party and I fully support. I do not have time to list them today, but the asks are clear and reasonable and should not in any way be controversial.

For years, the women impacted have been left not just in limbo, but in financial distress and poverty, navigating what ought to have been their retirement years after a lifetime of work, stripped of their deserved dignity in retirement. It has caused untold emotional distress. For five long years, the WASPI women have waited for the ombudsman’s investigation to end and for its final report and adjudication to be published, during which time an estimated 260,000 women have died while waiting. That is tragic, utterly scandalous and completely indefensible.

As every speaker today has said, the rightful compensation should be delivered promptly; it must be meaningful and reflect the hardship, distress and injustice suffered by the women, and it must take into account the significant sums wrongly withheld from them. There must be no more obfuscation, avoidance or excuses. The UK Government must at long last deliver for the women. There are no more hiding places.

Like everyone in the debate today, I am very angry at hearing over the years about how WASPI women have had their retirement plans upended and about the hardship they have been thrown into. That has been exacerbated by the cost of living crisis, with soaring food and energy prices, rising interest rates and higher mortgage payments. Injustices have been worsened by appalling Government incompetence and mismanagement, as well as Government arrogance and a tone-deaf attitude to WASPI campaigners.

I draw the Minister’s attention again to the private Member’s Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), which would require the Secretary of State to publish proposals for a compensation scheme for women born between 6 April 1950 and 5 April 1960 inclusive who have been affected by the increase in the state pension age. Having robbed women of their rightful pension, the Government, as everybody has urged them to do today, should turn their attention to putting that right, because WASPI women feel that they have been robbed. To govern is to choose and good Governments must have justice at their core. The WASPI women, the victims of the Horizon scandal and those impacted by contaminated blood would not agree that this Government have justice at their core—why on earth would they? When Governments make mistakes, as sometimes happens, they need to be big enough and brave and decent enough to put those injustices right.

The Government must at long last urgently recompense the WASPI women, who have been robbed of their rightful retirement after a lifetime of pay discrimination. Then, they must turn their attention to pensioner poverty in general and reform our current pension system, which is not fit for purpose. Any talk of raising the retirement age further must stop because, we know that raising the retirement age has a disproportionate impact on people on lower pay and of lower socioeconomic status. We need an independent savings and pension commission without delay.

The ombudsman has been clear that the women have suffered from maladministration and injustice, so there can be no argument. There is no place left for the UK Government to hide. WASPI women deserve the retirement for which they worked all their lives. Everyone deserves dignity in retirement. That should not be a controversial statement. It is time for delivery because WASPI women will not, cannot, must not and should not go away. The Government must sort this out urgently.

It is an honour to serve under your chairpersonship, Sir Gary.

I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for raising this debate. He was kind enough to participate in my recent Westminster Hall debate on school libraries, and I am delighted to return the pleasure by attending his debate and responding for the Opposition. I also thank the many Members who have turned out today and spoken so eloquently, demonstrating so much understanding of this long-standing issue. I have to declare an interest because I too am a WASPI woman in my 50s. I put that on the record.

As we all know, many women get a rough deal from their pension. Women live around seven years longer than men, meaning our pension wealth needs to go further, yet on average we retire with pension savings of only £69,000 compared with £205,000 for men. Pensions were introduced at a time when the workforce was predominantly composed of men as the primary or sole breadwinner, with women expected to rely on their husbands’ pensions for an income in retirement. We were systematically denied the opportunity to achieve our own economic independence and security. Thankfully, legislation and societal attitudes have come a long way since the 1970s, but the impact of those historical practices continues to affect women’s economic status in retirement. Even today, women’s average pay is equivalent to 75% of a man’s and a lower salary will inevitably result in lower pension contributions and worse retirement outcomes.

I thank the hon. Member for giving way and also congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on bringing the debate. On the inequalities the hon. Lady talked about, although many of us are not directly affected, there cannot be a family in this country that does not have a woman or a close relative who has been affected. Does she think that perhaps the Government need to reexamine whether they fully appreciate the scale of the problem and that they should listen to those of us who have been fighting this cause since the day we were elected, which is many years now?

Yes, I absolutely agree with the hon. Member and certainly we are aware of the gender pay gap, which is getting bigger and bigger. I have referred to the fact that women generally live longer than men, so they lose out at that end as well, in that they get only half a pension if they are widowed.

Many of us have taken extended maternity leave to be with our children during their formative years, and we shoulder a disproportionate burden of care. By the time they are 46, half of all women will have taken time out of the workplace for care purposes, including stepping up to look after elderly relatives, meaning they will miss out on vital contributions to their workplace pension. Even if they are one of the three quarters of working-age women in employment, there is a 33% chance they are in part-time employment, increasing the likelihood that they will miss out on the benefits of auto-enrolment under the current regulations.

