Committee (2nd Day)
My Lords, I remind the Committee that in the event of a Division in the Chamber, the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes from the sound of the Division Bell.
Clause 2: Entitlement to state pension at full or reduced rate
9: Clause 2, page 1, line 17, at end insert—
“(c) regulations may provide that spouses or partners accompanying Service personnel abroad shall receive ten additional credited years backdated to 2000.”
My Lords, this is a very simple and brief amendment about service wives. Service wives without children who accompany their husbands abroad have in the past relied on receiving the 60% married women’s pension as a default. Obviously the option for NI contributions through work does not easily apply if you are abroad, and voluntary NICs become expensive if you are there for a long period.
The married women’s dependency pension is going to disappear. The previous Government recognised the particular difficulties of service wives when in 2010 they introduced credits for spouses or partners accompanying service personnel abroad, so the principle is rightly established. Since then, there has been easement for JSA and ESA entitlement.
However, if you are in your late 30s you may have a decade behind you with no NI cover until the 2010 provisions kicked in. This amendment simply allows backdated credits for, frankly, an arbitrary 10 years which, if he is on a 22-year contract, should allow her sufficient cover, and later sufficient time to make up the rest of her contributory years. I do not know the numbers, and I do not know the cost. I hope the Minister will help me out. There may be a better way to do it—for example, as with the reduced married women’s stamp election, which is being turned into a 60% dependency pension, which retains the service wife’s eligibility for a 60% dependency pension, although the problem there will be split years.
I believe that the Government may have found a way to address the problem—this was a hint I received from the Minister in the other place. I hope so. If it is true, it would be great to know about it; and if it is not, this amendment, or something similar offered by the Government, might do the job. We owe it under the service covenant to support wives who do the right thing, perhaps, by accompanying their husbands abroad and then pay the price by lacking a pension when they retire. I beg to move.
My Lords, some years ago I was chair of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body and I saw the way that wives were discriminated against. I remember one case. We went to Belize, where the commanding officer had been offered promotion conditional on his wife accompanying him. She was a very successful lawyer in London and they had to make a decision. She decided to give up her career. While she was abroad—a two-year posting—she was unable to contribute to a private pension fund because she was not doing recognised work. She was working as his partner in Belize on behalf of the British people looking after Army wives. She gave up her career and she lost the opportunity of a good private pension here as she could not contribute because she was not working in this country. She was also losing out at the end of her life because she could not contribute to the state pension scheme either. The changes made in 2010 helped, but this Bill will almost send us backwards. The changes made by my Government in 2010 did not fully resolve this issue. That is one case.
Among the officer cadre in all three services you still find wives giving up their job to accompany their husband, and they get a very raw deal. Until recently, other ranks would have gone to Germany for a two-year posting, and they, too, would lose out. Under the Armed Forces covenant and the updated report issued only this week by the noble Lord, Lord Astor, it is taken into account that we should be looking after families. I have no idea what it would cost and I cannot imagine that it would cost an awful lot of money, but maybe the Minister can help us. As my noble friend says, this may not be the way of dealing with the problem, but somehow it has to be recognised that, in bringing in a Bill that has cross-party support and in general terms is certainly advantageous for most, if not all, women, here we have a group who will continue to lose out, despite the changes that are being made. So it is with a deal of pleasure that I support the amendment, and I hope that the Minister will agree to go back and look at the issue. Perhaps he will come up with something that may not use this wording but which recognises the contribution that these women have to make—and, indeed, by which they lose out when they help their husband’s career, because the post requires accompaniment. If that solicitor, going back those few years, had said, “No, I’m not giving up my career”, the husband would have had to refuse that promotion. There are parts of the Armed Forces where the divorce rate is higher than normal. I am not suggesting that this is the only reason, but I think that it is perhaps one of a whole number of reasons, stress and overreach being another couple.
My Lords, I speak briefly in support of my noble friends and the thrust of this amendment. I should like to ask one or two questions. As I understand it, there is currently a class 1 credit going to people in this service category, which helps to build up not only pensions but access to contributory benefits such as JSA and ESA. In respect of the latter, there is also an easement that was introduced in 2011 in respect of the first contribution condition, because for contributory ESA and JSA you need both to pay an amount in a certain period of time and to have sufficient credit. My first question is whether that credit arrangement is going to continue under the new regime and whether the easement will be continued, because that is important, too.
Of course, the credit has to be claimed; it is not automatic. I wonder whether we could do something to address that issue, because we have a group of people here who would qualify only under certain clear conditions, and one would have thought that arrangements for these individuals could somehow be organised centrally, or perhaps by the separate Armed Forces, so that the information goes in directly and there is an automatic credit, rather than people having to claim. I understand that the take-up is limited at the moment, with only 601 applications in 2012-13, or maybe in the previous year. That is not as many as one might have expected. Perhaps we could also have clarification as to who is treated as a member of the Armed Forces for these purposes. I am not sure that the TA or reserves will be included within this.
This issue draws a wider question about crediting national insurance contributions. My understanding, based on some helpful information from the Bill team this morning, is that if, at the moment, you are in a category of benefit or activity that gave rise to a class 1 credit, that would continue post-April 2016. If you are receiving a class 3 benefit for a particular activity or being in a particular position, that would become a class 3 contribution credit also, under the new regime. So nothing has changed in that respect. These things are important, because a class 3 contribution builds up entitlement only to the state pension and bereavement benefits, not to contributory benefits. This gives rise to the broader question of universal credit. At the moment, if you are on JSA or ESA, you would get a class 1 credit. In the world of universal credit, my understanding is that you would get a class 3 credit, which means that you do not build up entitlement thereby to contributory JSA and ESA, which sit outside universal credit.
I apologise for this rather convoluted series of questions, but this very important issue prompts them, and it would be useful to have clarification on them either today or later by correspondence.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Hollis for tabling the amendment, for the very reason that it allows your Lordships’ Committee to engage in this important issue. As we have already heard, successive Governments have committed to end any disadvantage that armed service causes members of the Armed Forces and their families—a group of people who have come to be known in these circumstances as the service community.
In July 2008, the Government set out to put flesh on the bones of that commitment in a command paper entitled, A Nation's Commitment: Cross-Government Support to our Armed Forces, their Families and Veterans. In pursuit of the ambition of that document, the DWP announced and introduced on 6 April 2010 new rules that allow spouses and civil partners accompanying service personnel serving overseas outside the United Kingdom to be eligible to claim class 1 national insurance credits during such periods.
In certain circumstances, spouses and civil partners may get credits on their national insurance contribution record for state benefit purposes, and as my noble friend Lord McKenzie pointed out, that helps protect their eligibility to a state pension and contribution-based benefits. Application for the credit is made at the end of each accompanied assignment outside the United Kingdom, but there are complications about that. My noble friend is right to say that it has to be claimed. I understood that the services had in place default arrangements to ensure that everyone who could be entitled to make such an application was advised fully of that. Can the Minister elucidate the current situation?
I do not think that one need go into the complications that service abroad generates for service families, but one can imagine that service abroad may mean that the family is split up. For example, some of our troops are based in Germany, or the families may be there but the service member might be serving somewhere else overseas. All of these complications are accommodated. Indeed, circumstances may arise where there is a need to make an application part way through an assignment, and provision is made in the regulations to facilitate that. There is helpfully discretion—and the DWP is to be commended for this—as to the time that an application can be made. It is already provided for to accommodate the lifestyle of the armed services community. Importantly, however, this improved benefit was not made retrospective.
We have already heard from my noble friend Lady Dean’s experience of her engagement with the service community the sort of circumstances that can lead to the need for this provision. At the heart of it, there is a clear and good reason why we need this. Members of our Armed Forces are commanded to work in overseas environments. If they stay in the services, they have no choice where they work, and often they are there for extended tours. Often their spouses and civil partners are unable to accrue a full national insurance contribution record because of that. Fairness demands that they not be disadvantaged by that service in so far as is possible.
When my noble friend Lady Hollis introduced this amendment she described it as simple, but it has become slightly more complicated in the debate. I am not seeking to complicate it because it is a relatively simple policy issue, although it may have complex consequences. She implied that the trend would suffer regression as a consequence of implementation of the Bill. My noble friend Lady Dean specifically said that the Bill would have a consequence of regression in relation to the position of service wives in particular. It is important for the Minister to address that position. If it is indeed the case that the direction of travel is being regressed as a consequence of the Bill, that needs to be identified. I am sure that all parties, including the coalition parties in the Government, would wish to deal with that situation in the context of this Bill. I do not think that there will be any division, in terms of policy, in relation to ambition here.
Unfortunately, when the change was made in 2010, it was realised that this was a “start”. My noble friend Lord McKenzie has identified, with his characteristic care in these matters, that there has already been a minor change in relation to this provision to improve it. Indeed, the coalition Government are to be congratulated: they have built on the work of the previous Government in pursuing the commitment of “no disadvantage” which is at the heart of the military covenant. In May 2011 they published the Armed Forces covenant. In paragraph 5 on page 7, under the heading “Scope of Covenant”, it states:
“Members of the Armed Forces community should have the same access to benefits as any UK citizen”.
Page 33 of the guidance document that accompanies the covenant, The Armed Forces Covenant: Today and Tomorrow, states that,
“the Government has no plans to make further adjustments”,
to the benefits rules. Importantly, however, it goes on to say that they will,
“keep this issue under review”.
On the issue of costs I would simply observe that, interestingly, the Government have created a special fund of £35 million from the fines levied on the banks for attempting to manipulate LIBOR, created for the MoD to use in supporting the covenant and the armed services community with the explicit purpose that members of our Armed Forces community should not face disadvantage in comparison to other citizens. So there is a perfect cohesion between the source of funding and an ambition.
Perhaps ironically in the context of our debates and some of the amendments which we will engage with in your Lordships’ Committee, in this case we on this side seek a review to which the Government are already committed, and on which they can point to at least a potential source of finance—I am not saying that this is the answer, but there is an established potential source—should that review recommend action which has spending consequences, without the normal criticism that this has not been budgeted for.
So my simple question to the Minister in relation to this simple amendment is: is he willing to go back to his department and recommend that while this Bill is before Parliament, the review to which the Government are already committed should be concluded to some extent, or conducted and concluded, completed and reported, so that, if necessary, steps to ensure that the direction of travel to which we are all committed continues in relation to this important provision?
My Lords, the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, concerns the position of spouses or civil partners of service personnel who accompany them on overseas postings, a group in which I know the noble Baroness has a keen interest. The amendment would enable people in this position to be credited with national insurance contributions for the full 10 tax years between 2000-01 and 2009-10.
We have already taken steps to shore up the contribution records of this group. In 2010, arrangements were put in place to allow the spouses of Armed Forces personnel to gain a national insurance credit for time spent accompanying their spouse or civil partner on postings abroad. These credits are awarded for tax years from 2010-11 and provide entitlement to all contributory benefits, including the state pension. Their main purpose was to provide access to contributory working-age benefits to spouses and partners who might have difficulty in finding employment when they return home. I confirm to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, that no changes are planned to those crediting arrangements.
The amendment would enable a person to meet the minimum qualifying period for the new state pension and therefore qualify for a reduced single-tier pension. However, if we were to combine the qualifying years that could be gained under the 2010 credits with those available under this amendment, a person could be credited with up to 16 qualifying years.
We should caution that the existing arrangements incur administrative costs for HM Revenue and Customs and the Ministry of Defence. Applications for the existing national insurance credits need to be validated by service welfare officers and processed by HMRC. Similar arrangements would need to be put in place for these new credits, but that would involve more onerous administration because any validation would relate to periods some years past.
The noble Lord, Lord Browne, made a point about difficulties with take-up of the current credits. We are not aware of any difficulties but, on the back of his concern, we will check with the MoD on that.
Currently, around 500 to 600 people a year have been awarded the credits that have been in place since 2010, but it is unclear how many are likely to benefit for pension purposes from the noble Baroness’s proposed retrospection measure.
The Minister obviously agrees with my noble friend’s figure of 500 to 600 people, but how many eligible non-recipients does he think there may be? In other words, what would be the total population, of which 500 to 600 are claiming? Does he know the answer to that? I certainly do not.
Unless I am rapidly informed otherwise, I do not think that we know either at this stage. It is likely that most of the people in this group will have been at work or be covered by other credits during the past periods covered by the amendment. Over the course of a 50-year working life, we would expect many to build the 35 qualifying years to qualify for the full single-tier pension in their own right. That is where this problem lies. That said, I understand the concerns of the noble Baroness and would not want to ignore the position of this group of people if they have genuine difficulties in building the qualifying years that they need.
The Committee will understand the Government’s general concerns about going back in time to treat particular groups in different ways, because there are always issues of fairness and parity when you do that—the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, talked about some of the relationships with people moving into UC and so forth—and that is the case even though special consideration is reserved for the Armed Forces and their families. However, turning to the point raised particularly by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, and the noble Lord, Lord Browne, we will consider this further.
I have to warn noble Lords that this is a difficult matter, so I am not promising that anything will come out of that consideration. Sometimes, in saying that, one suggests that there is a solution, but we are finding this quite difficult. We are doing that exercise and I am sure—
I am extremely grateful to the Minister for giving way at this stage, and I am not ungrateful to him for his undertaking to consider this and report back. That is the most that we could have expected. However, I ask him to consider two things. First, there is certainty that the Ministry of Defence will have records—there is no question about that. Secondly, I direct his attention back to the provision in the guidance note issued on the covenant, in which the Government promised to keep the issue of access to benefits under review. It might be helpful if the Minister explored why that promise was made and what was in mind at that time. Clearly some consideration was given to it, which instructed that promise. Surely it was not just a cosmetic promise, with nobody having any idea what could possibly be offered in the future.
Let me take the two issues there. It is not necessarily the case that the MoD will have records on this, especially of an accompanying partner. That is clearly one of the issues. I think what was envisaged was exactly to look at this kind of thing and other benefits, which is exactly what we are doing. We are, as I say, treating it very seriously, but that is not the same as being able to say that there is a ready solution. We will come back to this issue.
I am not sure whether the Minister confirmed that, whatever happens with the impact of this amendment, there is no suggestion that the existing arrangements both in respect of the crediting and the easement of the first contribution condition are not going to continue post-April 2016.
Can the Minister also confirm whether the Bill, if it becomes law as drafted, will have a regressive effect on the position of service spouses or civil partners, as is believed to be the case by at least one of my noble friends and suspected by another, and whether that will in fact be the case when the review is conducted?
My Lords, I thought this was short, sweet and simple. It is now long and less simple but still very sweet, in the sense that I think there is consensus all round the Committee. I welcome that and I am very grateful to the Minister for his responsiveness to the concerns that we raised. Clearly this amendment was a peg for the discussion that we have had. My noble friend Lady Dean is highly knowledgeable about service families and speaks from very real experience. I am very glad that my noble friend Lord McKenzie was able to get on record from the Minister what the Government’s intentions were about easement, which was very useful. I am still slightly surprised that we did not have this information about the eligible population base for claiming credits since 2010-11 and how many have actually claimed. Is it 500 of 5,000 or 500 of 700? We do not know and I would have expected that information, but I am sure that the Minister will write to us with that because it gives us some sense of how problematic it is when you rely on people to claim, as we have experienced with means-tested benefits for pensioners, for example.
My noble friend Lord Browne was Secretary of State for Defence, so when he says that there were records, I believe him. Some junior staff members in the MoD or the DWP many not have asked the right questions, but I am absolutely confident that if there is anyone in this Chamber who knows what he is talking about in terms of the military covenant, it is my noble friend. He was asking whether there was any way of making this retrospective; I suggested the 10 years. My worry is that we are removing the 60% married women’s or partners’ dependency pension, which is the default option. If the Minister offers service wives that, rather as he is doing for the reduced married women’s stamp, that may—I will discuss this with my noble friend Lady Dean, who knows more about this than I ever will—be an acceptable alternative and an easy way to go forward.
I can think of three or four ways to do this, if the Minister so wanted. The amendment is just a peg; that would be another way. If we do not do something, it is possible that military spouses doing the right thing and, in some cases, the required thing, as my noble friend said, in accompanying their partners or husbands abroad may pay a penalty on their pension. That cannot be right. I am very glad that the Minister will review this. Does that mean that he will bring forward an amendment, or does it require us to table an amendment at Report?
It is a little early to get into the practicalities, but I am sure that we can arrange, one way or the other —either from a spontaneous governmental unleashing of information or in response to an amendment —to get the latest information on the record at Report.
I thank the noble Lord. What I would love to see—I know that this has been done in the past because I have done it—is an amendment jointly in the names of my noble friend Lord Browne and the Minister, which will amaze and command total support. In that context, I ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 9 withdrawn.
10: Clause 2, page 2, line 2, at end insert “and it shall not be less than the entitlement to basic and state second pension as would be established by a person under the previous system who had 40 qualifying years based on paid or credited earnings level equal to the lower earnings threshold”
My Lords, this amendment is about the level of the full rate of the single state pension. As we know, the Bill states that it will be specified in regulations and, as we know, the Government propose an entitlement of about £144 in 2016. The amendment would raise the level by about £40. Although that is calculated by reference to 40 qualifying years under the current system, it still represents only 80% of working age years and an earnings level which will by then be about £15,000 per annum. Only at that level would the single state pension make a genuine improvement to the state pension. That would address the concerns of those many millions of current employees with contracted-in careers who will see their state benefit reduced under the current proposals.
