My Lords, removing state pension age gender inequality by 2018 and increasing pension age to 66 by 2020 was voted on in both Houses, and there are no plans to change it. The more than £30 billion cost of retaining the previous timetable could not be justified, and the Government made a concession in 2011, worth more than £1 billion, limiting maximum increases to 18 months.
I thank the Minister for that Answer. There are 700,000 women caught in this brutal pensions trap, and they are already in their 60s. They had hoped to be drawing their pensions, but in some cases, even after 45 qualifying years, they currently have no pension, no pensioner benefits, often no job—having been made redundant—and no right to claim jobseeker’s allowance. What does the Minister suggest they live on?
My Lords, I declare an interest as vice-chair of Age Scotland. I recall the Minister saying exactly the same as my noble friend Lady Bakewell only a year ago, and arguing that something should be done about it in the most strident fashion. Why has she changed her mind?
My Lords, this is about correcting a long-standing inequality. It is also about democracy. We put all the arguments to both Houses of Parliament. This issue was properly and thoroughly debated and the decision was democratically made. To be fair, most of the women affected have accepted this, as have I.
My Lords, the policy of merging and transferring pension pots will be addressed but, at the moment, there is a significant amount of increased regulation and changes in legislation for the pensions industry to cope with. By 2018, when auto-enrolment is fully rolled out, we will know much better what are the appropriate and required measures for automatic transfers.
My Lords, the Minister will doubtless recall one of her contributions to Saga magazine where she wrote:
“A group of older women are very angry. Many of them have written to me, some have written to their MPs, and others say they don’t believe it is worthwhile writing to their MPs, as the Government will not listen to them anyway. They remember that it was the Conservative Government in 1995 who increased their pension age, which they quietly accepted, but they now feel taken advantage of and treated like a ‘soft target’ because they have been given such short notice of another major change. They feel the move is discriminatory and manifestly unfair”.
She went on:
“The plans demonstrate a lack of understanding of the realities of many of these women’s lives. They feel betrayed that the Conservatives have hit them a second time and by far more than men”.
Does the Minister stand by those words?
My Lords, as I have said, this matter was properly and thoroughly debated by Parliament. All those arguments were put to both Houses of Parliament and a majority voted for the legislation more than four years ago. This afternoon, I checked quite carefully and it is clear that this issue was missing entirely from the Labour Party’s manifesto before the general election. No party committed to doing anything about the billions of pounds that it would cost to change any of these plans.
My Lords, I hope that the Minister will forgive me for going back, as I do, a long way in the history of equal opportunities for women. I would like to press her once again on this point. Does she really believe that MPs would have voted for the accelerated rise in 2011 had they known that many women had not been notified or given sufficient notice of the rise in the state pension age under the Pensions Act 1995? This really has not been a fair process all the way through, and women have been disadvantaged at an amazing number of levels.
My Lords, I have also been checking up on this point. I am assured by the department that any woman who had asked for a state pension statement since 1995 would have known what her pension age had been changed to under the Act. Given the uncertainties around the amounts of state pension that any woman could receive under the very complex system that we have at the moment, if a woman had planned her retirement on the basis of that, she would surely have got a pension statement and known about her state pension age change.