Under the last Labour Government, pensioner poverty halved. Yet on this Government’s watch it has risen so that one in five pensioners now live in poverty. That is scandalous.

The hon. Member has made some strong points so far. She is talking about the last Labour Government. The last Labour manifesto promised £58 billion over the course of the next Parliament to give compensation to WASPI women. Will that be in the upcoming manifesto for the next election?

However, I can say that I have been meeting the WASPI women regularly since I took this role just a few months ago. I am honoured to be in what I believe is a friendly and honest dialogue with them, and I will continue to do that throughout the coming months and beyond, should I be in the same position.

If the hon. Member’s dialogue is a friendly and honest one, she should be able to say whether the Labour party agrees with the principle of compensation for the WASPI women.

I believe I have already answered that. I am not here to announce our manifesto. I am here to debate like those who have already and I am here to listen, but I cannot announce our manifesto.

I thank the hon. Lady for giving way; she has been very generous. I just want to ask her on a personal level—forget the Labour party, forget the Government, forget all of that—

On a personal level, does she think that WASPI women should receive the full compensation they are due?

As I said, I am not going to announce our manifesto commitment. Like the hon. Lady, I am here to press the Government who are now in power and have the ability to act. [Interruption.] As a WASPI woman, the hon. Lady would probably be able to guess, would she not? That is all I will say on that subject at the moment.

Two thirds of pensioners living in poverty are women. For many of us, a lifetime of inequalities will continue into retirement. The sadness of the situation lies in how many WASPI women have lost their lives during the time the Government have wasted not doing what they should do. Many women left their careers to look after elderly relatives or to cope after years of manual work, safe in the knowledge that they could get by on their savings for a handful of years until they reached their state pension on turning 60, but found to their horror that their state pension had changed, seemingly without warning.

Over the years, I have heard harrowing stories from both constituents and friends who are truly struggling, torn between whether to heat or to eat and unable to cope with the costs of their mortgage or rent. Pensioners are among those hit hardest by the cost of living crisis, and the Government’s failure to get a grip on the situation has led to rampant inflation and food prices spiralling out of control.

Although I support the policy of state pension age equalisation, it is painfully clear that the way in which it was carried out was shambolic at best. Groups such as WASPI were formed not to reverse the policy of state pension age equalisation, but to mitigate its effects. I commend the group for its work in securing an investigation by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman and its subsequent legal victories, including securing changes to the report. As we speak, the PHSO is still investigating actively. Although I do not wish to speculate on what their findings might be, it is a fact that they found that the DWP committed maladministration in how it decided to inform 1950s-born women of the changes.

I will always listen to and engage respectfully with campaigners fighting to right historical injustices, from WASPI women to the Allied Steel and Wire workers. Although I have not been in my role long, I have met representatives of the 1950s-born women on multiple occasions, and I had already met them at previous Labour party conferences. I will be honoured to continue going forward with them and keeping that dialogue open over the coming months and beyond.

I know that the Minister, like me, has been in his role for only several months, but I am sure it is apparent to him that the injustice these women have faced is clear. The poverty that many of them continue to face is also clear. These women desperately need a resolution to the maladministration to which they have been subjected. I therefore urge the Minister to act now to put that injustice right as quickly as possible, and I look forward to continuing the dialogue with the WASPI women going forward.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for securing this debate and all Members who have contributed to it.

This has been a valuable and constructive debate focused on the issues of compensation for 1950s-born women affected by state pension age changes. I recognise that there is a huge strength of feeling among 1950s-born women about the increase to their state pension age and the way in which it was communicated. We have heard today about people who have had difficult personal circumstances to manage, and their struggles are regrettable in the extreme. I am grateful to all Members who have participated. It is important that Members on all sides are able to tell the stories of so many of their own constituents. Indeed, I pay tribute to many of my own constituents whom I have sat with and listened to on a number of occasions as they explained their circumstances. It is important that such testimony is uppermost not just in my mind as the Minister, but in the mind of Government more widely.

I note that the Member in charge of the debate, the hon. Member for Strangford, is a Northern Ireland MP. For the record, I will set out how Northern Ireland manages its own system for dealing with complaints such as this; as he will know, such matters are for the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman to address. Any question relating to Northern Ireland must be directed to the relevant authorities in Northern Ireland. All DWP policy areas are transferred in Northern Ireland, including pensions. However, the equivalent Department in Northern Ireland, the Department for Communities, historically has maintained parity with the DWP on matters of social security, child maintenance and pensions.

As House is aware, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s investigation into state pension age communication is not complete. The date of publication is a matter for the ombudsman. As the investigation remains ongoing, I cannot comment on it, as the ombudsman’s investigations are confidential. The privacy rules extend to all parties involved in the investigation.