As I said at our previous sitting, I have had discussions with the pensions officer of Unite, as a result of which I have tabled some amendments, including this one. I am told that Unite policy is for the restoration of an earnings-related pension to supplement a higher level of basic state pension, as it is felt that that will provide a better foundation for employees in company and private pensions. I explained to the officer with whom I had discussions that the single state pension is the model before us which we have to discuss today but, on the other hand, it is believed that it has merit only if it is set at a realistic level. The amendment before the Committee is intended at least to produce a discussion about what a realistic level would be. I am not alone in suggesting that we need to look at the realistic level, because my noble friend Lord Whitty has tabled a similar amendment, Amendment 17—a very well worded amendment, in my view—which also proposes 40 qualifying years and requires a realistic assessment of what the benefit should ultimately be.
My Lords, as my noble friend said, I have an amendment which is very similar to hers. It is worded slightly differently and in my view, and with no disrespect to my noble friend, it is in a better place—in other words, it relates to Clause 3 rather than Clause 2. However, the central issue is that for a lot of people who have worked most of their working life and have paid into the earnings-related pension in its various guises over that period, a figure of £144 or thereabouts will be a significant drop compared with what they might otherwise have expected.
If we are to have a scheme that is going to achieve a reasonable degree of support and consensus across the workforce and among potential and future pensioners, we need to pitch it at a level where existing workers do not miss out. I think that most of us are reasonably convinced that a single-tier answer is the right one, but it has to be structured on the basis of people’s existing expectations. The exact formula that we have in these amendments may not be acceptable to the Government but it needs to be a lot closer to current expectations for this reform to receive the kind of support that the Government are hoping for. At the moment, I know that £144 is, in a sense, a guess—or, if I am being nice to the Government, an informed guess—but it has raised alarm bells, certainly among the trade unions and those who, on pension schemes, represent the workforce who have hoped for more from the earnings-related element of the state pension.
I do not expect the Government to accept these amendments but I hope that they take the issue seriously before we reach the final stages of the Bill, and certainly in the regulations that are coming forward to define the level of the new single-tier pension.
I support my noble friends Lady Turner and Lord Whitty. The pension letter that I receive reads a bit like a history book. Having completed the 40 years, I have a bit of graduated pension, some SERPS and some S2P. Obviously it all adds up penny by penny but, as I said at Second Reading, one of my concerns is that simplicity is not of itself the best objective. If the amount is set too low, the middle earners will not buy in to the new system. Any system that does not have a buy-in from the middle earners will, in the future, give rise to enormous political pressure from those people for some form of opting out, which I do not believe anyone in this room wants.
When we looked at all the charts at the briefing, we found the crossover point—which I think was in about 2040—before people start losing out. The discussion that took place on Monday about net versus gross may well place that crossover point a lot earlier, and people will see that they are going to lose out much earlier. They will then make a judgment about whether this flat rate is any good and, again, either there will be pressure to opt out or there will be pressure—dare I say it?—for SERPS, graduated pensions or S2P in about 20 to 30 years’ time. Therefore, this gives rise to very important issues.
I know that we are going to have another discussion about net versus gross when we come to later amendments, but I want to make the point that this is not a straightforward issue. I realise that there is cross-party consent about the flat rate but I am slightly sceptical about its long-term holding, although the Minister has said very confidently that it will last for more than 10 years. I hope that he is right, because the last thing I want to see is Governments tinkering with this. As I said, I do not want my grandchildren to have a history lesson in 40 years’ time in which they are reading about the different names for the pension.
My Lords, perhaps I may raise a point about the level of the single-tier pension, and couple it with a reference to passported benefits in the impact assessment. I looked at the assessment again this morning and there was a point that I had not identified, or did not understand before. This is to do with the interaction with the guarantee credit. This passage is about passported benefits, but it says:
“Receipt of Guarantee Credit passports pensioners to the full amount of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit, if the pensioner is eligible for these benefits. There is little reduction in Guarantee Credit eligibility resulting from the single tier”—
about 1%. I thought that the whole thrust of this simplicity as a base for people to be able to make judgments about saving was that, in a sense, it floated people at a level which was above the guarantee credit. Here we are saying that only 1% of people who get STP will not be affected by guarantee credit in the future. Can the Minister explain that to me, please?
My Lords, by tabling and moving these two amendments my noble friends have done the Committee in general and the Minister in particular a favour by creating an opportunity for him to expand on what his right honourable friend the Pensions Minister was able to tell the House of Commons about Clause 3. Despite the fact that my noble friend Lady Turner’s amendment is to Clause 2, I think that most of the issues raised can be dealt with within the context of Clause 3.
The provisions of Clause 3 set out a mechanism for calculating the full rate and the reduced rate of the single-tier pension for those whose contribution record commences post 6 April 2016. As we have already established, that does not actually set out in monetary terms the full rate; and as much of Monday’s debate made clear, that is at the root of some nervousness, not to say anxiety—or, on the other side, a possibly optimistic expectation—on the part of future pensioners, a state which, rightly, we anticipate will heighten as we approach these provisions’ implementation date.
Many are concerned as to what the single rate will be, whether they will be worse off as a consequence of change versus their expectations of the continuation of the status quo, and whether the actual rate will keep the new single-tier pension rate above the level of the pension credit sufficiently for it to prove an incentive to save, which is the relevance of my noble friend Lord McKenzie’s point, based on his characteristically forensic examination of the paperwork that is before us, and picking up this key point which instructed much of the debate in the House of Commons on these matters: the degree to which a prime objective of this policy—that is, to reduce in the longer term dependence on means-testing—will in fact be achieved by the full implementation. In addition, people need some predictability of future pension arrangements to enable them to make appropriate decisions to prepare for their retirement, confident that they will live up to society’s expectations of them now and avoid financial difficulties in life and a life of poverty. My noble friend Lord Whitty described the central issue as whether there could be certainty that this figure would not disappoint people’s expectation to such a point that they would fail to support the policy. By the device of these amendments, my noble friends have created an opportunity for the Minister to engage with these challenges.
His honourable friend the Pensions Minister disposed of the whole of Clause 3 in 14 lines in Committee in the House of Commons. We expect, not unreasonably, that there is a lot of ministerial briefing waiting to be deployed that has not yet been used and which may engage with some of the issues that concern us. The only point that the Pensions Minister made in those 14 lines, other than reference to the mechanism set out in the Bill, is that the Government have said that the full rate of the single-tier pension,
“will be more than the level of the guaranteed credit”.—[Official Report, Commons, Pensions Bill Committee, 2/7/13; col. 144.]
The Minister will recollect that we spent a significant amount of time on Monday with Members of your Lordships’ Grand Committee trying to tempt the Minister to translate that commitment into some sort of legislative provision. Understandably, he was reluctant to do that, but—understandably, of course—people tried to persuade him to do that because it would be the legislative translation of the undertaking of a promise that is implicit in the phrase used by his noble friend.
As is implied by both these amendments, millions of pensioners will be relying on the rate being significantly above the level of the means test. While we will listen with interest to the Minister's response and the assessment of my noble friend’s amendment, I am interested in the answers to some of the questions created by the nature of these amendments, because they will improve my understanding of the interaction of the existing system with the new system.
I ask a simple question. Does the device employed in Amendment 17 and by inference in Amendment 10 give a full rate that is, as my noble friend Lady Turner says, more than the level of the pension guarantee, and by how much? Is it possible, by a device of this nature, to put a figure on the full rate calculated by this formula? Does this formula translate into something that can in any sense be accurate? Finally, the Minister may not be tempted by this question, but is there any legislative device, whether or not the Government would welcome it, that would set in law the promise implied by his honourable friend the Pensions Minister’s contribution on the Bill in the Commons?
My Lords, the amendments relate to the single-tier pension. I have to confirm that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is in a better place, but I think we all knew that. I covered quite a lot of this in detail on Monday, so I will keep my comments relatively brief.
The amendments describe a minimum entitlement at a level broadly equivalent to the state pension entitlement that a person with 40 qualifying years could receive under the current scheme through their basic state pension and the additional state pension. For someone on low earnings, that equates to around £180 a week. That is the question that the noble Lord, Lord Browne, was seeking an answer to.
I fully appreciate the sentiment behind wanting to set the rate higher than the illustrative rate of £144, which is from last year's effective equivalent rate. Indeed, under the Bill, future Governments will be free to make above-earnings ad hoc increases in the light of economic conditions at the time, but setting a starting rate that cannot be afforded within the current spending projections would instead force the hand of future Governments, siphoning off greater and greater amounts of GDP into pensions spending. Setting a minimum starting level of £180 a week would add a further £12 billion in real terms to the single-tier costs by 2030—that is a per annum figure. Over the longer term, it would increase annual pension expenditure by another two percentage points of GDP in 2060 and squeeze out other spending pressures from an ageing society.
Sustainability is a core principle of the reforms. Our proposals work within projected expenditure on the current system, and our current modelling, including the illustrative start rate of £144, stays within 1% of current expenditure until the late 2030s.
During Second Reading, much was made of the consensus following the Pensions Commission report, which recommended that the state move away from providing earnings-related pensions. I was pleased to see that the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, had moved her scepticism out from 10 years to 30 years in the space of a few weeks, so there is hope that we may move her to the 100-year objective. To this end, under previous reforms, the earnings-relation provided by the additional state pension was effectively being squeezed out of the system, moving over time to a flat-rate state pension but, as many respondents to the Green Paper pointed out, that was not doing enough to support private saving and underpin automatic enrolment.
I have said this before, so I will go on record twice on this. These reforms are not about increasing pensions expenditure. They are not about reducing it. They are about spending the money differently, so that we can move to a flat-rate pension quickly to tackle an urgent problem of undersaving.
To respond to the pointed question of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, about why the single tier does not lift many clear of the guarantee credit, that is largely because many people on the guarantee credit have a higher standard minimum guarantee. About 37% are entitled to one or more additional amounts—for instance, for disability—and we do not want to remove those additional amounts.
I understand that point, but what does that do to the argument that this is all about having a very clear platform so that people know that it will pay to save and that they will be above means-tested benefit levels? On the basis of this information and what the Minister just said, 99% of people who will get STP will still be eligible for the guarantee credit. Indeed, annexe C to the impact assessment states that total spending on the guarantee credit and the savings credit will actually go up by the end of the period in the tabulation. That does not make sense to me. I understand that it is the additions that mean that guarantee credit is above the level of STP, but that seems totally to undermine the whole thrust of the rationale of the Bill.
I think the Minister may be offering a rather dramatic understatement. It is not an elimination; it is a change of 1%. As we established in the Committee on Monday, most of the reduction in means-testing is related to the abolition of the savings credit, which is removing access to something for people. If my noble friend is right, he has hit on something quite extraordinary, which is that despite the Government saying that the STP will be pitched at a level above the means-tested level for the pension credit, it is in fact, according to his modelling, pitched at a level that will not lift anyone but the 1% who get it out of means-testing. Surely the whole argument collapses at that point.
My Lords, the guarantee credit does go down in absolute terms. It is already a small percentage of the total. When one gets into arguments about data it gets very confusing, so I will set this issue out very clearly. As I understand it, the issue is about the number of people on means-testing as we look forward into the single tier over the decades. The subsidiary question behind that is what it does to the incentive to save. I will address those two questions with some proper data in a letter rather than trying to do so off the top of my head when I am not absolutely confident about providing exactly the right information.
The start rate of the full single-tier pension should not be viewed in isolation but in combination with the private pension income that some 6 million to 9 million people will gain from having been automatically enrolled in a workplace pension. An inflated start would be unaffordable and unsustainable, and I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
Yes; I am trying to get letters out at great speed. I am expecting to sign letters relating to the questions from Monday later today in order to get them to Members of the Committee as quickly as possible, so that is a three-day turnaround. I will aim to do something rapidly for today as well.
I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate, which I found extremely interesting. My noble friend Lord Whitty was quite right that this amendment is in the wrong place and should have been on Clause 3 rather than Clause 2. However, it has enabled us to have a discussion about what the full rate of the single state pension ought to be. A number of noble Lords expressed a view that indicates that it is certainly worth considering, although I am not surprised that the Minister’s argument relied heavily on the cost if we got what we wanted, which is a great deal more than I think most people contemplated.
Even so, there is a case for looking again at the level that is being paid, because a lot of people will rely on this. They rely on the basic state pension—they do now—and few of them will have savings or access to a decent pension provided by an employer, although we hope that the new arrangements with regard to automatic enrolment in the new pension schemes will enable people to save. That needs to be looked at, and we will have an opportunity to do so later in the passage of the Bill. In the mean time, I thank all noble Lords for their contribution, and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say, particularly about the cost. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 10 withdrawn.
11: Clause 2, page 2, line 5, at end insert—
“( ) Regulations may provide for circumstances in which a person may opt to have a year treated as a qualifying year if by aggregating income from two or more jobs, that person’s earnings is equal to or greater than the earnings factor for that year.”
My Lords, this is an amendment about multiple jobs below the lower earnings limit, LEL. There are about 40,000 women and 10,000 men who we know about with two or more jobs each, each of which is below the LEL but which, aggregated, bring them above the LEL and should, I argue, bring them into NI and the state pension.
Who are they? Let me tell some of their stories: all people whom I have met, talked to and canvassed. They are rural women in their 40s with their youngest child over 12, who are patching together what we grandly call a portfolio, the components of which vary over the seasons in rural Norfolk. It might be six hours caravan or boat cleaning on the Saturday—handover day—during the summer, three small house-cleaning jobs during the week for the affluent incomer retirees on the northern coast, some mushroom or fruit picking for a few weeks and, during the winter, two or three evenings working at the nearest pub or newsagent.
One woman averages about 20 hours paid work a week, most of it at minimum wage—as much as she can manage given the danger of five to 10 hours a week travel time between jobs. She has no private car, there is extremely limited public transport in rural counties and she has teenage children to care for and feed. In any case, there are few if any decent 20-hour part-time single jobs, let alone full-time jobs, in rural Norfolk for unskilled middle-aged women without their own transport and with a family to care for. This could be her life for 10 or even 20 years.
Half the jobs in Norfolk, for example, are located in my city of Norwich, which is a 30-mile to 40-mile bus ride away for many people living near the coast, and buses are few. She will never be able to access those jobs, with their better pay and hours. She needs and deserves a pension, and if she cannot build one for herself she will not—this is key—be able to rely in future on any from her husband through the married women’s 60% pension.
A second person whom I met was a divorced Norwich woman in her 50s working as a receptionist for an alternative medicine practice, who told me that her employer would not allow her to work more than 15 hours a week, although she would like to because she enjoys the job, so that he can avoid paying national insurance. He pays three women each for 15 hours a week—because he works a long week—in order to avoid paying NI on any of them. At the time, she was topping up her income, although not her eligibility for BSP, by working extra hours in a florist’s shop. She was desperately worried about her pension situation but did not see what she could do about it.
Another woman’s work patterns are shaped by her caring responsibilities. She does not qualify for carer’s credit, but she fits some pieces of paid work around supporting three elderly relatives in my former ward, plus some cleaning and working in the local launderette.
All those women are working sufficient hours to bring them into the NI system for a pension but because they cannot aggregate them, they do not qualify. When some of us campaigned on this in the past, we were told, first, that you could not reasonably divvy up the employers’ national insurance if there were two or three such jobs, secondly, that the women would not want to pay class 1 contributions and that, in any case, they were few in number, only 15,000, and they were passing through. We were next told that it was a temporary problem for them and they had plenty of time to make up their missing years; finally we were told that they could always buy voluntary NICs and, if all else failed, there was pension credit.
The Government’s supporting papers rebut every one of those arguments and show them to be wrong. We now know that we have 50,000, not 20,000 people caught in this dilemma; two or three times as many. If we do not bring them into NI, they may well cost almost as much on pension credit down the line. That keeps more people in the means-tested legacy system, which we surely want to avoid. The second argument run by the Minister in the other place was that this was a temporary period of their lives. We simply do not know. The Minister is guessing. Some, certainly, may become entitled to a credit or move house into, say, the city of Norwich, and thus have a wider choice of jobs, and as a result may be able to come into NI, but others are stuck. Their patchwork life goes on for years because that is all that is available. We do not have the statistics for them, but 40% of the self-employed have been self-employed for more than 10 years. They include some of the poorest self-employed. The women I have described likewise tell me that they expect their position to continue for many years, often because they need the flexibility that it offers around their caring responsibilities or because they lack realistic alternatives, especially in more rural areas.
They can certainly buy voluntary NICs but, frankly, at £13 a week that is not usually feasible or realistic. It is five times more than we expect a self-employed man to pay. Bluntly, she probably cannot afford it. Is it fair? If she were working those 20 hours on the minimum wage for a single employer, she would get her national insurance but she would be below the PTT and probably would not pay a penny. She would come into national insurance without paying because she would come between the two thresholds. If she were on JSA or a disability benefit and not working a single hour, she would, again, get her NI and not pay a penny. Where she is conventionally self-employed, she will pay £2.70 a week and get NI. If she is employed with one employer, she will pay nothing and get her NI. If she is unemployed, she will pay nothing and get her NI, but because she works 20 hours a week, splintered, she will get nothing at all. Perhaps someone can explain to me why that is fair.
