Women’s State Pension Age: Ombudsman Report

Thursday 16th May 2024

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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[Relevant document: Oral evidence taken before the Work and Pensions Committee on 7 May 2024, on PHSO report on women’s state pension age, HC 740.]
12:52
Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP)
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I beg to move,

That this House notes the findings of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman report on Women’s State Pension age; and calls on the Government to deliver prompt compensation to women born in the 1950s who had their State Pension age raised.

I am delighted to have secured today’s debate on this very important issue. The motion urges the UK Government to deliver prompt compensation to women born in the 1950s who had their state pension age raised, following the report from the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman on the Department of Work and Pensions’ communication of changes to the state pension age for women. I extend my thanks to the Backbench Business Committee for granting the debate. I lament the fact that it will not be possible to press the motion to a vote, as Tellers from both sides of the argument would be required for such a vote to be held.

Although I am disappointed that there will be no vote, there is nothing at all to prevent the Government from bringing forward such a vote in Government time. Indeed, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has invited the House to express a view by laying its report before Parliament, so that clearly needs to happen.

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)
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Will the hon. Lady address the prejudice touched on at the Work and Pensions Committee last week, namely that there has been an element of contributory negligence, in that the change was not a state secret—it was advertised and covered in the newspapers—and that some women who were approaching retirement or early retirement did not take proper notice? Will she knock that on the head?

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson
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If the right hon. Gentleman reads the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s report, he will see that it makes it very clear that action was not taken to inform women in the appropriate way that one would expect and, indeed, that the DWP was negligent in that regard.

Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP)
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My hon. Friend has started off powerfully, as I knew she would, knowing what a huge advocate she is for the WASPI women—women against state pension inequality. The right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) made a helpful contribution. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is ludicrous for anyone to suggest that people—in this case, those women—should have found out about a change to their pension arrangements by happening to read advertisements in the correct newspaper on the correct day? Surely none of us should be planning our lives in that way.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson
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My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. We know, do we not, that many impacted women found out at the last possible moment that their retirement age had been raised because they had not been given due notice to make plans in the way we would all expect? The DWP has been found to be negligent. I will say more about that in a moment.

The issue before us goes to the heart of our sense of justice and fairness and the social contract that the Government of the day have with their citizens. A whole generation of women had their pension age raised without the notice that they were entitled to expect, robbing them not just of tens of thousands of pounds in pension payments but of their retirement plans, of financial peace of mind and of the contract they believed that they had with the society in which they worked hard, paid their dues and fulfilled their responsibilities. They thought that they could enjoy some sort of retirement in later life—after all, they had earned it, had they not? The social contract is an agreement that we all think we should be able to rely on, but when the Government tear at the edges of that contract or rip it through as though it never existed, what retirement can any of us—or should any of us—count on?

I have met a range of women in the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign over a number of years. Of particular note are the Ayrshire WASPI group and the Cunninghame WASPI group, who represent WASPI women in my constituency of North Ayrshire and Arran and, indeed, WASPI women across Ayrshire. All women in the WASPI movement have distinguished themselves by their effective campaigning against the gross injustice that has been perpetrated against them, in the face of extreme provocation by a Government who have been tone deaf to their pleas for justice. I have been inspired by those women’s dignity, their resilience in the face of great financial hardship and their persistence, and by the compelling justice of their case.

I know many of the women involved; I know their stories. I note the hugely helpful insight provided by writer Dee Wild Kearney, the author of “Not Going Away!”, who joins us in the Gallery. Dee’s book, which is available in all good bookshops, outlines the struggles of some of the women involved in the campaign. I pay tribute to her work to disseminate this injustice to an even wider audience. I welcome all the WASPI women in the Public Gallery, some of whom have travelled a considerable distance to be here today. They are entitled to have their voices heard and their case answered.

When a whole generation of women find themselves victim to injustice on such a grand and heartbreaking scale, those MPs who champion their cause feel the weight of their frustrations, the weight of their hardships and their profound sense of having been screwed over. In turn, as MPs we feel our own frustration when faced with an intransigent Government who refuse to listen and appear wilfully blind to the facts.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP)
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One of my constituents, who I have worked with since 2017, was one of the ombudsman’s six test cases. In fact, I am unable to make a speech today because I am meeting the ombudsman on behalf of my constituent at 2 pm. My hon. Friend is frustrated with the Government’s lack of action so far, but is she as disappointed and angry as I am about the Labour party’s refusal to back the WASPI women, despite promising tens of billions in compensation at the last election?

Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Roger Gale)
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Order. Before the hon. Lady proceeds, I note that 21 Members wish to participate in the debate. I understand that this is an important subject and I have no desire whatsoever to curtail either the debate or the right of hon. Members to intervene—I appreciate only too well the urgency of getting one’s point on the record—but if those on the Front Bench, or indeed any other hon. Member, give way too many times, not all will be called to speak. It is important that every hon. Member who wishes to speak can do so, and I therefore hope that we can resist the temptation to intervene whenever not necessary.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson
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Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I take on board your comments.

None of the UK Government’s intransigence has distracted from the dignity with which with the campaigners have conducted themselves over the long years that this swindle—and it is a swindle—has been carried out. My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) raised a good point about our disappointment—some would say disgust—at the Labour party’s current position, but I will respond to his concerns in due course. After years of marching, lobbying, letter and email writing, attending surgeries and tireless campaigning, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has finally reported. The report vindicates the WASPI women and highlights the DWP’s failure to communicate, which

“negatively affected complainants’ sense of personal autonomy and control over their finances.”

The report found:

“the DWP did not adequately investigate and respond to complaints”.

In a damning condemnation, it highlighted that, despite all of that, the DWP

“will not take steps to put things right”

and that its refusal to do so was unacceptable. It concluded:

“Parliament needs now to act swiftly, and make sure a compensation scheme is established. We think this will provide women with the quickest route to remedy.”

This is surely one of the gravest injustices of our time, alongside the contaminated blood scandal and the Horizon scandal. It is another example of citizens having things done to them, which by every measure is wrong and unjust.

Owen Thompson Portrait Owen Thompson (Midlothian) (SNP)
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I commend my hon. Friend for securing today’s debate. On behalf of the Midlothian WASPI women, I thank her for all her work, and all Members who have contributed to making this debate happen. Does she agree that the fact that these injustices happen over and over again shows how out of touch the Government in this place have become?

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson
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One would be forgiven for thinking of a real disconnect between those we seek to serve and those who serve. When that disconnect repeatedly happens, and this systematic failure perpetrates such injustice, it is a very bad day for democracy. The difference between this case and the contaminated blood and Horizon scandals —both were awful injustices—is that the Government at least appear to wish to take action on those scandals, albeit very slowly. They appear to wish to make moves to address those injustices. In this case, of changing the state pension age with little or no notice, with the devastating consequences that it has brought, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has been moved to say:

“It is extremely rare that an organisation we investigate does not accept and act on our recommendations.”

It added that it has “no legal powers” to enforce compliance. A failure to comply with the ombudsman’s recommendations represents a constitutional gap in protecting the rights of citizens who have been failed by a public body, and in ensuring access to justice.

By laying this report, the PHSO has asked Parliament to intervene, to agree a mechanism for remedy and to hold the Government to account for its delivery. Here we are. We are holding the Government to account, while they and the incoming Labour Government enjoy a cosy “do nothing” consensus, sacrificing WASPI women on the bonfire of austerity that they have built together in a deliberate and conscious way.

For the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman to issue such a statement is unprecedented, but it illustrates how shocking it is that this Government, supported by the loyal Opposition—loyal in ways we could only imagine—appear to be trying to ignore, obfuscate and gaslight their way out of this crisis, and it is a crisis for the women impacted. Neither Labour nor the Tories in government have even accepted the principle of financial redress for WASPI women. How do I know that? Because when the Secretary of State made a statement shortly after the long-awaited publication of this report, he made no mention of redress or compensation, but instead listed how great it currently is to be a pensioner in the United Kingdom because of the sheer munificence of the UK Government. The shadow Secretary of State’s response to that statement studiously avoided mentioning compensation as well, instead delivering a patronising yet supine eulogy on treating pensioners with dignity. Empty words do not pay bills, and no one is fooled by that nonsense.

Perhaps we should not be too surprised, since Labour has a track record of letting women down, particularly working-class women. After all, the Labour administration in Glasgow City Council spent £2.5 million of taxpayers’ money fighting equal pay claims by female council workers over 10 years. That shows beyond any reasonable doubt just how far Labour was prepared to go to fight equal pay—an incredible waste of public money. It took an SNP administration in Glasgow council to ensure that legal action was stopped and the pay claims were settled. That was a priority of the incoming SNP administration.

