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Pensions: Women’s State Pension Age

Volume 776: debated on Wednesday 2 November 2016

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the concerns of the Women Against State Pension Inequality about changes to the state pension age for women.

The Government have no plans to revisit this policy. A substantial concession, worth £1.1 billion, to lessen the impact of increases to women’s state pension age is already in place. No women will experience increases of more than 18 months. In fact, for 81% of women, the increase will not exceed 12 months. Introducing further concessions could not be justified given the imperative to focus public resources on helping those most in need.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. He clearly does not acknowledge the scale of the injustice and the growing scale of the protest: 2.5 million women have been affected by the botched plans to align the pension ages and it is bringing increasing hardship to women who are now retired and have no income and no pension. These are women who have paid into their pension plan for decades, often since they were in their teens. This summer, the WASPI women, as they are known, held protests in 131 towns. On 11 October, they presented 200 constituency petitions to the Commons, backed by 80 MPs. This campaign is not going away. When will the Government address its cause?

I can only repeat what the Pensions Minister, Richard Harrington, said, absolutely and explicitly, that,

“no further moves will be made to assist those women, all of whom will benefit in time from the significant increase in the new state pension”.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/10/16; col. 566.]

My Lords, I hear what the Minister says, but the Government must assess the impact of the failure to inform people on their planning for the future. If women did not know, and now face hardship as a result, they should be compensated. Will the Government look to set up a hardship fund?

Let me go through the communications: 14 million personalised pension estimates have been sent out since 2000; 16 million unprompted forecasts were sent out with information on the raising of the pension age; 1 million letters were sent out between 2009 and 2011; 5 million letters were sent out between 2012 and 2013; and, in the 2012 survey it was discovered that only 6% of women retiring within 10 years thought that the pension age was still 60.

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that the new state pension provides a boost to women’s pension income?

Many noble Lords took part in debates on this issue in the House. One issue that we discussed was the Green Paper about the new state pension and how that would affect the women involved. We made the concession. But after that we introduced the new state pension, which has been carefully focused on the poorest women. By 2030, 3 million women will be on the full rate and gaining £550 extra each year.

Can the Minister give any examples of where thousands of pounds have been taken from medium-income families in one fell swoop? Can he give an example of any other Government who have ever done that?

This measure was introduced in 1995 to equalise state pensions. There were adjustments in 2007 and 2011 and then in the Pensions Act 2014. The move to equalisation was a consensus policy by both the Conservative and Labour Governments during that time.

My Lords, I regret the Government’s intransigence on this. Like many parliamentarians I have had a lot of letters from women who have been excluded saying things such as:

“I am 63 and have worked for 42 years full time”.

Another says:

“The Government want us to work until we are 66, there are very few jobs for older women”.

Does the Minister not accept that this is a case of unfairness and discrimination against a small group of women who are actually quite numerous?

One of the odd things about this is that we are providing equality between men and women. Men have had to retire at 65 for many decades and we are bringing women’s retirement age to the same level. Women actually have longer in retirement, even after 65, because they still live longer. One of the reasons is that we are being blessed by greater longevity. In the period since 1995, men are living longer by four years and women by three years.

My Lords, we know that the Government have a poor record of communicating changes to pension arrangements, despite what the Minister has said, as evidenced of course by the confusion over the introduction of the single state pension. The issue here as touched on by my noble friend is not that there was no communication about state pension age changes, but that there was not effective communication. That is why there is a proper sense of injustice articulated by the WASPI campaign, and why it argues for the promised transitional provisions now to be offered up by the Government. I ask the Minister again, despite what he has said: will the Government reconsider this matter?

I can only repeat that we have made it clear—and the Pensions Minister went as firmly on the record as he could—that there will be no further moves in this area.

My Lords, can the Minister help me? Would it help if more fathers were encouraged to work part time so that they spent more time with their children, building stronger families and stronger relationships with their children? At least one result would be that fewer women would be disadvantaged, spending less time out of the work market because they would be sharing the care of their children with their partners.

One of the transformations in recent times is that women and, indeed, men are paid for caring responsibilities so that their pensions are not affected by that.