I accept that it has been hard to find a way through in the past, even for those who were sympathetic and did not dismiss mini-jobs as pin money. The Minister has never done that when we have been talking about UC and I am grateful to him. The Bill—bless it—gives us a way through. At last, it is now very simple. HMRC—and the Minister will know infinitely more about this than I do—is building real-time information. Rightly, we are giving the new state pension to all those who are self-employed: 4 million self-employed people will, I understand, gain significantly. Surely we are not going to say to them that we can afford to help 4 million self-employed people, largely men, but not 40,000 people with mini-jobs, mainly women.
Let us now class this woman as self-employed. If she pays the flat rate £2.70 a week, she can, by choice, buy herself a pension for the current year and opt in. We can discuss any backdating rules on retrospective purchase. Equally, we could, say, by regulations, agree that by working a certain number of hours—say, 16 or even 20—she conforms to JSA work search conditionality. She could, if necessary, discuss this with Jobcentre Plus—I have no problem with that—so that she meets the threshold. However, it would be absurd to say that to get an NI contribution she has to stop working 20 hours a week in real, convenient jobs and go and work in Poundland as part of an internship to meet work search conditionality. She is already doing 20 hours a week in work that fits around her caring responsibilities. In this way, she will qualify for a credit just as does someone on JSA who is not working at all.
UC may or may not be available to help her in due course. We do not know how many people it would apply to and by what route. In any case, it would be wrong to rely on it, given the current delays in rolling it out. Realistically, it may be several years beyond April 2016, although not too many, I hope—all years in which she continues to miss out. What number of women in a patch of mini-jobs does the Minister expect to still be unable to build their NI by 2020?
I want to make one final point. I have been describing older women, family women and often rural women, but I ask noble Lords to look around them. I think—it is only an estimate—that 5 million people are estimated to be on zero-hours contracts with uncertain hours, largely in the service sector and usually on the minimum wage. They work perhaps 10 hours one week and 20 the next, and they cannot run a regular job, as we understand the phrase, alongside it, as they always have to be available, so this involves evening and weekend top-ups. It is a major and growing problem in my view. Some may, over the year with one employer, come above the LEL. How many, I do not know. If the Minister has figures, that would be good. However, others on zero-hours contracts will not do that.
Employers love such a flexible, low-paid, semi-casualised labour force—what is not to like for them?—with staff patching together a living wage as best they can around their zero-hours contracts. The price paid is in tax credits from us. There is a burgeoning tax credit bill which, despite the wildly erroneous statements of the Secretary of State, does not come from those who do not get up in the morning but from the working poor, many of whom are on these contracts, as the Minister and this Committee know very well. That cost is paid by us in tax credits and by the worker in poverty, low wages and insecurity in their working lives, and poverty, insecurity and a relatively low pension in their retirement years.
The Bill gives us a way through, either by classifying them as self-employed or possibly by saying that they now conform to JSA conditionality. There are other ways I can think of by which we can do this, but this is a decent opportunity to rectify a problem that has gone on for far too long—that women who are doing their best for their family while contributing to the economy find themselves penalised. We can rectify that. It could be the decent and right thing to do, as I hope noble Lords will agree. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support Amendment 11. It is always a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lady Hollis. The disadvantage is that she mobilises the argument so compellingly that one feels rather depleted before one even starts to come in to support her. I will try, in a slightly depleted way, to give support on the very important issue which she has identified.
In the numerous iterative debates on the UK pension system in recent times certain criteria key to the design of that system and appraising outcomes have held constant. One of these has been that it must work for women. We cannot wholeheartedly say yes to that, notwithstanding the reforms that we have seen in the Bill. Clearly there is still room for improvement, and two weaknesses are frequently referred to. First, the level of the earnings trigger set for auto-enrolment is too high and excludes too many part-time workers, mainly women. Secondly, women who undertake mini-jobs—each of which delivers earnings below the lower earnings limit of £5,668, the access point for the national insurance system, but which if added together would put them above that level—do not have access to the state pension system under the contributory system because there is no provision for people with mini-jobs to aggregate their earnings in a way that would allow them to enter the NI system.
If we strip that back to its essentials, a woman with two part-time jobs, earning £100 per week from each job, will not be accruing pension rights unless she is covered by some alternative credit arrangement. Someone who may be working fewer hours but earning £110 per week from one job would accrue pension rights. However, £100 equals about 16 hours on the national minimum wage, so if one was doing more than one mini-job, one would be doing a lot more than 16 hours. Yet in the way that the system operates, they are not allowed access to the NI system.
As my noble friend Lady Hollis so clearly explained, this amendment would allow women and men to aggregate income from two or more mini-jobs and opt to have a year treated as a qualifying year for state pension purposes, and to pay national insurance as though they were self-employed. Having said that, I note from the Peers’ briefing pack that the rate of national insurance payable by the self-employed will be a matter for the Government to decide closer to implementation. If the Minister is able to give us indications of the Government’s thinking on that, which would go to the efficiency of the solution, that would be helpful.
As my noble friend confirmed, the DWP analysis found in 2012-13 that 50,000 people—40,000 women and 10,000 men—had two jobs with a combined income above the lower earnings limit, but were not accruing qualifying years towards their pension. Those may be relatively modest numbers—although the real figure may be higher, given that these things are difficult to measure. However, fairness is not simply a function of the number of people affected, because the disadvantage for these people is very real. As my noble friend Lady Hollis pointed out, the changes in the contemporary nature of the labour market may indeed increase the incidence of what the noble Baroness refers to as a “portfolio of mini-jobs”. We are increasingly seeing an intensity of flexibility requirements within contracts when it comes to the hours of work that employers want in any one week. Certainly, therefore, we need an NI system and a state system able to reflect the developments in the labour market so that it stays fair for people who are working.
Fairness is a real issue, because it is predominantly women who are affected; they are often working hard to provide for themselves and their families. My noble friend instances compelling examples of such women. She also pointed out—powerfully, I thought—that, currently, someone who is working but through mini-jobs could be treated less favourably than someone who is on JSA, unemployed and accruing qualifying years towards their pension.
The single-tier reforms provided new opportunities; for example, the improvements in the arrangements for many self-employed people who will now be able to build up state pension entitlement up to the level of the single tier rather than the lower level at the basic state pension. Again, however, the opportunity has not been taken to improve the position of those with mini-jobs. Indeed, the current reforms can compound the disadvantage some of those in mini-jobs face; I will come to that. These people are also unlikely to be building up private pension savings because of their income level and what that means for auto-enrolment.
Those caught by this disadvantage should be able, at least, to opt in to the national insurance system and pay an appropriate level of national insurance contributions that would allow them to accrue qualifying years towards their state pension.
The treatment of those with mini-jobs under the current and proposed systems means that we are still operating a pensions system that views low-paid women with low-paid jobs as producing trivial incomes, which continues to exclude them from both pension systems, private and state. For many women, it is an intensely irritating concept, when we still hear Ministers—although I accept that I have not heard the noble Lord use that argument—say that because they produce trivial incomes, they do not matter and therefore the inefficiencies of the state system to cater for them is not to be dwelt on. My noble friend and I want to assert that they are not trivial and they do need to be addressed. There are thousands of women working hard to cater for their families who are entitled to have these issues addressed.
Women traditionally have had lower state pensions because the state system features in the past entailed most women gaining pension income through their husband or reflected assumptions about family structure that have ceased to be valid. Quite rightly, reforms have focused on enabling the vast majority of women in the future to accrue pension entitlements in their own right. Secondly, the contributory state system had only partial mechanisms to compensate for caring responsibilities and the accrual profile had a number of cliff edges within it, which meant that women who fell below particular earnings levels accrued not only less pension but disproportionately less.
The current and previous government reforms have addressed many of those weaknesses but not the issue that is the focus of this amendment. Ironically, the impact of the cliff edges, if you cannot get the earnings from one of your many jobs to £5,668, is even greater now that the pension system is designed to provide for women to accrue pensions in their own right. In future, many women caught in that mini-job trap will no longer be able to gain state pension entitlement through their husband’s state pension entitlement, so they could be locked out for two reasons. Women in mini-jobs are disadvantaged, and they may become doubly disadvantaged, because they cannot build up entitlement through their husbands nor access the NI system in their own right. I am not arguing against women accruing benefits in their own right; I am just pointing out what I suspect is an unintended consequence if we do not address the position of people in mini-jobs—that they now face a double disadvantage. At the very least, they should be given the opportunity to opt in to the national insurance system. We should remind ourselves, remembering the debates that have taken place in other places, that these are people who are working and are contributing to their families and the country’s GDP. It is not a group of people to whom we should still be denying access or the level of state pension that they could accrue if they could reach the lower earnings limit when they get to their old age.
I hesitate to follow those two powerful speeches, but I wanted to ask the Minister a question around RTI. It is understood that, so long as an employer has a PAYE system, RTI requires reporting of all earnings whether or not the individuals are earning each week at a rate in excess of the LEL. That would not apply to an employer where all employees were below the threshold and nobody was issued with a tax code. We are now in a position whereby, at least in theory, HMRC has within its system details of earnings per paid period of each employee with each employer. Even if that is not the basis of a calculation, it would at least provide a basis on which individual claims might be verified. That seems a potential change that ought to help with this important issue.
My Lords, I shall not detain the Committee long except to give my support to this. It is quite interesting that the changes that HMRC has carried out actually help this particular argument. The situation as it stands is completely counterintuitive to what the Government are trying to achieve, which is that we all save while we are working so that when we retire we have built up a state pension. If people do not have a state pension, they will be reliant on welfare benefits, or whatever the Government of the day decide. So it is a matter of independence.
My noble friend Lady Drake is so right: women find it offensive that they are excluded from contributing when they are able to towards their own pension. I said “women” deliberately, because the nature of work today will change that argument. Since the recession, we have seen more and more men also working part time. So what has been traditionally an argument on equality for women is being diluted by the nature of work in the country today. The argument that we are putting forward is not just for women—it is for citizens who may, by force of circumstance or choice, have more than one job.
The Inland Revenue has no problem in finding solutions to quite complex issues when it comes to collecting tax, and this goes hand in hand with that. Citing the excuse or reason that it is very complex and impossible to do is wearing very thin. Given the remit to do it, I am sure that the Revenue would have to find a way through. The issue is not going to go away; it will be raised at every opportunity, and it is one that runs four-square with what the Bill is trying to achieve, which is for us all to contribute to a state pension while we are working.
My Lords, in engaging with this issue, your Lordships’ Committee has had the benefit of comprehensive speeches by my noble friend Lady Hollis and, despite her reluctance, my noble friend Lady Drake. Between them they have demonstrated a level of adequacy on the detail of this which, for the rest of us, makes her feeling on following our noble friend Lady Hollis pale into insignificance.
In the interest of brevity I intend to ignore a substantial number of the notes that I have before me and engage with just two issues in order to focus the Minister’s mind on them. I shall make these two points because we also have the benefit of the Government’s position. It is summed up in one sentence, which is that addressing this issue by combining hours in some way addresses a problem which is a perception rather than a reality. That is not a direct quote, but it is what the Pensions Minister said in the House of Commons. That argument relies on all those elements that my noble friend Lady Hollis articulated. I have a list of them here which is presented in a slightly different way.
At the heart of them, there are two arguments. The first is that this is a temporary phenomenon, often coming at the end of a working life, and as one will get a pension for 35 years’ contributions over a working life of about 50 years, the better option for most people is not to pay national insurance. It was argued that at present many of these people are not paying insurance and would not thank the Government for requiring them to do so because no one volunteers to pay tax. If that is true, it is a powerful argument.
The other argument is that the Government’s estimate is that only in the order of 50,000 people are in this position, that that number has grown only slightly recently and that, in any event, one in five of them may be on national insurance credits as a result of claiming universal credit. If that is true, that is also a powerful argument. It does not undermine all the arguments that my noble friends have made, but it is powerful.
I want to address both arguments. Of course it is difficult to challenge them because the data do not exist, but we all live in this world. My sense is that large numbers of people working two or more low-earning jobs, many of them on zero-hours contracts, is a phenomenon that is growing throughout the country. That is my experience of living in the United Kingdom and of travelling, because of where I live for parts of the week, across two very distinct communities. I see it growing in both communities that I have contact with.
In fact, I believe that this is a strong and growing characteristic of the modern UK labour market. It is at the heart of the flexibility that has allowed the UK labour market to be able to maintain and grow jobs in circumstances where one would intuitively have expected unemployment to have increased significantly more because of recession. It is a part of the flexibility of the labour market that, in a sense, we celebrate, and spent a period trying to get other countries to follow.
My sense is that this is much greater, and I shall share this short anecdote because it is instructive about how it is affecting people in the communities in which we live. On my way home from our debates on Monday, I overheard a conversation among three young people in a very quiet overground train. I sometimes find it difficult to estimate age, but they were all in their mid-20s. They were all coming back from employment with one employer, which was a mini-job. From their conversation, it was clear that they had, by my reckoning, seven jobs among them at least. Each of them had at least three jobs. Most importantly, they had all had the benefit of a tertiary level education. I could not guarantee that they were all graduates, but at least two of them were, from what they said, and the third also had the benefit of a tertiary level education. These were not your traditional B&Q employees at the end of their life. They were well educated young people coming into a labour market where that was the expectation. That fundamentally challenges the idea that this is a temporary phenomenon and that it can be dismissed, as it has in the past.
My second point is about the assessment that there are about 50,000 people in that situation. Again, because I do not have the data, I cannot address that directly, but I can by analogy. We await the anticipated BIS consultation on zero-hours contracts. The Minister will recollect that in a debate about zero-hours contracts, it emerged that for the fourth quarter of 2012, the ONS estimated that there were 250,000 people on zero-hours contracts. However, a contemporaneous survey by the CIPD estimated that about 1 million people were on such contracts and, following that, the ONS conceded that the Labour Force Survey, which is based on responses by individuals, more than likely understated the number—to such an extent that the ONS has now announced that it will change the way it collects its data from autumn 2013, reporting in mid-2014,
“so as to obtain more robust data”.
So there is an implication—not an acceptance, but an implication—that the ONS Labour Force Survey may have underestimated the number of people on zero-hours contracts in this country by a factor of 300%. We will see if that is right when the survey is published. Consequently, from my experience and the experiences that have been shared—I am sure that the Minister has also heard about how the labour market is working in the United Kingdom—and from the unreliability of the best official estimates of zero-hours contracts alone, I am moved to ask the Minister just how robust are the figures being used to inform the policy.
I ask the Minister a supplementary question, which he may not be able to answer now. Given the significance of that development, as the Labour Force Survey already canvasses for figures for zero-hours contracts, if it does not canvass information about short-hours contracts, why not? Can the ONS be asked to do so? Does the Minister accept that if the 50,000 figure is wrong and, as my noble friend suggests and as our experience suggests, a much higher and growing number of people are involved, that seriously undermines the stated policy of reducing means-testing? If that is how people will have to live for their full working life, that blows a hole in one of the fundamental objectives of the policy, which we all share. Perhaps we should engage with that at this stage. I do not suggest that any of the answers suggested by my noble friend are easy or that the Government should accept them; I am just saying that engaging with the issue in a more informed way could be fundamental to the success of the policy, with which we all agree.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, for tabling this amendment on an issue which I know is of great concern to her: access to contributory state benefits, including pensions, for those who have more than one job but do not earn above the national insurance low earnings limit in any one of them.
We have debated this issue over the years. She will be aware that I have equal concern about this issue. Before we get into the specifics, we have a policy to seize this issue head-on, and that is through universal credit. When you look at the debate this afternoon when we talked about the present system—JSA, tax credits, the problems of going through—universal credit basically combines in-work JSA where you are credited for your pension, and in-work benefits. Therefore, the low paid will be credited in the same way as people on JSA are currently credited. Our estimate is that 800,000 more people will be credited as a result of the adoption of universal credit. Noble Lords may well say that universal credit is taking its time coming in: one or two noble Lords have made that point to me. I can only say that we are going as fast as possible. We are rolling it out.
That is the fundamental solution. Any of the adjustments suggested today would be time-consuming changes to make. One has to take a strategic decision. Does one have a system that sweeps away these problems, or does one make itsy-bitsy changes with HMRC here or there? They all take time. I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, who said that HMRC is slow to make adjustments, but they are genuinely difficult to do. I have been involved in quite a few government change programmes now and even relatively modest changes are time-consuming and soak up the energy of the people doing them.
The question asked by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, about cutting into the RTI system ahead of universal credit is an interesting one. Clearly, we are looking very closely at how we use RTI in different ways. One of the issues in terms of a comprehensive solution for this relatively small group is that we have to be sure they are on the PAYE system in order to use it as a comprehensive cut through. My instinct—again, data are short here—is that this is not a comprehensive solution in the same way as catching them at the UC level. If you are not on PAYE, you can self-declare and get the system to work. I do not think that RTI is the solution.
As noble Lords have pointed out, the numbers are relatively small—some 50,000—but just because the numbers are small does not mean that we should not worry about the issue. That is what universal credit is trying to catch.
The Minister said that the numbers were small, which is to restate the 50,000 figure. I thought that my noble friend exploded that pretty effectively. Not only is that itself pretty doubtful, but we now have the issues associated with zero-hours contracts. We specifically asked whether they had been taken into account and what would now be a reasonable basis on which to go forward with shared information.