We know that Labour has a track record of denying justice to women, so we cannot expect much from that quarter, and anybody who does will be disappointed. However, the WASPI women I have spoken to feel particularly betrayed by Labour MPs and MSPs, who have spent the last umpteen years posing for photographs, smiling broadly alongside WASPI campaigners and pledging what turned out to be empty words of support, only to abandon them at the very moment they were vindicated by the ombudsman.

The same debate was held last week in the Scottish Parliament. Incredibly, Labour MSPs—who are not just Members of the Scottish Parliament but members of the Scottish branch office—abstained, as ordered by their high command bosses in London, on a motion that called for higher compensation to properly reflect the financial harm suffered by WASPI women. That motion sounds pretty reasonable to me—it would to anybody.

The sums mentioned in the ombudsman’s report are simply too low. I think most people would agree with that. They must be considered in the context that the UK Government have saved £181.4 billion purely by raising the state pension age of these women. So it is time to get real. The UK Government could perhaps examine the private Member’s Bill brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) and go from there. Instead, all we have is silence from both the UK Government and the Labour Opposition.

The Leader of the Opposition has himself benefited from a special law passed in Parliament: the Pensions Increase (Pension Scheme for Keir Starmer QC) Regulations 2013. It relates to when he was the Director of Public Prosecutions in England, and his personal pension is protected. It is quite literally one law for him and another law for everybody else, especially if you are a WASPI woman and even more so if you are a working-class woman. It does not escape anyone’s notice that the Leader of the Opposition is now very silent on the injustice suffered by WASPI women and supports less generous pensions for everyone else. What a brass neck. What shameful hypocrisy. Maybe he is just so cocksure of a thumping Labour majority at the next election that he thinks WASPI women are expendable. Who knows?

Meanwhile, around 280,000 WASPI women who have been impacted have died since the start of the WASPI campaign. Around 6,000 have died since the publication of the ombudsman report. Why is there no urgency to address this injustice? No wonder WASPI women’s impatience and sense of injustice is fast turning into outright fury. Who could blame them? Because of the evasions and mis-directions used in previous debates, I wish to say to the Minister that this is not a debate about returning the retirement age back to 60; this is not a debate about the triple lock; and this is not a debate about anything except the injustice suffered by women born in the 1950s who have been vindicated by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

Jill Mortimer Portrait Jill Mortimer (Hartlepool) (Con)
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I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. I think all of us in this Chamber have spoken to our WASPI women. I have Barbara and Lynn from Hartlepool here today. They informed me earlier that every 13 minutes a 1950s woman dies. That 280,000 is growing as we speak.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson
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I thank the hon. Lady for that point. All she does is emphasise how desperately urgent this matter is. Every 13 minutes a WASPI woman dies, so how many will die while we are having this debate? Another half dozen? Who knows? It may be more than that.

There are no more hiding places. It is time for swift compensation to be delivered to these women who have already endured far too much hardship and distress. The redress that they are accorded must reflect that suffering and there must be no barriers to accessing it for any of the women affected. No one can any longer deny the rightness of their compelling case. It is time to pay up. It is time to deliver. As the Minister and the Labour leadership must surely know by now, these women are not going away.

It is my hope that when the Minister gets to his feet he will have something meaningful to say to the House today, and to all the WASPI women who have already waited too long for justice. Perhaps he can at least set out some kind of timeframe for when the Government will bring forward redress proposals for those impacted. It is a travesty to drag this injustice out one moment longer. I hope the Minister agrees and does the right thing by this generation of women, or will these women continue to suffer while his Government pontificate? I hope not, but I say today to the Minister, and I say today to the WASPI women who are listening both at home and in the Public Gallery that the SNP unequivocally stands with you. We will not abandon you, as others have done.

