IN the first week back at Parliament I had the privilege to move a motion regarding the Equalisation of the State Pension Age. I know it’s not the snappiest of titles and I know that many people almost automatically switch off when they hear the word pension; but this is a very important issue – especially for a large number of women born on or after April 6, 1951.
This is also one of the biggest issues in my inbox in recent months and one that I was determined to raise in Parliament. I am grateful to everyone who contacted my office to let me know their experiences and especially to the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) campaign. Pensions are incredibly complicated but these ordinary women took the time to sift through all the information and drafted one of the most comprehensive and articulate briefings that I have seen since being elected.
This issue related to changes in the state pension age which were meant to bring equality to men and women in terms of when they receive their state pension but had the effect of penalising a significant number of women. I should state that no one I have been in contact with is against an equal pension age for men and women, it’s just that the method used to bring this about has impacted badly on a specific group of women.
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The initial change came with the 1995 Pensions Act but further changes to speed up the equalised state pension age in further Pensions Acts in 2007 and 2011 added further pressure to those women born on or after April 6, 1951. Briefings from WASPI (www.facebook.com/WASPI-Women-Against-State-Pension-Inequality-Campaign-877054125688402/) can provide more details but the basic issue was that the transition method chosen meant that the women in this age group were not given enough notice of the changes to their state pension entitlement age.
There was a complete communication breakdown. In some cases, women were told they would be receiving their pension as expected when they turned 60, yet a few weeks later they were told they would have to wait a few more years to get their pension. Others were given no information: apparently it was beyond the DWP to find the correct addresses for many of these women even though some of them had stayed in the same house for over 20 years.
Even the former Pensions Minister, Steve Webb, recognised that not everybody knew that the changes had happened in the 1995 Act.
In giving evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee, financial journalist Paul Lewis told us that after researching this himself he could barely find any reporting of the issue at all in 1995. There were a few small press cuttings from the business pages at the back of some newspapers. A freedom of information request revealed that the Government did fund “broader” awareness campaigns, which ran in waves between 2001 and 2004, but that these campaigns “did not focus on equalisation in particular”.
Most of the women affected discovered the change with too little time to do anything about it. They had planned to retire at 60 – some had already moved to part-time hours, or retired early, and now face poverty, relying on benefits, or being left with nothing until their new pension entitlement date.
I don’t know whether it was not reported deliberately, for political reasons or from fear of ramifications, or whether it was a genuine accident, but what I do know is that women were not notified. It was not reported and they were not given enough time to be able to make appropriate arrangements.
The Government has not given and is not giving these women enough time to prepare alternative plans. There has to be better transitional arrangements.
The Conservative ethos is to encourage independence and responsible choice, but how can that happen if we do not give people the time to make the responsible choices? By continuing this policy at such a high speed, the Government is knowingly placing another burden on women who are already trying to deal with consequences of an Act passed 21 years ago they have only now found out about. To put this into context, I am 21 – that’s how old this is.
There were a number of thoughtful and excellent contributions from all parties in the chamber in the debate. However, I was extremely disappointed that at one point there were as few as two Tory MPs present – how is this Tory government ever going to listen to the public if they can’t be bothered turning up at important debates like this?
In this Chamber since I was elected we have had a go at people on low wages, the disabled and women, and now we are having a go at pensioners. We can afford to send air strikes to Syria and to pay for nuclear weapons, but we cannot afford to look after our pensioners? I just do not buy it.
I would encourage all readers of The National to sign up for the WASPI campaign.