My Lords, as I said even before the noble Baroness intervened, even though the numbers today are relatively small, I am not decrying that particular issue. I was referring to the 50,000 figure—the current estimate of those affected. Let me get on with my argument and not worry about that at the moment.
The drive to universal credit is to allow greater flexibility in the labour market, so zero-hour contracts work with universal credit. There may be elements of zero-hour contracts that are of concern, particularly if the balance of power between the employee and the employer is unfair, but universal credit works with that flexibility of the labour market.
I understand the argument the Minister is making, but let us suppose that the woman described by my noble friend is in a relationship with a civil partner or a husband. What is the most the husband could earn before she would effectively be excluded from universal credit? As they do not have children, if her earnings are low but his are at a reasonable level, she would no longer be able to benefit from his pension. So you cannot assume that she would be caught up in universal credit because her earnings are low.
The noble Lord is exactly right. It goes to the point of what we are discussing. It would get you the pension entitlement and the bereavement benefit entitlement but not the contributory entitlements. The current arrangements for crediting a person with national insurance contributions are comprehensive. They cover all the main reasons why someone may not be working, or working only a small number of hours, such as ill health and unemployment, or where people are caring for a child aged nought to 12 or for someone with a disability. They also cover those currently entitled to working tax credit, and we have recently introduced credits to protect the contribution record of working-age grandparents looking after their grandchildren.
Those who fall outside the scope of the crediting arrangements and who can afford to do so—higher paid households are clearly in that category—can make payments on a voluntary basis. The current rate of voluntary class 3 national insurance contribution is a very fair price at £13.55 a week, or £705 a year. The person could recoup the cost within four years of receiving basic state pension benefits.
Using this approach to establish whether a person’s combined earnings exceed the lower earnings limit would require the collation of tax and contribution returns for employees with multiple jobs. That clearly would place a burden on business and require HMRC to develop complicated IT which would take time and money and benefit a small number of people. We would also need to consider collecting the employer’s national insurance contributions in proportion to the earnings in each job, which would add considerable administrative complexity.
The question that one needs to consider is whether those who have aggregate earnings above the primary threshold should be credited or should pay a discount rate of national insurance. That is a question I address to the noble Baroness. It could be seen as quite unfair on someone who is earning just over the threshold in one job and has to pay full national insurance, whereas someone else just below might be credited.
Clearly, under universal credit, there would be a crediting arrangement for everyone within that system anyway, so I accept the point to that extent. I agree with the point on zero hours made by the noble Lord, Lord Browne, in that robust data are currently simply lacking and we are waiting to see the ONS data when they arrive. As I say, the universal credit system that is coming in adapts very elegantly to that kind of flexible labour market.
Before the Minister moves off the question of the data, the fundamental point about the zero-hours contract estimate that I was attempting to make was that that was despite it being part of the Labour Force Survey. There was an apparently robust basis for a figure that turned out to be, potentially, 300% wrong. We are being asked to debate this against an estimate of a figure that every single part of our experience of life suggests to us is grossly wrong—that is, the figure of 50,000.
The previous estimate for zero-hour contracts—which is what we are talking about—was that there were 250,000. Let us see the figures today for those on part-time work. I cannot remember the figure offhand—is it 1.5 million? There is a boundary, therefore, about what proportion of flexible working is formally on the zero-hour contracts. Rather than speculate on what the real figure is, I think that we should wait until the ONS comes out with a figure, if it is going to revise that.
On the pointed questions about self-employment rates raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, rates of national insurance are clearly a matter for HM Treasury. However, we have not assumed that self-employed contributions will increase single-tier cost estimates.
I know that the noble Baroness has been a champion of this group and has genuine concerns about it losing out. As the new systems come into sharp focus—universal credit, RTI, single tier—there will be a chance to look at this issue properly when we know exactly what is happening, where the remaining issues are and then to find a precise way of dealing with it. It is simply too early, right now, to get a clean and elegant solution, but we do intend to look more broadly at crediting arrangements to examine the possibilities of modernising and simplifying the arrangements in that light. So there is a process. Her point is taken: it is just about what is the most efficient and effective way of solving a particular problem. What I do not know and cannot offer now is a timetable. It is something to be looked at some years—not a lot of years—in the future, in terms of exactly what should happen. I think that there will be a solution in the medium term. For those reasons, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
I am extremely grateful to everybody who contributed, including the Minister. The debate was very interesting and revealing and a lot of new issues were raised that had not been raised on previous occasions when we have debated jobs below LEL. That suggests that it is worth going back to some of these issues, as the information that we get and the changes in the labour market make those new concerns increasingly relevant.
My noble friend Lady Drake spoke with all the appropriate authority of one of the pensions commissioners. She rightly emphasised—and sometimes I feel that we are simply retreading the same territory—that every pension issue has to be judged through the perspective of how it affects women, because if we get it right for women we get it right for everybody. Actually, that is not usually what we do; we tend to go on bulk numbers, which are made up by men because they are more reliably, through their working life, attached to a pay grade in the labour market that takes them over the LEL level. As a result, we ignore pockets of women here, there and everywhere, around the system, because, for very good reasons indeed, they do not conform to patterns of male working life.
I honour the Minister in his appreciation of the need to have the recognition of mini-jobs through universal credit. He has never tried to underestimate the significance of these issues, and I put it on record that I appreciate that. However, where we have got to today is not quite good enough.
My noble friend Lady Drake emphasised the need to put up the gender filter and, absolutely rightly, emphasised that women are locked out twice over—in their own ability to get into the NI system and by their ability to go through their husband or partner. They are suffering a double whammy. This Bill makes their default position disappear, which is why the problem has increased urgency from when we discussed it around the universal credit and welfare reform proposals some 18 months ago.
My noble friend Lord McKenzie emphasised the practical feasibility of doing this through HMRC arrangements. Given his lifetime of experience in working with businesses on issues like that, I think that his expertise should be taken very seriously by the department, which may not have had similar experience.
My noble friend Lady Dean, like my noble friend Lady Turner, has fought for women’s pensions since the 1990s, as far as I am aware. She got it absolutely right when she said that this amendment, or an alternative way in which to meet that need, would conform to the spirit of the Bill, and that it should not be left in the hope that, in four or five years down the line, the world may be different.
My noble friend Lord Browne made a devastating critique in talking about the inadequacy of the statistics, how every month the number seems to double—geometrically, not arithmetically—and that very soon we will find that the whole basis on which the Government have estimated their costings and needs, on the basis that it is a tiny minority, will be undermined. He certainly makes me even more uneasy about the neglect of this group than I was before we discussed the issue today.
The Minister is relying essentially on universal credit. I see why he would want to do that, but I am trying to do some back-of-the-envelope calculations. Let us take a group of women and say that the system comes into effect and is rolled out nationally in 2020. It may happen a year earlier than that, but it is unlikely to be more than a year earlier. Following the example of my noble friend Lord Browne, let us say that people leaving school at 18, or college or university, are going to a patchwork or portfolio life for much of the rest of their lives, given the increasing dominance of labour market flexibility. I calculate that when they come into the labour market, if at 2020 they subsequently need 35 years, which they will get through some universal credit arrangements—and thanks to my noble friend there is a big question mark over that—that means that they will qualify for a basic state pension in 2055. They therefore have to have been born in 1990 and are currently aged 23. Under the Minister’s own figures, as far as I can tell, any young woman or man who is older than that probably will not qualify under UC for a full pension by the time they retire.
My Lords, I cannot leave that unchallenged. People will have inherited rights, including credits, before 2016. Clearly, many of the examples quoted by the noble Baroness related to people who had had children, so 12-plus years would be credited under the existing system to be pulled forward into the system with the foundation amount, building up beyond that. I also need to remind the noble Baroness that the intention with the universal credit schedule that we have announced is to bring in all people, certainly in the working population, by 2016 and 2017, with a group of ESA recipients left beyond that point for very good reason, because we need to deal with them very carefully. Therefore, under the timings that we have announced, the people about whom she is concerned would be brought in very shortly after the introduction of the single-tier pension.
I hope that the Minister is right but I do not believe that he is. It is very unlikely that the UC system will be sufficiently stable to be rolled out to the entire working-age population—the Government are not catching these people in their labour statistics—before about 2019 or 2020. I would like to be proved wrong but I very much doubt that I will be. Even somebody who has had two children, which means that they will have had 14 years-worth of credit under the new rules, would still be stuck at about 43 or 44 with no ability to add to those years if they came within this category of having no single job that took them above the LEL. Therefore, we wipe out people who are something like 20 years off their pension life, and they will go into retirement with a fairly trivial amount barely over the minimum qualifying amount. I do not think that the Minister can rely on that.
He is right that some women will manage. Particularly if they have children, they will be fine, but if they have no children, they may have a husband. They may both be on perfectly modest incomes but when, taken as a household, they are tested for their eligibility for working tax credits, where the threshold is relatively low, she will not qualify through that either under the joint claim.
Therefore, I am not at all confident but I would be delighted to receive the statistics from the Minister about the coverage, under the circumstances identified in today’s discussion, for those whom UC is intended to help.
The Minister wants a clean and elegant solution. The clean and elegant solution would be to get as many people as possible into the new system and not to rely on pension credit, a legacy system which will otherwise continue for 30 or 40 years. Unless we can get this group into the system as early as possible, he will not find clean and elegant solutions to sustain the Bill. I am glad that he is going to work on it. I hope that, certainly before Report, he can come back and give us an idea of how he is going to address this issue, even if it is about extending conditionality as a credit into JSA conditionality. That would work for me. I want some way of bringing these people in. I promise the Minister that, if he does not address it, this problem will not disappear; it will grow. It is his responsibility to bridge the deficit between where people are and where some of them may be when he has introduced UC three, four, five or six years down the road. Under the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 11 withdrawn.
12: Clause 2, page 2, line 5, at end insert—
“( ) Regulations may provide for the transitional rate of the state pension for a person who is ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom and who reaches pensionable age before 6 April 2031 to be increased where the person would have received a higher pension under the previous system based on their spouse or civil partner’s contribution record.”
My Lords, I apologise to the Committee that I want to raise another substantial issue. After this, I promise that the issues that I raise will get smaller, but other noble Lords’ amendments may be appropriately substantial.
This is about the married women’s dependency pension. This is the first of three amendments. The second amendment is intended to address the issue that widows may face and the third amendment addresses those that divorcées may face. They try to avoid the cliff edge for some vulnerable women—please forgive the political incorrectness. This also applies to men and civil partners, and later amendments apply to male divorcés and widowers.
The peak cost of some £200 million which was suggested by the Minister in the other place would fall in the 2030s for all three groups, including overseas spouses, I gather, which suggests a lower figure, perhaps £100 million a year, during the next 10 years or so. I am grateful to the Box for giving me some additional information on numbers, although I am still not clear about costs. If the Minister can clarify that, that would be helpful.
The Government have rightly helped 10,000 women—it is a diminishing number—who paid a reduced stamp and have put them effectively on to the equivalent of the former 60% dependant pension. At the same time, they are taking that same pension from about 5,000 married women who would otherwise qualify for it each year. This amendment calls for a transitional period of 15 years, as urged by the Select Committee on Work and Pensions on this part of the Bill, having taken a considerable amount of evidence, including some very effective evidence from Age Concern.
This amendment seeks to help women, not many of them, who have, for one reason or another, lived their lives among an older, shall we call it—although I do not mean this to be patronising at all—Daily Mail model, without any expectation that the Government were going to change the rules around them.
On the one hand, the Government are about to reward about 4 million non-working wives with a marriage tax allowance for their husband worth £3.85 a week, costing £700 million a year, and on the other hand they are taking away a £66 per week pension, also derived from marriage—bingo for marriage—at a fraction of the cost of the marriage tax allowance, from older women who have no time to rebuild. The Government are giving to married women with working husbands and taking away from married women who now face retirement with no pension of their own. Husbands—younger men—immediately benefit from a tax allowance transfer which has come as a windfall, while older women lose support that they have been promised all their lives. It is bizarre. Why not spend the first on the second? It will pay for itself several times over and will be far more useful and far more fair for, given their age and such short notice, older women can do little or nothing to build a pension of their own greater than the 60% that they would get as a derived right. That would take 16 years.
Women approaching retirement age had expected the 60% pension and planned their retirement around it. They had, and have, a legitimate expectation. The younger woman and her husband—they are not just cohabiting—receiving the £3.85 household income have not built their lifetime around it and planned for it, unlike the 60% pension. That is simply a windfall. It is unexpected and unplanned and, in my view, much less deserved than the pension that older women were entitled to expect. That younger woman is likely to have many years ahead both to work and gain income and to secure her own retirement with a full pension. I cannot think what mentality, frankly, has produced that juxtaposition and this disjuncture between those two groups, both of whom derive their rights through marriage.
In the other place, the Minister made much of the fact that a significant proportion—more than two-thirds—were male spouses or partners who were born or lived overseas. I now calculate, with the revised statistics that we have had, that huge number to be all of 2,000. However, I have tried to cover that with my,
“ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom”,
which has a good case behind it and which will not trouble the Government.
Indeed, the Minister may also argue, as Steve Webb did in the other place, that he finds it hard to conceive of women who might fall into this group given the wide array of credits—the up to 50 years of working life, which would mean that you start collecting credits at the age of 15 to bring you up to 65, and the 35 years’ NI record requirement. Let me help him, if I may, with two possible categories of women, both of which I am familiar with; I am sure my noble friends have other examples.
I am aware of at least two groups of women who continue to need transitional protection. To get the equivalent of 60% of the future pension equivalent, they would need cover on their own record of at least 16 years—less than that, and they are worse off. Younger women, I readily agree, have time to reshape their plans. They also have appropriate childcare credits, not HRP, which required you to earn actual NI years for it to come into play. Many may have undertaken part-time work above the LEL and may have signed on for JSA, all of this bringing entitlement to a pension of their own. That is as it should be. But women in their 50s do not have that, hence the 15-year transitional period.
Who are likely to lose? The first group is older women with patchy NI years. They got HRP and perhaps did not understand what happened when we replaced it with childcare credits. They did small jobs below the LEL for many years knowing that they would get the 60%. That is what women have told me. They did miscellaneous caring for elderly relatives, credit for which was introduced only in the past five years, which is too late to benefit most of them.
Perhaps their husband’s job took them around the country and they were unable to keep finding new jobs above the LEL for themselves while they moved house and supported his career. As we have discussed, service wives are an extreme case of this. They juggled untidy lives; lives which did not conform to NI requirements. But they knew—or they thought they knew—that they could count on their husband's pension to give them a dependent’s fund. Virtually overnight, as there are no transitional arrangements, that has been taken away.
The Pensions Advisory Service, which I quoted on Monday, completed its survey of nearly 1,000 women and women often commented with additional views. I quote from one of them.
“Had to give up my part-time job when my grand-daughter was born to look after her full-time while her mother and father worked. I’m now desperately looking for work”,
because the NI years have risen to 35. She thought that with 30 years she was all right. She is now 58 and has tried hard to find work but without success. She continues:
“I am getting very worried about the future. I go to bed thinking about it and wake up to face it all again”.
She has a patchwork. She has missing years and we are told that she cannot buy them back before 2006 once universal credit comes into play. Even if she had voluntary NICs, she could not deploy them in circumstances such as hers.
The second group is women who have had poor health for most of their lives—depression, arthritis, angina or diabetes—and they either did not think about or know about incapacity benefits or perhaps believed that the condition was not so incapacitating that they would qualify, especially given the somewhat deliberate stigmatising in the past few years of benefit claimants. Frankly, there has been humiliating treatment of certain claimants by ATOS. I know that the Minister will not want me to recite some of the cases that I have experienced, but they are relevant to this. Their husbands earned enough and, given their poor health, keeping house and perhaps helping out neighbours or local charities was as much as they could manage. If this sounds improbable to the Minister, we are talking about women approaching pension age where the DWP’s own research on benefit take-up among entitled but not claiming pensioners shows how deeply ingrained is the reluctance to claim means-tested benefits.
Such women may have had a few years of NI work behind them but not enough to bring them over the 10-year threshold. If they had nine NI credits or years, they could at least have received £36 a week that they do not in the conventional way, which would normally not have needed to come into play because the 60% was more generous. That de minimis has been removed, although I hope and expect that some women affected will buy an extra year to get over the 10-year hurdle and enjoy £40 a week. However, they probably do not have the time, good health or employability, or in some cases the income, to bring it up to 16 years, or the 60% level that they reasonably expected.
Let me again quote from the TPAS survey. Asked about how they would cope, one woman wrote that she was,
“sick and disabled so unable to save or plan, though very worried as had break in NI due to illness but never claimed benefit”.
Some, but few, I suspect, of the 30,000 affected will be able to afford to buy back missing years. I am not sure whether they can buy them back previous to 2006—we had confirmation on Monday that they could not—where the missing years may have occurred. That relaxation appears to expire in 2015 and the Minister is not continuing it from 2016 onwards.
The Minister at the other end several times argued that if the DWP introduced any transitional period, this would be found by the courts to be arbitrary and would presumably be overturned. He seemed very nervous about the courts; he introduced this argument at least twice when reading his speeches. I am surprised by this. In my experience, if Parliament’s policy intent is clear—see Roe v Wade—it would not fall to judicial review unless it could be shown that it was a decision that no reasonable person could have made. That is quite a high hurdle and clearly not the case here, so if the Minister is going to argue that, may we have proper information about the legal advice that the DWP has received on which the Minister at the other end so heavily relied?