13:14
Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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It is a privilege to speak in the debate. When my constituents who have made a complaint come to see me, we quite often get to a stage at which I recommend the ombudsman to them. I regularly say to them, “Have faith: ombudsmen quite often find in favour of the complainant.” Ombudsmen are there for a purpose. We cannot merely support the institution of the ombudsman when it makes a convenient finding for the Government of the day. We have to accept its decisions if we are to have an ombudsman. We all know that trust in politics, politicians and MPs is at something of a low point at the moment, no matter what party we are in. I think that is very unfair, because most people in this House, of all parties, are decent people doing their best for their constituents and working very hard, so that reduction in trust really worries me. The response of the Government and Parliament to the ombudsman’s report is really important, because it touches on the issue of trust in our institutions, which have been through a very difficult time.

Julian Lewis Portrait Sir Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)
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I warmly welcome the thrust of my hon. Friend’s argument. For the benefit of the record, I draw his attention and that of the House to paragraph 459 of the report, which states:

“For most sample complainants we consider the primary injustice is that they were denied opportunities to make informed decisions about some things, and to do some things differently, because of maladministration in DWP’s communication about State Pension age. That is a material injustice.”

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. What he says is accurate. He quotes from the report; it was in July 2021 that the ombudsman found maladministration. In the report on 21 March, it said that that had led to an injustice. Like my right hon. Friend, I will quote briefly from the ombudsman. It said of the Department for Work and Pensions that

“in 2005 it failed to take adequate account of the need for targeted and individually tailored information. In 2006, DWP proposed writing directly to women individually to let them know their State Pension age had changed, but it then failed to act promptly. We found that if DWP had made a reasonable decision about next steps in 2005, and then acted promptly, it would have begun writing to affected women by December 2006.”

My right hon. Friend and other Members will have seen that in the back of the report, there is a table showing what should have happened when.

I, too, have constituents who wrote to me to say that they were very close to the age of 60 at the time. Some had worked all their working life, since the age of 15 or so. They had made all their plans on the basis that they could get their pension at 60, and they literally found out about the change from colleagues in the workplace, sometimes very shortly before they thought they were due to retire.

Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)
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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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I will, briefly, but it will probably be the last intervention, as I take heed of what Mr Deputy Speaker said.

Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. The point he makes rings true for me. The very first constituent who came to me with a problem when I was elected seven years ago was a WASPI woman. She was less than two years away from retirement when she learned by accident of the change. Seven years on, she is no better off; in a lot of ways, she is much worse off. A lot of those who are not WASPI women now wonder if they know the truth about when they will get their pension. Does he agree that although this issue is fundamentally about the WASPI women, it is about trust, and women having trust in this institution?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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I agree. The issue of trust is really important, one that this House should not take lightly.

In my South West Bedfordshire constituency, it is estimated that there are 6,000 women in this situation. The cost of their compensation, at level 4, as recommended by the ombudsman, would be £6 million at the lower level, and at the upper level £17.7 million. If we extrapolate from that to the UK, I think the sum is £3.9 billion at the lower end and £11.5 billion at the upper end. We must be honest; I believe in honesty in politics. These are large sums—very large, when we add the amount that we will have to pay the postmasters and postmistresses, for whom we are also all campaigning, and the sums for the victims of the infected blood scandal, for whom most of us are also campaigning; and then there are other campaigns, such as the one relating to Equitable Life.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson
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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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I will because it is the hon. Lady, but this must be the last intervention.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson
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The hon. Gentleman talked about the way in which the bill for all these compensation schemes is mounting. Does that not merely underline the importance of competent government?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
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Of course it is best if Governments get these things right, but government is difficult, and Governments of all parties will make mistakes because they are human. However, I am making a different point on honesty about the overall Government finances. When I was taught economics, a long time ago, I was made aware of the notion of opportunity cost. We can only spend the same pound once, and if we are to spend billions on one thing, we must be honest about the other things on which we cannot spend money—things that the WASPI women may very much want—or the services we will have to cut, or the taxes we will have to raise.

I have tried to find out from the Library how the Treasury reserves work, and how we can account nationally for a contingency fund to deal with issues such as this. We just need a bit of honesty here, as a Parliament. If we are to do the right thing by the WASPI women—as I believe we should; I want us to, and we should do the same for those other groups—we need to consider a fund in the Treasury reserves that is dedicated to contingencies, although it might not be large enough to pay out on every cause in the way we would like; perhaps the nation would not be able to afford that. While I absolutely back the justice of the cause of the WASPI women, and while I think we should honour what the ombudsman said, or at least move towards doing that, we need to be honest about the nation’s finances and the other calls on the Exchequer.

