My Lords, I can confirm that between October 2017 and September 2018 there were 1.4 million women aged 60 and over employed in the UK. However, I am unable to say how this equates to national insurance contributions. This is because some women may earn under the primary threshold and therefore not pay national insurance contributions and, conversely, others may choose to pay voluntary national insurance contributions but are not working.
I thank the Minister for that Answer. When the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer accelerated the equalisation of the state pension age for women he congratulated himself by saying:
“I’ve found it one of the less controversial things we’ve done and probably saved more money than anything else we’ve done”.
I assume he had a rough idea of what he was going to get in. It was less controversial because at that point the women who would be affected had not actually been told and the WASPI campaign had not got off the ground. Does the Minister think it is fair that these women, many of whom sacrificed their pension rights to bring up families and who are often excluded from workplace pensions, should be making a disproportionate contribution to reducing the deficit while those who helped cause it got off scot free?
My Lords, since 1995, successive Governments, including the Government of the party opposite, have gone to significant lengths to communicate these changes using a range of formats, communication methods and styles, including communication campaigns, leaflets and information online. But it is also important to emphasise that there is no link between the balance of the National Insurance Fund and the decision to introduce changes to the state pension age. Changes to the state pension age have been introduced by successive Governments since 1995 to address a long-standing inequality in the state pension age.
My Lords, the Government have stated that they are committed to supporting people aged 50 and over to remain in or return to work, which is in part in mitigation of the changes to the state pension age. Can the Minister say what in practice is on offer under that heading and how many older persons’ champions are now in post in Jobcentre Plus districts?
My Lords, given that people are living longer, which of course we welcome, it is right that arrangements for the state pension system reflect changes in average life expectancy. We are doing much to focus on the need to ensure that we support people who are working longer. The Government are committed to improving the outlook for older workers, including women, affected by increases in the state pension age. The latest figures show that the employment rates for older workers have been increasing: there are 10.4 million workers aged 50-plus in the UK, which is an increase of 1.3 million over just the last five years, and 2.4 million over the last 10 years. But to enable people to work for longer, we have removed the default retirement age, meaning that people are no longer forced to retire at an arbitrary age, and have extended the right to request flexible working to all, which means that people can discuss a flexible working requirement to suit their needs.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a woman born in the 1950s. We know that many WASPI women and other women have made complaints to the ombudsman, and that has now been referred to judicial review. It has been a long time, and we will still have to wait until next June to get a result. These women have waited for justice for a long time, they are suffering, and many are set to suffer even more with the rollout of universal credit. So will the Minister commit today to implement the findings of the judicial review without delay as soon as they are published?
My Lords, I think the noble Baroness will appreciate that I am not able to make any comment on the judicial review. However, it is important—I can say this as someone who also was born in the 1950s—that this has a lot to do with not only the fact that we have an increase in life expectancy but with the equalisation between the pension ages for men and women. The fact is that between April 2010 and April 2018, the basic state pension has risen by £660 more than if it had just been uprated by earnings since April 2010, which is a rise of £1,450 a year in cash terms, and that by 2030, over 3 million women will stand to gain an average of £550 per year through the recent state pension reforms. However, we have to think about having a sustainable welfare system that means that generations to come can enjoy a state pension.
My Lords, I congratulate the Government on all the work they have done to achieve a higher employment rate for older workers, and in particular for older women. That is important in supporting our economy. I also congratulate them on all the work they are doing in jobcentres to try to help older people back to work. My concern for the women affected here is about those who are facing real hardship who did not know about the changes. What progress has there been in supporting, whether in jobcentres or elsewhere, these women who are facing hardship?
My Lords, anybody facing a particular hardship can seek help from, and will be given support and help by, their local jobcentre. There is no question but that women can always have access, if they require it, at any age, to other state benefits to support them. Indeed, a percentage of the contributions to the national insurance scheme goes towards helping to fund contributory jobseeker’s allowance and the NHS; about 20% of receipts are used to fund the NHS. Our national insurance scheme operates on a pay-as-you-go basis: today’s contributors pay for today’s benefit recipients, including those in receipt of the state pension. It is also important to emphasise that we have communicated over the years with women directly affected by the changes in the 1995 Act. Between April 2000 and the end of January 2019, more than 26 million personalised state pension statements were sent out to women, including to myself and others born in the 1950s.