We phased in the rise in people’s pension age over a decade. We are scrapping the pension that they might have drawn at pension age, effectively overnight. I do not think that is fair. If we feel the need to give adequate warning when raising the state pension age, as we did, we should provide adequate warning and therefore transitional arrangements for the most obvious group of real, not notional, losers. It is not difficult. We have the precedent of the reduced married women’s stamp, which we should follow. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 23, which is in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Browne, and to Amendment 12 in the name of my noble friend Lady Hollis, who has outlined the basic issue at stake here. I need not repeat that. As we know, the single-tier pension will be based solely on an individual’s contribution or credit record. Everyone will get out depending on what they put in; as they sow, so shall they reap. But we are concerned in this group with people who chose to sow as a couple, expecting to reap in like fashion, when from now on it will be every reaper for himself or herself.
Changes in labour market participation rates and social structures mean that we recognise that, in future, a system built on individual contributions is the right way forward. This year, 75% of those retiring will have complete contribution records of 30 years. It will be interesting to know what happens when that moves up. However, it is obviously important that the appropriate protections remain in place for those who have caring responsibilities or childcare responsibilities and that adequate information is put out. Subject to those caveats, we accept the direction of travel.
However, we are concerned to understand fully the impact of this provision in the short term on those who will lose entitlements derived from a partner’s NI contribution record on which they may have done their retirement planning. It is crucial, for the reasons that my noble friend outlined, that the transitional arrangements are fair and seen to be fair. We have had representations from groups working with older people, particularly older women, highlighting a range of circumstances in which women did not build up any entitlement. There are women who were entitled to credits but did not bother to claim them as they were planning to piggyback off their husbands’ records and there was no advantage in doing so. Then there were women who worked part-time around caring commitments, as my noble friend described here and in the last amendment. There were women who chose to do voluntary work, knowing that their husband’s pension would support them and who were often the pillars of their local community. I see a lot of them in Durham, who helped to support their neighbours and really were the backbone of the local community.
There were couples, as my noble friend has touched on, who made the decision that one partner—usually, given the generation, the wife—would not work in order to support her husband in his work. We have heard about service personnel. I know vicars’ wives in those circumstances. They did not work themselves but ran the vicarage and supported their husbands in the expectation that his pension would support them in due course. Then there were women who decided, when they needed a bit of extra money, that it made more sense for the husband to take overtime or extra shifts because it paid better than they would be—and they would not, of course, have had the sort of help with childcare in those days that women can expect now or going forward.
When discussing derived rights, we need to be very careful that we consider the decisions women made at the time. There is always the danger that the modern lens distorts when looking too far backwards in time.
I welcome the fact that the Government plan to extend the period over which people can buy back voluntary NI contributions. However, there is still the point raised by my noble friend Lady Hollis about the period pre-2006-07. I do not know whether the Government can offer anything further on that but, obviously, one will listen keenly. The key thing is that some of the people contacting organisations such as Age UK have made representations that, if they had known what changes the Government were planning, they might have made different decisions at the time. The wives could have registered as unemployed, disabled or carers. Will the Minister address the question of whether there is any way to put these things back in retrospect and if there is not say how else they can be addressed?
I suspect that the Minister will respond that many of those in the circumstances I have described will be able to benefit from pension credit if they find that their income falls below the minimum guaranteed level. Some will, but is that not simply to push them on to the very means-tested benefits from which the Bill is supposed to be rescuing them? I accept, however, that that has been thrown in doubt by the forensic work of my noble friend Lord McKenzie.
What of those who find themselves in the position of having less pension income than they expected but having too much in savings to qualify because of the capital bar? Are we at risk of creating a squeezed middle of pensioners who did what successive Governments have urged them to do—namely, saved for the future and for a rainy day—only to find that they might as well not have bothered because they will not be any better off?
I would be interested to hear the Minister help to clarify the numbers of people involved. I have been struggling to get my head around the figures. The Government’s response to the Select Committee said that by 2020 there could be up to 30,000 women in Great Britain whose entitlement under the STP will be less than under the derived entitlement in the current system. That figure was also used by the Minister at Second Reading. However, modelling done by the DWP and published in a paper given to Peers in briefing on this Bill suggests that by 2020 there could be 80,000 people, half of them women, projected to receive less in state pension—that is in the 2016-20 cohort, I think—and that that would rise to a cumulative total to 2030 of 290,000. I am sure I am simply misreading these figures, but I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify them for me.
The Select Committee made a great deal of this issue and welcomed the protection when it said, referring to the reduced rate election that:
“We believe that it should also be possible to find a solution for another small group of women: those who did not build up their own NI record because they had a legitimate expectation that they would be able to rely on their husband’s contributions to give them entitlement to a Basic State Pension”.
Its solution was to protect those within 15 years of retirement age.
The Government’s response to the Select Committee was rather taciturn on this point; I hope that the Minister can be more expansive. The Government’s response simply referred to the need for a modern system and stressed the fact that this facility was used extensively by married men overseas, although they did not offer comparable figures for married women. Have the Government responded to the Select Committee’s recommendation that they assess and publish the cost of offering transitional protection to those women within 15 years of state pension age? If not, perhaps the Minister might smile upon our amendment which invites the Government to conduct precisely such a review.
The crucial issue here is whether those who have anticipated being able to benefit from the contributions of their spouse have enough time to plan for this adjustment. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, there are three amendments that are closely related, of which this is the first. I welcome the fact that there seems to be general agreement in principle that what I will loosely call “derived entitlement”, established in the 1940s, is past its sell-by date and has no place in a modern state pension system.
I apologise for the fact that I am going to speak at some length, but it is important that I lay out the Government’s argument for removing derived entitlement by reference to the criteria for judging single tier as laid out by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, at Second Reading: that is to say fairness, simplicity, sustainability, the provision of a decent standard of living for all and, at the same time, the encouragement of private saving through clarity of outcome.
First, we believe that fairness means ensuring an adequate state pension for people who have contributed to the system. That is why we are recycling the savings from aspects of the current system being abolished, including derived entitlement, to give a boost to individuals who have historically been excluded from additional state pension, such as carers, the self-employed and the low-paid. Indeed, around 650,000 women who reach state pension age in the first 10 years of single tier will receive an average of £8 per week more in state pension due to the single-tier valuation.
Sustainability and affordability are also key qualities that the Opposition have made it clear that they are looking for. Let me be absolutely clear that we are ending derived entitlement from principle and not to save costs. However, as we have been asked a number of times about this, and as affordability is one of the criteria of interest to the Opposition in judging single tier, I shall respond to the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, and deal with the cost issue.
Our analysis shows that to continue running the basic pension derived entitlement provisions for people reaching state pension age up to 2030-31, the cohorts targeted in these amendments, would cost around £200 million per annum in the early 2030s, and those are just the costs for Great Britain. We do not think that it would be possible to restrict transitional protection to those ordinarily resident in the UK, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, hoped. While it is difficult to quantify the cost for those overseas, we think it likely that it would cost about the same amount again as in the UK, meaning transitional protection for the first 15 cohorts could have further costs peaking at another £200 million a year.
Why does the Minister think that the courts would not support us in having transitional arrangements for those who are ordinarily resident? I am not a lawyer, but, in my somewhat limited experience of judicial reviews, there have been a number of challenges. The two criteria I lay down are: was Parliament’s intention was clear—Roe v Wade—and would it be a position that a reasonable person would think was not unreasonable. The addition of ordinarily resident would seem to fit the criteria for transitional arrangements. If the Minister could help us on why that is not the case, I would be interested.
Yes, it is a net figure. On the legal position, clearly the noble Baroness will remember that we are in the European Union and there are definitions of which kind of payments are transportable, so to speak, and which ones can be restricted. That is where our legal issue comes from. Therefore, rather than go into huge detail on that—
Perhaps I can make sure that the noble Baroness is briefed on that outside the Committee. The question of which types of benefit are transportable around the EU and which you can justifiably keep is immensely complicated. I think that the definition is that a social support you can keep within an area but a pension tends to be transportable. However, I can arrange a detailed legal session for the noble Baroness if she would like that.
Perhaps I may turn to the figures that the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, was talking about. Some 290,000 people would be affected at some point up to 2030, which represents less than 4% of those reaching state pension age up to that point. The 30,000 figure is a snapshot in 2020 of the number of people projected to be receiving less at that point in time. That is the explanation of those two sets of figures.
One point concerning payments abroad is that it does not seem fair on our taxpayers and pensioners who have made contributions to the UK, or indeed even affordable, to spend money on those claiming overseas who have never set foot in the UK.
Simplicity is another virtue that the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, concentrated on. If people are to save for their retirement or make sound decisions on purchasing voluntary contributions, they need clarity of outcome. Extending the derived entitlement provisions would run counter to the goal of achieving simplicity of outcome for tens of millions of today’s working-age people. At the moment, we are in the position where we can tell people shortly after April 2016 what they have, in the words of my colleague Steve Webb, banked to date.
The key to being able to do that is to have a full rate of single tier that people work towards and a base entitlement on an individual’s own record. At the moment, we will crystallise people’s national insurance record as at 2016, recognising past contributions, and we will move on from there into the single-tier system. We can say, “You’ve got this to date. If you get this many more qualifying years, then you will get the full rate of single tier”.
However, let us imagine what would happen if we were to put in place provisions that allowed people to continue to draw a pension based on someone else’s record. We would have to tell people, “This is what you’ve got on your record but if you’re married or divorced, or if you get married or divorced between now and state pension age, or you get divorced or are widowed after state pension age, then your entitlement might be different. We can’t tell you what it might be because you would have to look to your partner’s, or even ex-partner’s, record”.
My Lords, I support the Government's position on this, as I think we all do, but what will be the position for the reduced married women’s election, where you are effectively introducing—I was going to say inventing—a 60% dependency pension for a whole new group of women which is rather larger in number than the group we are talking about?
Because we can at that point tell those married women exactly what they will be getting. The difference here is that it is very hard to trace those people to tell them definitively what they will be getting. That takes us back to today’s problem, which is, when you phone up to ask what your pension is going to be in three years’ time, we can give a guesstimate at best. That will remain the case if it is open for lots of people.
Turning to the aim of providing a decent standard of living, we already have an underpin that guarantees pensioners living in Great Britain a minimum amount of weekly income. I confirm the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, that the very purpose of pension credit is to provide support to people in Great Britain who, for whatever reason, have not built up sufficient savings or pension entitlement through their life.
If the current system were to carry on, we project that by 2020, fewer than 10% of people reaching pension age after 2016 would be on the standard minimum guarantee. We have also looked at the group of people who would, under the current system, have been claiming a basic state pension on their spouse’s record—either at the point of reaching state pension age or later, on bereavement. Even if the current system carried on for ever, 40% of the people in that group would be on guarantee credit. That group of people—this 40% of all of our people losing out from the removal of derived entitlement—will get their loss in state pension replaced pound for pound with more guarantee credit. But there will be people not on guarantee credit who experience a loss. If we look at the average changes to household income as a result of removing derived entitlement, we see that the median loss for households affected is about £6 a week. The mean average is about £10 a week. There will undoubtedly be examples where people do lose larger amounts, but again, pension credit is there for them.
I hope that by now it is clear why we have not put in place transitional arrangements and why we have no intention to undertake a review to this effect. We have, however, put in place some protection, specifically to ensure that women who had paid the reduced rate election within 35 years of pension age will get roughly what they thought they would receive. Putting in place protection for these individuals is right: they have clearly participated in the labour market and have contributed. The difference between them and the wider group of people who would have relied on derived entitlement is that those people made an explicit deal with the state.
Furthermore, to address the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, those who have paid a reduced rate election are, crucially, easily identifiable. The message of simplicity for the wider single-tier population will not be affected, and the size of the group enables a bespoke calculation. Were we to apply such blanket protection to everyone, we would simply be awarding everyone with any history of work or credits a 60% basic state pension and, later, a full basic state pension; clearly the costs would become an issue and would not be tenable. We would ultimately be awarding people with just one qualifying year a full basic state pension.
On the point about the married women’s pension, if their entitlement under normal transitional rules would be higher, we will give them that instead, but we are not looking at their husband’s record for that; we will be assuming that they have a full record and award them a pension accordingly. Indeed, we project that, with the vast majority of couples involved, the husband will already have 35 qualifying years. It may be possible for people who are long-term sick but not claiming benefits to apply for credits for a past period. It is not essential for a person to be receiving a benefit to qualify for credits for periods of incapacity, but they would need to meet the entitlement criteria for incapacity for work or limited capability for work each day within the meaning of the legislation that applied at the relevant time. Provided that medical evidence for the whole period can be obtained, it may be possible to apply to a local Jobcentre Plus for credits for past periods. Clearly, I cannot comment on people’s success in that regard or otherwise, but I am glad to be able occasionally to provide some new information to the noble Baroness.
For the individual with 30 years who is looking for work, perhaps after looking after grandchildren, and is now worried, in the example that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, gave, we have credits for national insurance for exactly that type of situation.
Okay. On the specific case of someone who has 30 years and wants to get 35, that is part of the issue that we discussed at length at the last sitting. That individual should be able to benefit from the transitional arrangements. I draw your Lordships’ attention to the analysis in our recent ad hoc publication, which shows that the equivalent of the married person’s pension would be achievable even for the majority of those reaching state pension age in the initial period to 2020 through the purchase of voluntary contributions to cover years back to 2006, or by working or engaging in an activity that earned credits between 2016 and pension age.
I turn to the suggestion that we review the possibility of putting in place transitional arrangements. Such a review would be unnecessary and unhelpful. Noble Lords will agree that, in the interval between Royal Assent and implementation of the new scheme, communications will be crucial. A review at a time when we are preparing the implementation of the new state pension system would create great uncertainty just when we are being urged to ensure that we provide clarity. We had a discussion on that matter on Monday.
I make the general point that one problem here is that we are moving from the current system because it is too complicated for anyone to understand. The risk of some of these arrangements is that we just re-import all the complexity that we are trying to get rid of. That is a real and substantial risk, which we believe we must try to avoid.
In summary, we have had to make decisions about how we move over to the new system. In a system where changes to society and to the existing pensions system mean that a majority of women and men already receive a full state pension, these provisions, designed for the post-war era, are now an anachronism. I hope that I have set out the case that our approach in this respect has been as fair, simple and sustainable as possible. I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
Thank you. I would like to push the Minister on the comments made by my noble friend Lady Sherlock, who rightly warned against hindsight and applying modern attitudes to labour market decisions made some time back. That discussion will be repeated when we come on to widows in a moment. The Minister’s references to women being eligible in certain situations to claim pension credit precisely missed the point raised by my noble friend. If someone is in a couple with a husband who has acquired full contributory years, possibly with some minor additional savings, they will be floated off pension credit, so they will not be entitled to claim it, nor will she be entitled to claim it in lieu unless she is indeed solo.
I am grateful for the Minister’s help on “ordinarily resident”. I should like to see the legal advice, because I think it is arguable which side of the bridge it falls on. We have had plenty of debate on that in the past.
The Minister cited the four tests raised by my noble friend on Second Reading. I remind him of the tests in the impact analysis in October 2013: what are the policy objectives and intended effects? Four were offered. It stated that the intended effect of state pension reform was that,
“individuals have a better understanding of the state pension system,”
and how much they can expect to receive,
“and therefore engage more actively with planning for retirement”.
The people we are talking about understood the rules perfectly well. It is the Government who have changed the rules around them, not that they have failed to do anything that the Government think that they should have done at the time. We fail the first test in the impact assessment.
The second test is that the,
“inequalities of state pension outcomes within the current system are reduced”.
Some are reduced, but the Minister is substituting new ones, including those involving the green stamp and the women I am talking about. The third test is that,
“individuals have reduced interaction with means-tested benefits in retirement”.
That is highly doubtful, given discussion on previous amendments. The amount so far established is pretty trivial. The final test is that,
“the state pension system is more affordable and sustainable in the long-term”,
whereas the Minister has been arguing that it is cost-neutral. He failed to address the fact that there appears to be adequate money—£700 million—to introduce a marriage allowance while taking away support for marriage when it comes to pension arrangements. It is a modern world when it comes to pensions; it is what I do not doubt that the Minister would call a Beveridge world when it comes to married women’s tax allowances. I noticed that he did not venture a comment on or pray the modern world in aid against the Beveridge assumptions behind the married women’s tax allowances, as he would no doubt have described them if we had proposed them and he was criticising them.
The Minister says that the present arrangements are an anachronism. I am sure that it will be a great comfort to those women who are going to lose their 60% entitlement virtually overnight to be told that they are an anachronism and that it is their fault that they cannot shape up in the limited time available to change their situation.
Women have always had a lousy pension deal; it has never worked for them. By refusing to permit a transitional arrangement, we are colluding in that lousy deal by picking off an easy, voiceless, vulnerable group. I have to say that I am disappointed by the Minister’s response, but I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 12 withdrawn.
13: Clause 2, page 2, line 5, at end insert—
“( ) Regulations may provide for the transitional rate of the state pension for a person who is ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom and who reaches pensionable age before 6 April 2031 to be increased where the person would have received a higher pension under the previous system based on their deceased spouse or deceased civil partner’s contribution record.”
My Lords, I will be pretty brief.