Let me finish where I began—I will be brief, heeding Mr Deputy Speaker’s injunction. This comes back to the question of trust. We agree with the umpire not just when we are in favour of the umpire’s decision. Either we have an ombudsman or we do not, and while the ombudsman’s finding may be uncomfortable or inconvenient, it is neverthe- less the finding, and we should do the right thing.

13:22
Stephen Timms Portrait Sir Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab)
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I thank the Backbench Business Committee for giving us the opportunity for this debate, and I thank the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) for opening it. I should make it clear at the outset that I was the Minister for Pensions between December 1998 and July 1999, and again between May 2005 and May 2006, which is part of the period covered by the ombudsman’s report.

I draw the House’s attention to the evidence that my Committee, the Work and Pensions Committee, took on 7 May on the ombudsman’s report—we are grateful to all who gave evidence to us that morning—and to the letter that I sent to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions yesterday on behalf of the Committee, setting out our suggestions for a way forward. Those documents have been tagged for this debate.

The ombudsman opened an investigation of all this in 2018, six years ago. After receiving more than 600 cases, it stopped accepting new ones and selected six sample cases to investigate, one or two of which have been referred to today. The investigation was split into stages. The first report, published in July 2021, found maladministration in the way in which the DWP had communicated the changes to affected women. A further report, published in March this year, concluded that this had meant that

“some women had lost opportunities to make informed decisions about their finances”,

which had

“diminished their sense of personal autonomy and financial control”

and

“caused unnecessary stress and anxiety”

and

“unnecessary confusion”.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con)
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Let me say at the outset that the right hon. Gentleman was a distinguished Minister, well respected across the House in his various Government jobs. Is communication not the nub of this? Of course the decision itself is a matter for a debate on pension entitlement, but there is the entirely separate issue of how the decision was communicated, and the injustice lies in that failure to communicate. When we change people’s circumstances with notice and they have time to deal with it, cope with it, make alternative arrangements, that is one thing; but when we do not give them adequate notice because of their age, that is quite another. Disraeli, I think, said “Justice is truth in action”, and that is the truth of the matter.

Stephen Timms Portrait Sir Stephen Timms
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The right hon. Gentleman has echoed a number of the points that the ombudsman has drawn to our attention, but I think we should be clear about the fact that a great many people did know about this change. The passage of the legislation was widely reported at the time, nearly 30 years ago, and I vividly recall that in the first of my two stints as Pensions Minister, I spent a fair chunk of most days signing replies to MPs who had written on behalf of constituents who were unhappy about the impending change, or were calling on the then fairly new Government to reverse it. The replies that I signed were robust, and made it clear that the decision would not be reversed. The decision was quite well known, and—the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) made a useful point in this regard—I think that citizens have a responsibility to keep themselves informed, by listening to the radio or reading the papers, of changes in the law that will affect them.

However, the ombudsman has established and made clear in the report that the Department found out, at around the second time I was Pensions Minister, that only 40% of women had known about the forthcoming pension age change. Forty per cent. is a large number, but 60% —the proportion who did not know about it—is even larger. The Department found that out as a result of research done in 2003-04, but did nothing about it until 2009. That is the maladministration that the ombudsman has identified. We do not know why nothing was done—well, I certainly do not—because the ombudsman has not told us, but it cannot be credibly argued that this was not maladministration. When a Department discovers information and then does nothing, there is clearly a problem.

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)
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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for describing his experiences in connection with this matter. We have a clear finding of maladministration, but Government acceptance of that does not automatically follow, so we are having a debate today about whether we accept the findings when, given the timescale, we ought surely to be thinking more about how we deal with issues relating to who is eligible and who is not.

Stephen Timms Portrait Sir Stephen Timms
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I agree, and I will come to that point when I talk about the Select Committee’s discussions last week. It is worth adding that the problems caused by that maladministration were exacerbated by the decision in 2011 to increase the state pension age not to 65, as provided by legislation in 1995, but to 66, with very little notice given of that change.

The ombudsman said that had it reported directly to the DWP, it would have recommended that the Department apologise for the maladministration and take steps to put things right. As we all now know, the ombudsman did not report directly to the

Department because of concern that no remedy would be forthcoming. The interim ombudsman, Rebecca Hilsenrath, told the Committee last week that her office had been

“given repeatedly to understand that the Department did not accept our findings.”