The Minister is right about probity and the fact that the ombudsman’s investigations are to remain quiet. Does he accept that after stage 1 it is still in the Government’s hands to bring forward compensation? They do not have to wait until the conclusion of further stages.

I will come on to the sequencing and the importance of the different stages shortly, but I am reminded that the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967 states that ombudsman investigations that are not complete

“shall be conducted in private”.

The ombudsman has made some information about the investigation public via its website. It published the final version of stage 1 of its report on the website in July 2021. The report said that

“these women should have had at least 28 months’ more individual notice of the changes than they got.”

These findings relate to a specific window of time between August 2005 and December 2007. The report also found that

“between 1995 and 2004, DWP’s communication of changes to State Pension age reflected the standards we would expect it to meet.”

I know that there is frustration among Members of this House and their constituents about how long the investigation has been ongoing, and about the fact that the ombudsman has yet to publish his final report. It is a complex investigation that spans over 30 years, as equalisation of the state pension age was enacted in 1995. The ombudsman provides an independent complaint handling service for complaints that have not been resolved by UK Government Departments and the NHS in England. The ombudsman is managing the investigation in stages, and publication of the final report is entirely a matter for the ombudsman.

I totally understand what the Minister is saying about the timing of the report. Can he give Members of Parliament any rough indication as to when that report will land and when it will be published?

As I think I have already said, the timing of the report is a matter for the ombudsman to determine. I have received no indication from the ombudsman of the timescale to which he is working, much as we would all like to know the date when it is coming.

The Department for Work and Pensions has to be mindful of its independence, but we are co-operating fully with the investigation. We believe that it is important to let the independent process conclude, so that we can then carefully consider the findings and the recommendations that may arise from the final report.

For the record, can the Minister give us a cast-iron guarantee and reassurance that his Department is fully co-operating with the ombudsman?

I can indeed give that assurance. As I have just said, we are fully co-operating at every stage with the ombudsman’s investigations.

I understand the Minister’s position on the specifics and the dates. It is perfectly clear that we are not going to get any indication of a timeline, but does the Minister accept that the WASPI women paid their dues and did their part? We have already seen that maladministration has been found. Do the Government accept that a trust on which our entire democracy is built has been broken, and that WASPI women deserve justice as soon as they possibly can?

I very much hear what the hon. Lady says. The whole point of the ombudsman’s investigations is to determine the outcome of that process and how justice is to be delivered.

As has happened with other judgments in a legal context, will the Minister commit his Government at the very minimum to implementing the judgment of the ombudsman? Or will they try to fight it, obfuscate and kick it into the long grass?

I am sure the hon. Lady will appreciate the principle that until a final report is published and until we know the contents of that report, I—as a Government Minister with a duty to manage public money properly—cannot make any such commitment as she describes.

The Minister is hiding behind the need to wait until the final report is out, but at around the time of the stage 1 report, the PHSO said that Ministers could be proactive in finding a remedy for 1950s women. What does the Minister say to that?

I certainly do not believe that I am hiding behind anything. The ombudsman’s inquiry is going through the processes that the ombudsman itself has set out.

I have given way a number of times, and I have been very generous. I am conscious that I need to finish my contribution and allow the hon. Member for Strangford to comment. I am sorry, and if there is time towards the end I will try to give way, but I need to set out the factual information that Members have been asking me to deliver, so I will make some progress.

The announcement in 1993 of the decision to equalise the state pension age addressed a long-standing inequality between men and women. Changes to state pension age were made over a series of Acts by successive Governments, following public consultations and debates in both Houses of Parliament. All women after 5 April 1950 and all men born after 5 December 1953 are impacted by state pension age changes. The state pension age is currently 66, and is due to rise to the age of 67 between 2026 and 2028, as confirmed by the recent Government review of state pension age. The Government also committed in the last review to conduct a further review within two years of the next Government, to consider the age of 68. The further review will be able to consider the very latest evidence.

The reforms have focused on maintaining the right balance between the affordability and sustainability of the state pension, and fairness between generations. Women retiring today can still expect to receive the state pension, but over 21 years on average, which is over two years longer than men. If equalisation had not taken place, upon reaching the age of 60 women would be expected to spend on average over 40% of their adult lives in receipt of the state pension.

I will say a few words about the processes of the ombudsman’s investigation, for clarification and to place them on the record. The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman published its stage 1 report on 20 July 2021. PHSO found maladministration in the steps that the Department took between 2005 and 2007 in relation to notifying the women affected. In December 2022, the PHSO submitted its stage 2 findings and the original stage 3 findings for comment, and published a high-level summary on its website, concluding that the maladministration had caused injustice.