Until the Bill comes into force, a married woman would qualify for 60% on her husband’s record on retirement. A widow would get his full record, which was usually the full 100%. That is a different issue because they claim entitlement to different sums. In future, under the new state pension, she is on her own. If she does not herself have the requisite number of NI years, she gets no derived pension either as wife or as widow; she will be reliant on means-tested pension credit. To change the system in that cliff-edge way is quite wrong.
We know that mortality and morbidity rise sharply with age. There is a threefold increase in deaths between 55 and 65. In that decade, twice as many men die as women. Usually, they will have died from lingering illnesses, such as cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s or similar, unlike younger men who tend to die from external accidents and so forth. Their wives may for many years have been home, been around, reassuring them, helping and caring but not perhaps sufficiently to get a carer’s allowance, and carer’s credit has only recently been introduced and is not sufficiently known about or claimed. Then, after 2016, he dies. Her own pension record is considerably incomplete and she cannot substitute his contributions for her own.
Mr G, who wrote to me and perhaps to others and who has given me permission to quote him, said that his wife worked part-time for many years below the LEL. They have no children and she has no pension of her own. He thought that she would get not just the married women’s dependency pension while he lived, but also the full inherited widow’s pension when he died. He said:
“All my contributions were made with the promise—a promise in existence for our entire lives—that they ensured my wife would inherit the pension on my death. These promises we are told now are null and void. It is easy for parliament to rewrite longstanding legislation, but we cannot go back in time and rewrite our lives. It would be different if we had been given 20 years to prepare for this change, but we never dreamed that these promises would be broken”.
He adds that he had hoped she would get his full state pension and a few thousand of his private pension. Now she will get only the small private pension and a means-tested top-up if she qualifies for pension credit. She loses several thousand pounds a year. He continues:
“Poorly paid in her working life she now faces her entire state pension removed in widowhood. I cannot describe how anxious and betrayed we feel”.
As he said, we can change the legislation, as the Government propose, but he and she cannot go back in time and change their lives. We are talking about an average of 7,000 widows and widowers a year, which is a tiny number. I hope that we can help them. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly on this amendment. I was exceedingly brief last time, but since the Minister did not feel any compulsion to do likewise, I shall take my time this time round. The amendment again raises a particular question about transitional protection. I will not revisit the substantive debate that we have just had, but I want to highlight a couple of points. To do that, I want to use a case study given to us by DWP officials.
In this case, we have a couple who have been named Jack and Jill—a slight lack of imagination, but better than the DEL and AMI beloved of Treasury case studies. Jill reaches state pension age in 2020 and her husband Jack reaches state pension age in 2018. Conveniently, they have average life expectancy, so Jack survives until 2040 and Jill until 2044. In this case, Jill had 15 qualifying years of contributions.
Under the current system, Jill would get a married woman’s pension of £64. Under the new system she would get £62. But the real crunch comes when Jack sadly dies. At that point, Jill would receive £113 a week under the current system. Under the new system she would receive only £62 in single-tier pension. That is a huge difference and a real worry to the real Jills of this world, and even more so to those who outlive their husbands by more than two years. The Minister may say that Jill can claim pension credit, but the DWP did not tell me how much Jill has in the bank, so it may be that her savings would preclude that. Even if they do not, I have reason to believe that Jack always thought that his contributions would be enough to ensure that Jill got a pension without having to turn to means-tested benefits. I would be grateful if the Minister could comment on Jack and Jill.
There is some transitional protection in place and I want to be sure that I have understood it properly. If I understand the rules correctly, if the dependant—in other words the person seeking to benefit from the derived entitlement—reaches state pension age before 6 April 2016, he or she would be entitled to derived and inherited state pension as under the current system, but only based on the other person’s national insurance contributions as paid up to 4 April 2016. If he reaches state pension age before April 2016 but she does not then she gets no derived or inherited entitlement. In either case, it is possible for the surviving partner to receive 50% of the additional state pension accrued after 2002 and before April 2016, and between 50% and 100% of the additional state pension accrued under SERPS before 2002, depending on when the contributor reached or would have reached state pension age. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm whether that is correct.
If it is, perhaps the Minister could answer a different question. He spent a lot of time in his response to the last amendment stressing the simplicity of this case in order to respond to a concern that I had made at Second Reading. I am flattered that he read it so carefully. However, does the Minister think that Jack and Jill’s case or the description that I have just outlined passes that simplicity test? If I am right, will the Government then tell the Committee two other things? First, what consultation have the Government done with the real Jacks and Jills of this world and, secondly and more crucially, what steps are the Government taking to identify and warn those couples who are in this situation and may still be married, widowhood not yet having broken in, what the impact of these changes will be so that they can start to make provision as soon as possible?
My Lords, I have already set out the Government’s position on the issue of the ability of one individual to derive a pension based on another’s national insurance record. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, pointed out somewhat bitterly, I did that at some length, so I will try to be as brief as she was in dealing with this. I appreciate that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, wishes to discuss the three interrelated issues separately, so I want to address her specific concerns here.
It is the ability for individuals to receive a survivor’s state pension, often called a widow’s pension, to which we have now turned. Let me outline the different groups that this amendment concerns. These are, first, those who would otherwise have gained a married woman’s pension and, secondly, those who would not have been entitled to the married woman’s pension because they have more than the equivalent of a 60% basic state pension in their own right but less than 100%, so would otherwise have received a widow’s pension. There will also be some who, regardless of whether they derive any basic state pension, may have expected to inherit some additional state pension.
We are putting in place transitional arrangements for that last group for inherited additional state pension. This will mean that where a survivor is in a marriage or civil partnership with someone in the current system they will inherit additional state pension, as now. For those where both parties are in the single tier, the survivor will be able to inherit 50% of the protected payment, where one exists. This is what Clause 7 and Schedule 3 achieve.
Limiting inherited additional state pension and the ability to derive a widow’s pension will, however, mean that some people receive less. In terms of how much those losses are, we estimate that the figure will be about £8 per week in 2025. That is the median figure and is made up mostly of people receiving less by way of inherited additional state pension. This loss is also due to the fact that people cannot carry on building up additional state pension after 2016, limiting the potentially inheritable amount.
However, around three-quarters of people reaching state pension age in the first 10 years of single tier who would have inherited some additional state pension under the current system will receive more single-tier state pension over their lifetime than they would have in the current scheme. This is because the gain from current system inheritance at the point of bereavement—and, potentially, very late in retirement—will be more than offset by the gains in state pension as a result of the single-tier valuation and uprating arrangements.
I think that this particular point feeds through into the issue of fairness. We are giving less to some people but we are using those savings to fund higher entitlements at state pension age for many people. Many people will benefit when they are younger—and by that I mean at the point of state pension age as opposed to widowhood—and are more likely to spend the money than would be the case towards the end of their lives.
On the simplicity test, I have to acknowledge the point from the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, that there are elements of complexity in the transition. However, that is because of the current system, not because of the single-tier system.
On the related issue of communications, the core objective of our strategy on communications is to raise awareness of the changes, particularly among those significantly affected by the reforms or those reaching state pension age shortly after the reforms are introduced. As I said on Monday, I will be producing our communications package in the new year.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, mentioned two examples. I think that it would be best to take up the Jack and Jill example with officials later, but her second example seemed to be correct, and I have confirmation of that. I think that she interpreted correctly the different groups—that is, who is in single tier and who is out.
My Lords, when I used the example of Jack and Jill, I was not asking whether it was correct. Unless the officials have made a mistake—in which case I am sure they will let me know—I presume it to be so. I was simply using it to demonstrate how much somebody would lose under the system.
I am sorry, I was not referring to the Jack and Jill question; I was referring to the second example, where the noble Baroness asked me whether she had interpreted it correctly. I have the pleasure of telling her that, as always, she is absolutely correct, except of course where she disagrees with me.
I will not go into the arguments on simplicity and clarity or fairness, because the same arguments apply. In the light of my response, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, my noble friend was referring to Jack and Jill. I assumed when I read this that HMRC, with perhaps unsuspected irony—perhaps the people who drafted this have young children—remembered that Jack fell down the hill and no doubt departed from this life, and Jill came tumbling after, thereby losing her 100% derived rights. I suspect that that is what HMRC may have intended, in which case it was all too accurate.
I simply think that what the Minister is doing is harsh, unnecessary and not costly to remedy. People made decisions and plans for their lives many years ago and he is now—this is the same point that my noble friend made about hindsight—projecting current takes on the labour market and women’s role in it back on to a previous generation who shared no such perceptions and perspectives. I think that in all decency we should give them a chance to remedy their situation through transitional arrangements.
We may revisit some of these issues when we come to bereavement payments, and I am sure that the noble Lord is looking forward to that. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 13 withdrawn.
14: Clause 2, page 2, line 5, at end insert—
“( ) Regulations shall provide for the transitional rate of the state pension for a person who is ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom and who reaches pensionable age before 6 April 2031 to be increased where the person would have received a higher pension under the previous system based on their former spouse or civil partner’s contribution record.”
This amendment is the last in the series and is, I hope, equally short.
Some dozen years ago, with the help of my noble friends Lady Dean and Lady Turner, we established pension-sharing on divorce. For many couples then, the man’s pension, especially his occupational pension—and it was usually his—was more valuable than the home, but it was not regarded as a matrimonial asset. Even now, not enough solicitors, in my view, seem to be fully aware of that, although couples will often trade: she the house, he the pension.
For less well-off couples, his additional state pension was a structured income that could be shared to help her too. Therefore, at the point of divorce—usually, perhaps, in the couple’s early 40s—she could substitute his NI record, so far accrued, which might be 20 or 25 years, for her own, and in addition they could have attributed to her half his additional pension. As I understand it, in the future she will be eligible to pension-share his SERPS or S2P—that is, his additional pension acquired up to that point—but not to substitute his basic NI contributions for her pension if hers are also more favourable. She is on her own.
Again, it is a matter of age. Younger divorced women, with or without children, will have enough time, through either NI contributions or child credits and, I hope, universal credit, to build their own pension. However, older divorced women in their 50s do not have that head space or do not always have that resilience; they may have been looking after his elderly parents for him or have helped him, as we learnt at the time, unpaid, to build his small, self-employed plumbing or taxi-driving business, keeping the books and booking the jobs. When looking at this in 1995, my friends and I found countless stories of this exploitation where she sinks her labour into his work, he builds up his pension—assuring her that it is for both of them—and then, at quite a late age, she gets dumped, as the phrase goes, for a younger model. I would be sorry to see history repeat itself. We can avoid that by permitting a transitional period of 15 years. I beg to move.
I support what my noble friend has just been saying; nobody likes being dumped. I do not know whether noble Lords have seen from the newspapers lately that there has been a rise in the number of older women divorcing. It is quite remarkable; people who are quite elderly and approaching pension age are getting divorced, whereas formerly they simply put up with it. It can be quite a problem.
My Lords, I will avoid the issue of divorce rates because I am aware of the quagmire in which I will incredibly rapidly end up if I say anything at all.
The final amendment tabled by the noble Baroness on the issue of derived entitlement focuses on the impact upon divorcees and people whose civil partnerships have been dissolved. Under the current system, divorcees can—through a somewhat complex mechanism colloquially known as “substitution”—use their former spouse’s or civil partner’s contribution record to qualify for a full, or enhanced, basic state pension. With the ability to derive a pension ending for post-2016 pensioners, we accept that some divorcees may be affected, and they are likely to be those divorced relatively late in their working life. We estimate that these individuals could number about 70,000 up to 2031.
Turning to the specific situation of divorced women, it is likely that single individuals who themselves have not achieved a record sufficient to build up a full basic state pension will be eligible to claim guarantee credit, which is considerably higher than the maximum a divorcee could derive from a former spouse through the current, complex substitution arrangements.
These provisions are extremely complex and, as with the married woman’s and widow’s pensions, there is no longer any substantial need for these arrangements because the vast majority of women will receive a pension in their own right.
I repeat that in designing the transition to single tier, we have had to make decisions about the way that we spend the money we have available and about how to achieve the simplicity needed for people to make decisions about their retirement plans. A safety net will remain in place and absolute losses will, on average, be relatively small. I therefore urge the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, the Minister is absolutely right to say that it is a problem for late divorcees, as it is for widows or for women who married in their 50s and expect but then have removed from them the married woman’s dependency pension. Those people do not have time to rebuild their lives. My calculation is that that involves perhaps fewer than 5,000 people a year.
What interests me is that, given that the impact analysis claims that the Bill is determined to reduce means-testing, I have checked back in my notes and in something like five out of the last six amendments to which he has spoken the Minister has referred to pension credit and top-up, thus re-importing back into the system pension credit means-testing for cohorts of people that he could perfectly well take out if he was willing to contemplate transitional arrangements. He is getting rid of complexity for him and giving it over to them, because they will be required to go through all the stumbling blocks of pension credit and a reluctance to claim a means-tested benefit, which we discussed at some length on Monday. His position is harsh and unfair on all three amendments, particularly when we take into account that the Government are willing to find money for the married women’s tax allowance—which he still has not addressed, after three amendments—but not on these amendments, when older women are losing rights around which they have built their lives. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 14 withdrawn.
15: Clause 2, page 2, line 11, at end insert—
“( ) Within 12 months of the passing of this Act the Secretary of State shall report to Parliament on a strategy to improve the take-up of National Insurance Credits.”
This amendment moves us into somewhat gentler waters. The amendment calls for a strategy to improve take-up of national insurance credits. It is by way of a probing amendment, seeking clarity on what is planned to encourage greater take-up. In a sense, it is a subset of the debate that we had on Monday about communications in general, which we have touched on today. We had a very thorough note from the Bill team, which confirms that the NI crediting system is comprehensive but also highly complicated. There is a low level of awareness of some credits, carer’s credits in particular, the very aim of which is to protect state pension provision for individuals who take time out of paid work due to caring responsibilities. Of course, the issue especially affects women.
The importance of ensuring take-up of maximum credits is increased under S2P because of the increase from 30 to 35 years in the number of years required for a full state pension and the 10 years’ minimum threshold. This is a reversal of the position whereby the reduction in qualifying years from 44 and 39 to 30 meant that the gaps were not so important. The increase in the number of years to 35 has in part rebalanced that, although the value of credit in the new system would be higher.
We are promised a review of the national insurance recording and operating systems and an HMRC review of deficiency notices. Perhaps the Minister will say a little more about that. There was reference to deficiency notices being suspended for those due to retire on or after 6 April 2016, and the Minister might like to take the opportunity to clarify that. Some awards of credits, of course, are automatic; some have to be claimed, including class 3 credits for foster carers or kinship carers and those caring but not receiving carer’s allowance, and class 1 credits for maternity, paternity or adoption pay, for non-governmental sponsored training, jury service, for those wrongly imprisoned and, as we discussed earlier, for Armed Forces spouses or civil partners. There is also a new issue for those with high income who would be excluded from claiming child benefit.
Our briefing note identifies the carer’s credit as achieving take-up significantly lower than the 2007 legislation anticipated. We acknowledge that those in receipt of universal credit will automatically get a class 3 credit and that this would cover some of these circumstances. However, universal credit will not be fully in place for a number of years and, in any event, there will be some credits which will be claimable. Crediting entitlements has come a long way in recent years, and universal credit looks to improve the position further, but some are still missing out and this needs to be addressed.
I will revert to one point that I touched upon earlier. As I understand it, the credit for universal credit is a class 3 credit and therefore is focused on pension and bereavement entitlements only. Given that employment and support allowance, jobseeker’s allowance and working tax credit are at the moment a class 1 credit—obviously those benefits will be subsumed within universal credit—it seems that we are worsening the position of some groups. I will be interested in the Minister’s response. The purpose is to give the Minister a chance to focus on those who have to claim where take-up is not as it should be and to see what can be done. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord McKenzie for giving us the opportunity to touch on this issue and for setting out the challenges in his characteristically clear and well informed style. I shall be very interested to hear what the Minister has to say in response.
I would be grateful if the Minister would answer the following questions. First, will he clarify whether all the routes to gaining national insurance credits which are currently available will continue to be available in the new system on the same terms? Secondly, if not, or if there is any doubt about that, have the Government consulted on changes or will they commit to a public consultation before making any changes? I include within that any changes that are implied or necessitated by the switch to the new pension system or the universal credit system.
My noble friend raised an issue concerning the Government’s strategy. In particular, I am concerned about the categories of people who have actively to make claims for credits and will not get them automatically, even under universal credit. I think he cited all the ones that I have been able to identify, plus child benefit, which I had not noted. Will the Minister tell us whether the Government’s strategy will include elements targeted at those categories of person? Within that, will they consider how they engage with direct routes, rather than just generalised campaigns? My noble friend Lord Browne mentioned that the Armed Forces look for ways to make sure that members of the forces community can take up those credits. Will the Government consider other routes to that—for example, through adoption services or the ways in which the Government already communicate with those in receipt of maternity, paternity, adoption or sick pay? Is the department in discussions with other government departments about the way to take this forward?
My noble friend Lord McKenzie also mentioned take-up. It would be helpful if the Government could report on take-up now and under the new system and tell us how they will monitor that and report to Parliament on it. Finally, will the Minister tell the Committee whether the Government have considered ways in which people might actively be supported in claiming credits for past years, which might now become important, where they would not have been previously?