Perhaps, when he winds up the debate, the Minister can tell us whether the Department now recognises that there was maladministration in this case.

In laying its report before Parliament in March, the ombudsman asked us in the House to “identify an appropriate mechanism” for providing a remedy. It set out its thinking, namely that the DWP should first acknowledge the maladministration and apologise; secondly, pay financial compensation to the six sample complainants at level 4 of the severity of injustice scale; and, thirdly, identify a remedy for others who had suffered injustice because of the maladministration. As we have heard, the ombudsman estimated that this would involve a sum of between £3.5 billion and £10.5 billion.

We need to find a resolution to this issue, and to find it quite quickly, because it has dragged on for a very long time. Angela Madden, the chair of the WASPI campaign, told the Work and Pensions Committee last week that a woman from the affected cohort dies every 13 minutes, which is a powerful point to make.

Martin Docherty-Hughes Portrait Martin Docherty-Hughes (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP)
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I want to ask the right hon. Member about resolution. Given the maladministration and the points made by the ombudsman, the conclusion needs to happen through political choice. That political choice is between either the Government sitting there or a Government who might replace them at some point this year. Surely the WASPI women in my constituency of West Dunbartonshire, and those in everyone’s constituencies, need political agreement—not obfuscation or an abdication responsibility, but a clear political choice.

Stephen Timms Portrait Sir Stephen Timms
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I agree. The Government have said that they will respond without “undue delay”, and that they are considering the report in detail. Can the Minister tell the House this afternoon whether the Government will bring forward proposals for remedy, as the Work and Pensions Committee believes that they should, before the summer recess? We should set a clear timetable.

We need a scheme that is easy to administer. The ombudsman said that, in principle, redress should reflect the impact on each individual, but it recognised that the need to avoid delay, and the large numbers involved,

“may indicate the need for a more standardised approach”.

Jane Cowley, the WASPI campaign manager, told the Work and Pensions Committee that given the need for action

“within weeks rather than years”,

the scheme should be based on three principles: speed, simplicity and sensitivity. The evidence that has been gathered points to a rules-based approach to working out the compensation that should be paid.

Jeremy Corbyn Portrait Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Ind)
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I have read the evidence given to the right hon. Member’s Committee, which was taken in April this year. If the Government agreed that they had to accept responsibility for this issue and to go forward with it, how quickly could we start to see the highly justified compensation being paid to these women?

Stephen Timms Portrait Sir Stephen Timms
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I would hope quite quickly, and I will explain why.

The payments involved would be adjusted within a range, based on the ombudsman’s severity of injustice scale. It would depend on two variables: first, the extent of the change to the individual’s state pension age—how much it increased by—and, secondly, the notice that the individual received. The less notice someone had of the change, and the bigger the change to their state pension age, the higher the payment they would receive. An arrangement like that would not be perfect, but it would be quite quick and relatively inexpensive to administer compared with a more bespoke system, because it would involve applying known data to a formula to work out the amount that was due. I ask the Minister whether he accepts that, in principle, a rules-based system would be the best way forward.

Beyond that, it was suggested to the Work and Pensions Committee that there should be some flexibility for individuals to make the case, after the standard payment has been calculated, that they experienced direct financial loss as a result of the maladministration, and that they should therefore be entitled to a higher level of compensation. Flexibility would be needed, because although the ombudsman did not see direct financial loss in the six sample complaints that it looked at, it did not exclude the possibility that there could be in other cases. For example, Angela Madden, the chair of the WASPI campaign, suggested to us that somebody whose divorce settlement was less than it would have been because it was based on the expectation that she would receive her state pension at the age of 60, might well be entitled to a larger amount because of that particular development.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
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The right hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. Looking at the experience of other compensation schemes—the one that comes to my mind is the Icelandic trawlermen compensation scheme—it is clear that the longer we leave these things, and the longer the passage of time, the more difficult it gets to resolve them. Does that not underline the need for speed here?

Stephen Timms Portrait Sir Stephen Timms
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I agree that we need to get on and resolve this issue after a very long period.