Following the PHSO’s stage 2 findings in December 2022, the WASPI campaign initiated judicial review proceedings against the PHSO, arguing that the ombudsman’s approach to calculating when letters should have been sent ignored pauses in the DWP’s letter-writing campaign, which meant that women should have had notice far earlier than the ombudsman had assumed and could therefore have made different decisions to avoid some of the financial impact. Following an agreement between WASPI and the PHSO, the High Court granted a consent order quashing the PHSO’s final stage 2 report in May 2023. The consent order specifically requested that the PHSO revisited those sections of the stage 2 report dealing with the 28-month delay calculation. The stage 3 provisional view on remedy had not been finalised by the PHSO, so it did not require consideration by the court.

We responded to the provisional stage 3 report in early February 2023. The PHSO sent all parties to the complaint a revised provisional stage 2 report in November 2023. That is the report whose publication we await.

I have already given way, and I am running out of time. I do apologise.

I have listened carefully to the arguments that have been made today. I would like to set out further the range of support available both for those making provision for their retirement and for those who have reached state pension age.

In 2016, the state pension was reformed with the introduction of a new state pension to be simpler and more sustainable. It had the clear objective of providing the foundation for private saving. In this way, the state provides a base to which people can add to provide the pension they want through their retirement.

The new state pension improves outcomes for many women, carers and self-employed people, who often did less well in the past. State pension outcomes are projected to equalise for men and women more than a decade earlier than they would have under the old system. On average, women receiving the new state pension receive about £18 a week more than women under the pre-2016 system. Under the new state pension system, women currently receive an average of 97% of the amount that men receive, compared with 85% under the pre-2016 system.

Automatic enrolment has helped millions more women to save with a pension, many for the first time. Participation rates for women are catching up with those for men. Pensions participation among eligible women working in the private sector was at 86% in 2022, up from 40% in 2012.

Pension credit is extra money to help with daily living costs for people over state pension age and on a low income. It tops up a person’s other income to a minimum of £201.05 a week for single pensioners and £306.85 a week for couples. People with a severe disability, carers and those who are responsible for a child or young person who lives with them can get more. Pension credit can also include extra amounts for certain housing costs such as ground rent or service charges. The pension credit case load is just under 1.4 million people, of whom 66% are female; in fact, of the total case load, 63% are single women. People receiving pension credit may also get help with other costs, including rent, via housing benefit, and council tax.

The latest statistics show that by 2021-22, the poverty rate for pensioners had decreased by two percentage points since 2010. For both female and male pensioners, there was a decrease of two percentage points over the same period. In 2021-22, there were 200,000 fewer pensioners in absolute poverty, after housing costs, than in 2010. By 2024-25, working-age and extra-costs disability benefit rates will increase by 6.7%, and relevant state pension rates, including the standard minimum guarantee in pension credit, by 8.5%, following the 10.1% increase in April 2023.

I am about to conclude, because I have only a minute left before the hon. Member for Strangford needs to have his concluding say.

I thank the hon. Member for Strangford for raising such an important issue, which I know concerns very many people—thousands across each of our constituencies. I have the greatest sympathy for anyone who has found themselves in difficult circumstances, but I believe that the welfare state can be and is effective in providing support for those who need it. In particular, there is a range of established support that this Government provide for people either nearing or over state pension age. Additionally, we have made cost of living payments available to those who are most vulnerable.

As I have outlined, the Government take the matter of state pension age extremely seriously. The Department is committed to giving the best service it can, and we will very carefully consider the ombudsman’s final report.

I thank each and every one of the right hon. and hon. Members present for their contributions. From a quick headcount, some 26 Back Benchers, as well as the shadow Minister and the Minister, have come along to make a contribution. Why did they do that? They did it because there is a wrong to be righted. That is the reason why.

I will make just a couple of quick comments. The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) said that the Government

“could be proactive in finding a remedy.”

That is exactly what we are asking for. Have we seen that this morning? With respect to the Minister, I do not believe that we have just yet.

I encourage the Minister to continue discussions with his Department to ensure that these matters are addressed. We ask for an apology for the WASPI women. We ask for the issue of maladministration to be addressed. That is quite simple when what has happened has been categorised by the Department itself as maladministration. If that has been done, for goodness’ sake get it sorted. I cannot understand why it has not been.

The need for compensation is still outstanding. Are we moving closer to it? We cannot get a time or a date. We really need those in place. Every Member here wants it in place. The delay will have costs. The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter) referred to the 260,000 people who have died. How many more will die while the Government dither about getting the job done?

On behalf of the 3.8 million WASPI women, I suggest to the Minister with respect—I always at least try to be nice to everyone in the Chamber, because that is my nature—that we really do need an answer to our request. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) has put forward a ten-minute rule Bill. Let us do that.

We speak on behalf of all the ladies who are here in the Chamber, and all those who are not here. Those are the people we are fighting for. Minister, I was going to say “Get the finger out,” but I will just say: let’s get it done.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).