I thank the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for this amendment. I hope that I shall be able to offer some reassurances about the current arrangements and those within the context of the work that we are planning. The existing arrangements provide for national insurance credits to cover a wide variety of contingencies and activities, as he acknowledged. They are generally available to people who are unable to work and pay contributions. This could be because they are unemployed, incapacitated or caring for others, but credits are also available to cover a range of other circumstances—for example, jury service or if an individual is employed but is in receipt of working tax credit.
Credits protect a person’s national insurance record and their future entitlement to benefits. Under the current system, all classes of credits protect the basic state pension, and in certain circumstances an earnings factor credit can be awarded to protect state second pension entitlement, mainly for caring responsibilities and long-term incapacity. I can confirm that the crediting arrangements will be brought forward to the new system and that people will still be able to get credits to protect their single-tier pension position.
For the vast majority of people, the take-up of credits is not an issue. They are awarded automatically to a person in receipt of certain benefits, such as child benefit for a child under 12, or carer’s allowance. Many working-age benefits also provide automatic entitlement to credits, and under universal credit the crediting coverage will be extended further still as, in the case of a joint claim, both members of the couple will automatically receive credits.
On the noble Lord’s question about the difference between those that are automatic and those for which people have to apply, we are planning a review of the recording and operating systems to identify any improvements to be put in place to maximise take-up, and ensure that messages about applying are simple to understand. We are also working on a customer-focused communications strategy for the new pension system, which would include crediting arrangements.
On the fact raised by the noble Lord that it will be harder to get 35 qualifying years than 30 years, the figures I can provide are that around 85% of people will have 35 qualifying years by 2020 and that the gender split will be 90% for men and 80% for women. Where a benefit is not in payment, an application is required. The carer’s credit, for example, is available to those caring for at least 20 hours a week and the most recently introduced credit, often referred to as the grandparent’s credit but which is also available to other adults, is for a family member providing childcare.
For these credits, which require an application, we want people to know what is available and to be getting all the credits they are entitled to in order to safeguard their future entitlement to the single-tier pension. Information is available in our departmental leaflets, and the gov.uk website clearly sets out the circumstances in which credits are available, as well as whether an application is required. But we are not complacent and we know that there are a number of different reasons why people do not take up credits. This is why we made it clear in the White Paper that the implementation of single tier provides us with an opportunity to simplify our recording and operating systems.
With that in mind, we intend to review these systems to identify what efficiencies can be put in place to make the system of national insurance credits as simple as possible. We are also developing a comprehensive communications strategy for the new pension system and, as part of this, we are exploring with HMRC how we could seamlessly link information about state pension to information about national insurance through online services.
The deficiency notices raised by the noble Lord inform people about gaps in their national insurance records and are not being sent out to those who reach state pension age on or after 6 April 2016. We cannot currently provide state pension statements that give accurate estimates of single-tier pension until the single-tier proposals are enacted, making it difficult for a contributor to decide whether to pay voluntary contributions. HMRC has publicised the fact that deficiency notices will not be issued for the time being. In the mean time, we are exploring with HMRC whether there are alternative ways in which we can provide customers with information about gaps in their record, including possible online alternatives.
I reassure noble Lords that the overall strategy for communications will include information in respect of crediting arrangements and that we will continue to do all that we can to ensure that people receive the appropriate credits that they need to ensure that their state pension provision is protected. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Before I do, will the Minister comment on the issue of universal credit being just a class 3 credit, whereas some of the benefits that will be subsumed into universal credit—ESA, JSA and the working tax credit—are class 1 credits? Is that not a diminution in the crediting opportunity?
I am grateful to the Minister. I think that I have the list, which probably came from the same source as his did. I was interested in the rationale for the universal credit just being a class 3 credit, because that is a change for somebody who would previously have been on JSA or ESA in particular. Has any assessment been made of the extent to which people are likely to lose out on their contributory JSA or ESA as a consequence of that?
The principle is not to allow access to contributory benefits through claiming another benefit. That is fairly logical, if you think about it. If you were purely claiming unemployment benefits and you were on them for a year, you would automatically go into contributory unemployment. That is the logic that we are pursuing when we move to class 3 in universal credit.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and my noble friend Lady Sherlock for her questions. On the latter point, I am not sure that the Minister specifically dealt with whether there would be individual strategies focused on those types of people whom we particularly need to reach, such as carers. On the issue that was just raised about not accessing the benefits through other benefits, the point about contributory ESA and contributory JSA, as I understand it, is that you cannot achieve them only by credits; there has to be a payment arrangement as well to qualify. If the credit is changed, that makes it potentially more difficult than it is at the moment. The Minister mentioned the earnings factor credits but, as I understand it, those disappear because S2P obviously disappears as well in the new regime.
I am comforted by the fact that deficiency notices, perhaps in their new form, are to be reactivated once we get to the stage where the April 2016 data are available, which is helpful. I suppose that, broadly, one accepts that there is going to be a big communications strategy. I see that my noble friend Lady Sherlock is poised to ask a question, so I will give her that opportunity.
Before my noble friend withdraws his amendment, the reason I asked the Minister generally at the beginning about whether all the currently available routes to gaining NI credits would continue on the same terms was precisely to try to draw out the kind of things that my noble friend has been highlighting. If the Minister finds anything else which could possibly fall under that category when he goes back and consults more with his officials, perhaps he might write to us.
Amendment 15 withdrawn.
Clause 2 agreed.
Amendment 16 not moved.
Clause 3: Full and reduced rates of state pension
Amendment 17 not moved.
18: Clause 3, page 2, line 19, at end insert—
“( ) Where the state pension is uprated other than by reference to the triple lock for any period to 6 April 2020, the regulations shall require a calculation of the difference between the actual uprating and what uprating by the triple lock on a cumulative basis would have provided.
My Lords, as the Minister will have spotted, this is a device to continue the debate on the level of the STP and the associated costs and savings in the Bill. The Bill assumes that STP, but not any projected payments, will be uprated by not less than earnings but the impact assessment is predicated on the triple lock applying, with uprating by the higher of earnings, CPI or 2.5%. Looking long term, these two bases of uprating produce materially different results, as illustrated in annexe B to the impact assessment.
Overall, we know that these reforms will reduce the overall percentage of GDP going to pensioner benefits. As we discussed briefly on Monday, by 2060 the share of GDP, compared to the current position, would fall by 0.6% if uprated by the triple lock but by 1.3% if uprating was just by earnings. Over the long term, the cumulative effect of uprating by earnings rather than the triple lock would lead to STP being 10% lower than if uprated by earnings. This is not a small difference and although the long term— 2060—may seem a long way away, it is the scenario which those in the labour market today will face. Annexe C shows projected expenditure in total support for pensioners at various points over the period to 2060. It shows, in 2013-14 prices, that state pensions in total will be £30 billion less than they would have been under current arrangements. This is why we need to keep an eye on how things are uprated.
One message we take from all this is that the Treasury has undoubtedly taken advantage of a progressive proposal—the STP—to claw back support from pensioners where it can. The figures just discussed do not, I think, include amounts being withdrawn from the systems because of the introduction of the minimum qualifying period, now confirmed at 10 years and saving some £650 million a year, nor the changes to the rules on deferrals, with savings rising to something like £300 million a year. We will obviously come on to debate those in due course. We do not have clarity on the savings that may be made from restrictions on passporting although, as we discussed earlier, these may be limited. None of these figures take account of the increases in national insurance which the Treasury will garner: some £5 billion in 2016, £4.6 billion in 2020 and £3.7 billion by 2030, which are very significant sums.
We heard much praise on Monday for the triple lock and we should acknowledge its significance. However, my noble friend Lady Sherlock explained previously why our priorities had to be elsewhere—to tackle the legacy of pensioner poverty. Given the manner in which the Treasury has clawed back money where it can, it is reasonable for us to at least ask about the Government’s aspirations for the triple lock without, of course, conceding the likelihood of them being in a position to implement those aspirations. I beg to move.
My Lords, I can understand why the Minister might be reluctant to commit his Government—or indeed a future Government, should one appear before too long—to a particular level of uprating of any benefit. However, the device of my noble friend Lord McKenzie is very interesting. I realise that the Government are finding themselves under increasing pressure to agree to the triple lock, but I suppose that to a degree they are caught in a trap of their own devising, in that the more they trumpet the importance of a triple lock, the more people will expect them to carry on being committed to it. As we discussed on Monday, all the assumptions in the impact assessment and the various illustrations with which we have been furnished are based on the single-tier pension being uprated by the triple lock.
Obviously, the Opposition are in no position to commit to what they might do in any future Government. They would have to make a judgment based on the state of the public finances when they arrived. In the mean time, my noble friend Lord McKenzie makes a very interesting suggestion—that the Government should, if they choose a route other than the triple lock, have to tell Parliament and the public what they have and have not done.
Earnings have been lagging behind prices in all but one of the months since David Cameron became Prime Minister, but we live in hope that that will not always be the case. At that point, the difference could be quite significant and that would have to be taken into account by any future Government. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, the engagement of the guaranteed minimum 2.5% uplift in April this year saw the basic state pension reach a higher share of average earnings than at any time since 1992. Next year, in 2014-15, the basic state pension will be more than £8 a week higher than if it had been uprated by earnings alone in this Parliament.
This Government believe that, like the basic state pension, the single-tier pension should be uprated by at least earnings to ensure that it retains its value compared to wages, but there is flexibility in legislation for above-earnings increases. I therefore reassure the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, that the triple lock could be used for the uprating of the single-tier pension, as it has been in this Parliament for the uprating of the basic state pension.
Clearly, the noble Lord would not—and the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, was generous enough not to—expect me to commit future Governments for the next 47 years. Looking back 47 years would take us back to 1966. That was a long time ago. Was it the summer of love? Perhaps that was 1967, but in any case it takes us back a long way. Therefore, I do not think that one could commit any Government to anything, and I am sure that there will be lots of different Governments over the next 47 years. However, when you look at the proportion of GDP taken up on the assumption of a triple lock, it is possible that Governments will want to stick to it. The Office for Budget Responsibility adjusts for the triple lock by applying a 0.3 of a percentage point premium to the annual uprating of the basic state pension over and above the earnings rate.
Clearly, the triple lock has insulated pensioners from periods when the inflation rate has been relatively high, and has been particularly important in the unusually uncertain economic climate that we have seen in recent years. The Government do not want to constrain future Administrations by placing a requirement to uprate by the triple lock in primary legislation. It must be up to future Governments to decide, based on their annual reviews, whether uprating above the minimum of earnings is applied.
In response to the noble Lord’s question, the expenditure figures include the impact of the minimum qualifying period and deferrals, but the chart in chapter 3 of the impact assessment—there is a loser’s chart there —does not. No savings are assumed from passporting.
On the provisional outcomes on the basis of earnings upratings, the White Paper set out the assumption that the triple lock would be extended until 2060, but we have nevertheless demonstrated the impact on earnings upratings on expenditure in our impact assessment. That is in chart B2 in the impact assessment, which shows that the triple lock uprating has a progressively greater impact on expenditure, and therefore pensioners’ incomes, over time.
The annual uprating process for the state pension is transparent, based on a review made by the Secretary of State with reference to the general level of earnings and the overall economic situation. The indices for earnings and prices are published by the Office for National Statistics before the uprating decision is announced and are readily available. As a result, we see no advantage in committing in legislation to providing a relatively straightforward calculation. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I did not expect him to announce that it was going to be triple lock for the next 47 years; my noble friend Lady Sherlock made our position clear.
There is nothing wrong in looking back 47 years to 1966. England won the World Cup. Harold Wilson was Prime Minister and in his ascendancy. Those were halcyon days and well worth reflecting on.
As I said, the amendment was just a peg to get a debate to highlight that the Treasury is withdrawing quite a lot from the S2P. To an extent, we accept that that is a progressive measure. The Treasury has been chipping away at various bits and I have by no means listed them all. We will probably have another go at listing them in the interim, but in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 18 withdrawn.
Clause 3 agreed.
Clause 4: Entitlement to state pension at transitional rate
19: Clause 4, page 2, line 32, at end insert “or, where the person is an active public service pension scheme member as defined in section 24, this means a qualifying year beginning on or after 6 April 2018”
I shall speak also to Amendments 20 and 21, 24, and 41 to 43. We are now moving to a different implication of the Bill. The strategic objective of the Bill to simplify the state pension system is broadly recognised, but, of course, the state pension is only part of the pension scheme. To some extent, the relatively low expenditure on state pensions in this country compared with some others is due to what was a very healthy occupational pension system covering a significant proportion of the population, although by no means everyone. Those occupational pension schemes will seriously be hit by the Bill.
That impact has not been highlighted in the Government’s public presentation of the Bill. You have to get to page 39 of the impact assessment before it is mentioned. Page 39 clearly states that the net impact on occupational pension schemes will be £5 billion a year.
I shall speak generally about public sector schemes, and most of these amendments relate primarily to them. I declare a non-pecuniary interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and a member of the GMB. I was also, until relatively recently, chair of one of the funds in the local government scheme, the Environment Agency scheme.
As I mentioned at Second Reading, I have a longer historic interest in this, but not quite as far back as 1966—I was at the cup final, by the way, and have not had such a high point since. In the early 1970s, I was instrumental in setting up an occupational pension service in my union, now the GMB, to establish in the private sector schemes which covered manual workers for the first time and to make improvements in public sector schemes to allow, in particular, part-time women workers into them for the first time. Those who were in their 30s and 40s at that time retired on a pretty decent pension. As has been in the headlines over the past few days, it is clear that those who retire in a few years’ time—those who are in their 40s and 50s now—will have less good pensions and a less good life in retirement than their parents.
There are many reasons for the withdrawal of occupational pensions, particularly defined benefit pensions in the private sector, and their dilution in the public sector, including the recession, the fall of asset values and, I would argue, the rather overrigorous way in which we judge the assets of pension schemes. They have also been affected by this Government’s activity, particularly the Public Service Pensions Act, which had a direct effect on public sector pensions, and the very significant indirect effect of this Bill.
This arises at various points in the Bill. Schedule 1 and Clause 4 deal with the ending of contracting out. Aspects of this are covered in Clause 24, Schedule 13 and Schedule 14. The net result is that, as a result of the withdrawal of the rebate arising from the ending of contracting out, employees in such schemes on between £109 and £770 a week—in other words, the vast majority—will have to increase their contribution as employees by 1.4% and employers will have to increase their contribution by 3.4%. In the case of the LGPS, this means an increase for employers of £700 million a year, plus £300 million for employees, or £25 per month for the average employee member of the scheme. Equivalent levels will arise in other public service schemes. It will be £0.9 million for employers in the National Health Service, for example.
It will have a very significant impact on the viability of these schemes. It is a logical effect of the Bill, and there is a real dichotomy at the heart of the Bill which by simplifying one part of the pension system is undermining the other. There is no obvious solution. These costs of £4.2 million in the public sector and £0.7 million per annum in the private sector will somehow have to be compensated for, either by the Treasury—I assume that, as of today, the Minister has no agreement to that, but one of my amendments addresses that situation—or by those who are in charge of the governance of such schemes. In the private sector, many such schemes have already been forced to reduce benefits, and to some degree that has applied to the public sector as well. In the public sector, it took a lot of negotiation between employers and the unions to ensure that we are now in the process of implementing the changes due to the Act earlier this year.
In relation to private sector schemes, this Bill goes on to do something that is quite outrageous, frankly, in allowing employers unilaterally to change the terms of schemes to compensate for the cost. That overrides any decisions of trustees, who by law have a fiduciary duty for the schemes, any previously negotiated settlements and any previous statutory guarantees, such as those given post-privatisation in areas such as the railways, water and electricity supply. These can all be overridden by fiat as a result of this part of the Bill. I have very serious reservations about that override, and I am quite interested in how the Government reached those conclusions. Page 37 of the impact assessment says:
“DWP sought the views of sponsoring employers”,
and that, as a result of those discussions, has,
“assumed that the cost”,
of the lost rebate,
“is passed on to employees in the private sector immediately and in full”.
It did not discuss it with the members of the scheme or their representatives, just with the employers, and they gave a view. The Profumo affair has been in the papers recently, and Mandy Rice-Davies would probably have a comment on that conclusion. It is pretty inadequate for a consultation that affects the lives of contributing members of the scheme and pensioners. I shall come back to that when we get to Clause 24.
The amendments are primarily in relation to public sector pensions. There are a number of potential partial solutions to this. We could cushion the impact by a clear commitment from the Treasury to compensate for these schemes. The word on the grapevine is that some representatives of workers in the Civil Service have been given the nod and wink by officials in their departments that departmental budgets will be adjusted to compensate for them. I find that difficult to believe in the present climate, and no doubt the Minister can tell me whether that is true and, if so, to any degree, how that applies to the rather different circumstances of the local government settlement. My Amendment 41 would give statutory provision for the Treasury to do just that. Therefore, I hope that if those rumours are right, the Minister will simply accept that, in which case, the rest of my amendments will not be relevant, but they give the Government a partial alternative.