The ombudsman suggested a remedy based on level 4 of its severity of injustice scale, given the finding that individuals had experienced indirect financial loss. We on the Work and Pensions Committee did not seek to question that view, and I do not intend to do so this afternoon. Regardless of the level of remedy or the means by which remedy is delivered, it will need parliamentary time, financial resources, and the data and technical systems that are available only to the Department for Work and Pensions. Even if a Back Bencher brings forward a private Member’s Bill, as the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) has done, it cannot become law without Government support. It will need a money resolution that only the Government can bring forward, so it is not realistic to say that Parliament can resolve this issue; it must have the Government’s full-hearted involvement.

There will be different views on the findings of the ombudsman’s report. However, as the interim ombudsman told the Work and Pensions Committee last week, she is appointed by Parliament to carry out these investigations and is accountable to it through the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. I will read out what Karl Banister from the ombudsman’s staff told the Work and Pensions committee last week. He said:

“We want everyone to comply with our recommendations, but it is implicit in the scheme that because we don’t have enforcement powers, it may be, sometimes, that an organisation thinks it doesn’t want to. Then the partnership is that Parliament, as our supervisor, will do something about that.”

That goes to the point made by the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) earlier. Mr Banister continued:

“I think what would damage the standing of the ombudsman is if Parliament declined to do that.”

It is important for all of us that we see this through. We have asked the ombudsman to undertake this role, and it has done the job that we asked it to do. We now need to play our part in ensuring that this matter is resolved. Time is not on our side, and the Government have been aware of this issue for a while.

Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi (Dudley North) (Con)
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The right hon. Member is giving an incredibly well-informed speech on this matter. I have met Angela Madden and various WASPI women in Dudley, and it is clearly a highly complicated and difficult issue to resolve, especially if it is necessary for the Government to look at appropriate and proportionate remedies, having first identified the women who have come to harm. Does the right hon. Member agree that whatever solution is come to, it is necessary to accelerate the work on this incredibly complicated issue at pace? While the clock does not stop for anybody, it certainly seems to accelerate for those of us of a greater age.

Stephen Timms Portrait Sir Stephen Timms
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I agree that we need to get a move on. That is why the Government should commit to bringing forward some proposals before the summer recess, so that we all know where we are heading.

The Government have all the information they need. It is a difficult and costly matter, but I hope they will be able to bring forward proposals in time for the House’s summer recess.

13:38
Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
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It is a great honour to follow the right hon. Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms), who has encyclopaedic knowledge of this subject. I am grateful to him for his speech.

It is no surprise that I want to speak in today’s debate, as I represent the oldest cohort of constituents in the entire country. In North Norfolk, there are somewhere in the region of 5,000 WASPI women who have been impacted by this issue, and not a week goes by without my receiving correspondence from women who have been affected terribly. I will come to the report’s findings in a moment, but I will first reflect on the real impact of this scandal and on what has happened to the women caught up in it. The problem with this place is that we often forget about the real people and the real suffering. We sometimes get very preoccupied with the political and financial problems in front of us and questioning why they happened in the first place, but that is somewhat secondary, because we must not forget about all the women who have really been affected. Across the country, thousands of women in our constituencies are affected.

Richard Burgon Portrait Richard Burgon (Leeds East) (Lab)
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The hon. Gentleman is making an important point about finding a resolution. It has been over 1,000 days since the ombudsman found the Government guilty of maladministration. We have heard the shocking figure that a WASPI woman dies every 13 minutes, which means that over 100,000 affected women have passed away since the ombudsman’s finding. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that we need to work together to ensure that the Government get a move on in bringing forward compensation proposals before the summer recess. because people are passing away and time is of the essence.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker
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I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is now about speed, and I will come to that point later in my speech.

WASPI women have already suffered for years and years and, now this report has been published, we should learn from the other injustices we have seen, such as the Post Office scandal, that speed is of the essence. We need to come up with a remedy as quickly as possible.

Anna Firth Portrait Anna Firth (Southend West) (Con)
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My hon. Friend is making a very powerful speech about the impact on individuals, as well as the numbers. Does he agree that this is about fairness, taking into account the individual facts of each case? Leigh lady Maggie Briley retired four years before she turned 60 to look after her parents with dementia. Not getting her pension, as she fully expected, at 60 meant that she had to sell her home and take up a low-paid job to make ends meet, and of course she could not look after her parents, who suffered as well. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is about not just fast compensation but fair compensation, based on the individual circumstances of each case? That is not necessarily just for Maggie, but for the 5,220 WASPI women in my constituency.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is about individuals, and every single individual who has been impacted has a different life story to tell. It is very difficult for the Government to come up with a redress scheme that covers every eventuality because, as my hon. Friend says, individual circumstances affect everyone who has been impacted.