Amendments 19 to 21 and Amendment 43 suggest that in relation to public service pensions, we should delay implementation until 2018. That is not because in the long run there will not be a problem but because we have only just dealt with the last effects of government intervention in this area under the Public Service Pensions Act. Indeed, the full regulations in the Local Government Pension Scheme and, I think, the other schemes are yet to be finally in place; in the case of the LGPS and others, they will run from April 2014. Those settlements were very difficult to reach and were subsequently endorsed by votes of the trade union members in those services. After some bitter internal wrangling within the unions, ultimately the members went along with it. My amendments would allow that settlement to run for four years and, in the mean time, allow the employers and unions within those schemes to look at what we need to do post-2018 to change the position. In relation to the LGPS, the situation is slightly more acute than in other schemes in that it is a fully funded scheme, so there is not a lot of leeway for the governors of that scheme compared to some other public service schemes.
It is worth remembering that the Local Government Pension Scheme is not simply about public service employers. Hundreds of other bodies participate in the local government scheme as admitted members covering a lot of those who were TUPEd over as a result of outsourcing, some local charities that have become part of their local fund and some bodies, such as the local museum or sports centre, whose full-time employees have become members of the LGPS. So this is not just a problem for public service employers; it is a problem for a whole range of private sector employers, going from very small local charities to companies such as Sodexo, which has contracting-out provisions from local government.
The public service basis of the scheme conceals a much more complicated picture, which again takes time to sort out. To engage all of those employers and their staff in this scheme takes a lot longer than a few months. This is a fairly minimalist request given the enormity of what is actually happening to these schemes, but if we could have another couple of years over and above what the Bill provides, it would allow four years between one settlement and the other. This is really a modest amelioration of what could be an extremely damaging effect on public service pension schemes with an increase on individuals to opt out and an increase on those who run the schemes to devalue those schemes in terms of their ultimate benefits.
The amendments are not a complete solution and are probably not the only solution either. I hope that the Government can come up with a better one, but I see no sign of anyone near government thinking along these lines. At the moment, we are on course to drive occupational pension schemes for future generations out of the picture almost entirely in the private sector and to a significantly greater extent in the public sector as well, as a result of what, when the Government first came up with the concept of a single-tier state pension, would have been seen as an unintended consequence.
I have one other amendment in this group, Amendment 42, which I am sure the Government can accept completely because it simply suggests that we have some consistency of definition with their previous legislation. We should use that definition for public service pension schemes. I am sure that the Government will welcome that. My other amendments, however, raise a serious position for the Government and one that will come to haunt them if they do not do anything about it. I beg to move.
My Lords, I do not want to add anything to what my noble friend just said about public sector schemes, but at Second Reading I referred quite briefly to the fact that DB schemes have been under threat for a very long time. I can well remember when I was head of the pension committee of a well known charity that had a very good DB scheme. While I was there, there was a suggestion that in future new people would not be entered into the DB scheme. Gradually, it would be phased out. I spent a whole day persuading the executive not to go down that path. Time went on, and I ceased to be in that office. I went to a dinner on one occasion several years afterwards and somebody said, “Remember that? It’s all changed now. They waited until you’d gone and changed it”. It is absolutely dreadful, quite obviously, as far as my union is concerned.
I have tabled amendments further on that deal with the private sector. My noble friend dealt with the public sector, but also mentioned the private sector, for which we have very much the same cover as far as DB schemes are concerned. I am sure that a number of us have had letters from public sector unions that are very concerned about the future of their schemes, and they have every right to be. I hope very much that the Government will consider very carefully what has been said this afternoon. It is very important.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, on his success in having a ticket for the 1966 World Cup final—very exciting for those of us who can remember it—and for raising these issues. At Second Reading, I also raised the issue of public sector schemes and how we should try to deal with them. I want to address Amendment 41, which I will not support in its directive approach to the Government, but I echo some of the issues that the noble Lord raised as being significant to the discussion of the Bill. Undoubtedly, we will return to them later when we get to the appropriate clause, Clause 24.
The abolition of contracting out will result in additional national insurance revenue to the Exchequer: £6.1 billion in 2016, of which £3.7 billion comes from public sector employers and £1.5 billion from public sector employees. If you project those figures forward from the £6.1 billion in 2016, they go to £5.6 billion in 2020, £4.3 billion in 2030, £3.8 billion—which is the lowest point in projections—for 2040 and start to rise again to £4.7 billion in 2050 and back to £6 billion in 2060.
So far the Government have allocated some of the funding they see coming back to them already up front. They have allocated to the Dilnot proposals and to some employment measures; but that leaves a significant tranche of money, of the money available, for the Government to deal with as they see fit but also, I hope, to use to deal with some of the problems that affect public sector pension schemes.
The first question that we have to ask ourselves is: what is a public sector pension scheme? I am a recipient of the Local Government Pension Scheme, although I did not work for local government, because I worked for a charity that was a company limited by guarantee and a member of the Local Government Pension Scheme. I transferred my teacher’s pension scheme to the local government scheme, as it was, but I have never been an employee of local government. I was a councillor, but that was not a time when councillors were entitled to retirement benefit.
A public sector scheme, therefore, could mean a scheme that has private sector people within it. We need a definition of whether that is just one single member of a scheme, because it can work the other way round for a private scheme. Does a single member make it a public scheme, or does it mean a group of members or which organisation came into it? The effect of having no, or very little, room for manoeuvre in public sector pension schemes means that there is going to be an effect on the employers, or those public sector services which we all cherish.
The point about local authorities is probably the most relevant. I took the opportunity to try to work out, with some help, what might be the effect upon the small Welsh council, because they are smaller than those in England. I did choose not the one that I live in, but the one alongside it. The extra cost on that Welsh council, if it simply had to meet the cost of the reduction in NIC, would probably be a £33 rise in council tax. If you took a council in the south-west of England—which shall remain nameless, but is probably far west—you would see an increase in its expenditure of £2 million that it would have to find, simply in the first year of the new scheme. Of course, it is possible to work out the impact on a specific council by doing the figures—working out what is 3% of payroll or 3.4% adjusted. Not all their employers are in the scheme, but you can work out what might apply to each local authority in the land.
Some public sector pension schemes can make adjustments through their investment policies; but I think the noble Lord was probably right that not many public sector pension schemes have the ability to match and manage this change. Therefore I believe, quite sensibly, that it is important that the Government use some of the tranche of money that they will have available by not having to pay out national insurance contributions to smooth over the process of changing from one to another. Over time, pension schemes are able to make adjustments through their investment policies. These are important issues.
I have a plea to make to the Government, and I hope that my noble friend can help with this. I know that it is the Exchequer, and not the DWP, that will make this decision. As the Government have made some forward commitments in relation to this money and have forward-spent it in advance, I think that it would be right for them to say now that they are prepared to help these public sector schemes to smooth the transition over the period in which they can make those adjustments in order that we, the council tax residents and people who use public services, will not have to pay more for those services in the immediate future. These are crucial issues and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for raising them, but the Government are going to have to make some effort to compensate the way in which these changes impact upon the public services that we all cherish.
My Lords, these amendments raise some issues that relate back to the previous Pensions Bill and, at least as far as I was concerned, some not very clearly answered questions about the potential size that the cash-flow deficit would grow to with regard to pay-as-you-go pensions.
First, my understanding is that, whether it is a pay-as-you-go public sector scheme or a funded public sector scheme, with the ending of contracted-out contributions, the money that the schemes will no longer receive will go towards financing part of the new state pension. Therefore, it has gone off to one box for that purpose. So we are left with pay-as-you-go public sector schemes and the impact that there is on them, and financed public sector schemes, such as local government schemes. My understanding is that, with pay-as-you-go public sector schemes, the money is no longer going to come in from contracting out and therefore the impact will be on the extent of cash-flow deficit going forward relating to public sector schemes. I should be interested to know the aggregate amount that pay-as-you-go public sector schemes will lose per annum as a result of no longer receiving the contracted-out contributions.
I think that there was some discussion during the passage of the Public Service Pensions Bill about the extent of the potential cash-flow deficit. Mr Michael Johnson and I calculated that it could be as large as £25 billion on the basis of including an estimate of the loss of contracted-out contributions. I think that the Government argued that it was not going to be as large as that but I could never quite get my head round the figures.
With regard to contributory public sector schemes, such as local government schemes—which is what these amendments are particularly concerned with—it will automatically become the financial liability of local government to make up the loss of the contracted-out contributions. How is that going to be financed? Not just in terms of what it might mean for a particular local authority, what is the extent of the aggregate cost to public sector schemes which are financed, and what is the average proportion that local government schemes, in particular, will have to make good as a result of the loss of contracting out?
I do not expect the Minister to be able to answer those questions with figures off the cuff, but it is desirable that they should be known and understood. Indeed, the impact on funded local government schemes may be very substantial, implying either significant increases in local council tax or the need for yet further substantial reductions in local government expenditure to finance the loss of contracting out.
My Lords, briefly, I commend my noble friend Lord Whitty and the noble Lord, Lord German, on trying to focus on solutions to deal with what seems to be a major problem, particularly in relation to local authorities. My noble friend Lord Whitty said that the annual cost of losing the 3.4% rebate is in the order of £700 million a year. Today, we had the local government finance settlement, which reinforced what was announced in the spending round: a further real terms cut of 2.3% in overall local government expenditure. Sir Merrick Cockell, who is a Conservative and the chairman of the Local Government Association, said that local authorities will have lost one-third of their budget by 2015. He said,
“This is the calm before the storm. We do not know how big the storm will be or how long it will last”.
The Audit Commission last year found that 29% of councils showed some form of financial stress. Council tax increases to cover this, even if they were contemplated at the level that the noble Lord suggested, simply are not on because of the need to have a referendum to go beyond a very small increase. Do the Government see this as a new burden which central government is placing on local authorities and therefore a burden which it should it meet?
My Lords, I am content to join in commending my noble friend Lord Whitty and other noble Lords for bringing and developing this argument. They will forgive me if I do not join in the nostalgia for 1966. The removal of contracting out from April 2016 has significant implications for all occupational pension schemes. I shall make my speech short, given the time. It is bad enough to be between somebody and their dinner; it is impossible to be between somebody and Christmas.
It is clear just how significant are the figures quoted by the noble Lord, Lord German. I did not immediately recognise them, but they are in the same ball park as the figure, which I understand to be the Government’s figure, which suggest in excess of £5 billion a year going to the Treasury in extra NI contributions from 2016 when the new state pension scheme begins. Because of the scale of public service pension schemes, the lion’s share of that increase will come from them. It is far from clear, in the complexity of the Bill, how the increased NI contributions in the public sector can be met. Not surprisingly, those who have responsibility for these schemes—bearing in mind that they have just, in many cases, entered into agreements to reform them—are seriously concerned about the impact these changes will have on local authorities, health services, fire and rescue services and policing.
I note that in Committee in the Commons, Oliver Colvile correctly also put the Armed Forces Pension Scheme in the frame in the context of public service pension schemes. If that is correct, if the Minister is minded to accept Amendment 42, the definition of public service pension scheme will include the Armed Forces, which will answer more clearly the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord German, about what is a public service pension scheme. Rightly, Oliver Colvile was concerned that the defence budget should be spent on defending our country and should not be directed back to the Treasury. If it encourages the Minister to engage with this issue in a positive way, I promise not to tell noble and gallant Members of your Lordships’ House that this issue may impinge on that aspect of public policy. If he considers that, I will keep it quiet in the mean time until we see whether we can make some progress on this issue.
The Local Government Association has been in touch with all of us and has advised us that it supports my noble friend Lord Whitty’s amendments, which defer the end of contracting out for public service pension schemes until the tax year beginning 2018, and require the Government to credit public service pension schemes with amounts equivalent to the money lost through the end of contracting out.
It is understandable why it supports them, because, in the absence of an alternative from the Government, the choices they face are extremely unpalatable. They include loss of services or increased council tax, for example, or, as we are advised, the certainty that low-paid workers will leave the schemes or that settlements, including the settlement of the public service pension scheme, would have to be renegotiated. I am also told by those who know that it will mean the renegotiation of a lot of contracts in relation to privatised services, because assumptions were made about commitments in relation to pensions in the TUPE environment that no longer stand true.
It is not unreasonable in those circumstances to ask the Government how they will resolve the additional expenses and how they expect those who run public service schemes to deal with the increased cost and, for that matter, how they expect the individuals affected to deal with the increased costs. Will the Minister address the advice that we have been given and the concerns of those who run these schemes? Does he accept that there will be a perverse incentive unless this is resolved and that low-paid workers may decide to opt out of their public sector pension schemes? Does he accept that there is genuine worry that this will undermine agreements to reform that have already been reached? Does he accept that there is genuine concern that this will impact on existing contracts for provision of services by the private sector?
As a consequence of ending the additional pension for those reaching pension age after 2016, we are ending contracting-out. This means that individuals in defined benefit schemes—public sector and private sector—and their employers will no longer be entitled to pay a lower rate of national insurance contributions by contracting out of the state second pension. At the moment, they receive a rebate of 1.4% for employees and 3.4% for employers on earnings up to £40,000.
The abolition of contracting out will result in additional national insurance revenue for the Exchequer. Of this, about £4 billion is national insurance contributions from public sector employers and employees. That is the money that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is most concerned about.
The extra information that I can provide to my noble friend Lord Flight is that the cost of the public sector schemes of paying extra employer national insurance is about £3 billion per annum. We do not have any breakdown of which schemes are at local authority level. I will speak to Her Majesty’s Treasury to find out whether any further information is available.
Noble Lords will know that the Government have not set a fixed spending envelope, nor one for individual departmental budgets, beyond 2015-16, and contracting out is abolished in 2016-17, so is outside the current settlement. Public sector employers will have to absorb the burden, as is always the case with tax changes. Any spending review in the next Parliament will, of course, consider the £4 billion cost in the round. This does not affect our commitments on protecting spending on health and education in this Parliament. Treasury officials have already met with Local Government Association officials concerning the impact on the local government pension scheme. This follows conversations between the Chief Secretary and the Local Government Association, and I would expect similar discussions to take place concerning other schemes when settlements are set.
Turning to the noble Lord’s amendments, I note that he moved back from 1966 to 1963, but then he would, would he not? The amendments would effectively defer the loss of the rebate to public service pension schemes for two years—until April 2018—but in doing so would defer the introduction of the single tier to more than 4 million people.
Amendments 19, 20 and 21 would change Clause 4 by redefining pre and post-commencement qualifying years, so that public service pension scheme members have them counted up to and from 2018 rather than 2016. Amendment 24 would change Schedule 1—the detail of the transition—to bring into account the old scheme and introduce the new scheme two years later for public sector workers, with a tidying-up clause in Amendment 43.
Taking these amendments forward would not be fair to public sector workers caught in the old scheme. These people cannot start to build single-tier qualifying years until 2018, which will mean a loss for some contracted-out workers of £8.22 a week pension for the rest of their lives at the £144 illustrative level of the full single-tier pension.
On the other side of the coin, it would not be fair to some private sector workers, who lose out on benefits such as derived entitlement but see public sector workers still entitled. As for private sector workers who have spouses who are public sector workers and vice versa, it will certainly keep the officials busy trying to work out all that.
On Amendment 42, I assure the noble Lord that we are confident that the clause as drafted properly defines the public sector schemes to be so exempted.
Amendment 41 would have an amount equivalent to the revenue raised by the Government through the withdrawal of national insurance contracted-out rebate from public sector schemes paid back to public sector schemes. The noble Lord knows that we cannot have a two-tier state pension system with people of exactly the same state pension age being treated differently based on whether they were in the public or private sector. The removal of the rebate is entirely necessary and in keeping with simplifying a state pension system that is incredibly complex; and the chief source of complexity is, indeed, the arrangements we have to make for people being contracted out.
As for the definition of a public pension scheme, which was raised by my noble friend Lord German, that is set up under legislation. It is the nature of the scheme that makes it a public service scheme, not how those employees are actually employed.
As for the “nod and wink” indicated by the noble Lord, local government is not being treated differently to other government departments; both will be considered as part of the spending review in the next Parliament. The noble Lord made his points well about public service pension schemes. My department is seeking to arrange a round table in the new year with the LGA and the Treasury, and we might have limited room for some noble Lords to join that round table. If I am overwhelmed, I will have to be more selective. Therefore I ask the noble Lord to withdraw these groups of amendments.
I thank the Minister and noble Lords who have intervened, largely in support of doing something about this situation. The Minister has kicked a ticking time bomb down the road, effectively saying that this threat to the future of occupational pension schemes, in the public as well as the private sector, will only be dealt with by the next Parliament and probably not then. Whoever is in power at that point is going to have a problem. We have long relied on occupational pension schemes to provide an assured income in retirement as part of the terms and conditions of working within that particular public sector or that particular company. If we are reneging on that—and it is a reneging—then the Government of the day will find themselves in some difficulty if we pass this Bill as it currently stands. The Government need to think again.
As I said, there may be other ways of dealing with this, or at least cushioning it. Yes, there will always be winners and losers in the short and long term, but it must surely be the Government’s intention, in the long term, that effective, well run and well funded private occupational pension schemes—a non-state occupational pension scheme—should continue to be part of our landscape and available on good terms to workers of all sorts.
This indirect effect of the Bill threatens that and is a very serious prospect for the future pensions landscape. I hope therefore that the Government will think again, preferably by Report. I welcome the round table, as long as Merlin is also present, because this will require some degree of ingenuity. I am not sure that the Minister has demonstrated that appropriately today but for the moment, I will withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 19 withdrawn.
Amendments 20 and 21 not moved.
Clause 4 agreed.
Committee adjourned at 4.20 pm.