All right, some ladies have coped. They might have had savings, earnings or private pensions, and in some cases they were lucky enough to have family who were able to help, but an awful lot of women had absolutely none of that. Huge numbers have suffered through absolutely no fault of their own. As has been repeated many times, many WASPI women have died in recent years.

We cannot imagine just how difficult it must have been for some of these women, who have had so little, to cope through the time delay they have suffered. It was not their fault. Back home in North Norfolk, like my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth), I hear of dreadful cases of women who gave up work to care for a sick or dying husband. They were totally reliant on the pension they thought was going to come, but it did not, and they were perhaps not able to go back to work or find employment. It is not easy. In those cases, the injustice has had a profound impact on people’s lives, livelihoods, mental wellbeing and, in many cases, financial standing, which has been so damaging for so many women.

I am a new MP—not so new any more, I guess—and we see so many injustices. It is a privilege to try to fix them, whether it is infected blood, the loan charge, Hillsborough or the Post Office, which is particularly pertinent to me. We in this place should learn how we can try to sort out some of these injustices.

Both Ministers are excellent, decent, empathetic people. I have previously spoken to them about this issue, and I know they care deeply about it. As has already been said, we should be honest about today’s debate. The public purse does not have billions of pounds of spare capacity at the moment, and the people of this country who are watching are intelligent. They can see that the financial scarring of the pandemic weighs very heavily on us.

In this debate, we should be practical with our suggestions, and the right hon. Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms) proposed a set of in-depth, practical steps. Many of the WASPI Campaign’s briefings and requests are entirely sensible, and it has a real right to be heard. There is no longer any debate about the ombudsman’s report, as far as I am concerned. It clearly found that there was maladministration between 2005 and 2007 and, as we have heard time and again, that delay led to this problem.

We need to get over that point. It has happened. There is a problem, and there is no point denying it. I hear the odd cursory comment from constituents who say, “Well, they should have known about it. It was advertised enough.” That is not fair. The ombudsman’s report makes that very clear. These women were failed, in many cases, by the state.

The redress, the compensation mechanism, must be clear and fair. As we heard, there must be speed, sensitivity and simplicity. The WASPI Campaign’s brief is very sensible in saying that the Government should come forward with a two-pronged approach that delivers a higher level of compensation to those with the shortest notice of the longest delay to receiving their state pension. Why is that fair? Because those are the women who are impacted the most. If they were impacted the most, they are the ones who have suffered the most, and they deserve that redress. But that is not enough not to think about everybody else. It is sensible to put together some eligibility criteria that enable all the other impacted cohorts to be able to make a claim for compensation. It is right that we come forward with that as quickly as possible.

One thing I have learned in this place, not to be too facetious, is that things do not happen very quickly, but this is something that should be happening quickly. When the public mood moves, as we saw with the Post Office scandal, we know that we can move quickly. We have the report, and the WASPI women have already suffered for an inordinate amount of time. I urge the Government to come up with that remedy, and to get on with it quickly.

09:30
George Howarth Portrait Sir George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab)
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I, too, thank the Backbench Business Committee for enabling the debate to take place. I suppose that I should congratulate the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) on her opening speech, and I do, but I caution her that using it to promote division in the House of Commons is not the way to advance the issue. If she is serious about it, and if she has listened to all the speeches that have been made so far, she will know that there is consensus in the House. Our efforts need to be put into finding a way to move that forward.

I will be brief. The case for righting this injustice is convincing. Although the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s inquiry noted that,

“timely and accurate information was available about changes to the number of qualifying years needed for a full State Pension as a result of the 2014 Pensions Act”,

it did find,

“maladministration in DWP’s communication about the 1995 Pensions Act”.

In addition, the report found that,

“maladministration in DWP’s complaint handling caused complainants unnecessary stress and anxiety and meant an opportunity to lessen their distress was lost. For some complainants, it also caused unnecessary worry and confusion.”

That is pretty clear about the extent of the maladministration. In the context of this debate, the ombudsman stated:

“Given the scale of the impact of DWP’s maladministration, and the urgent need for a remedy, we are taking the rare but necessary step of asking Parliament to intervene.”

I stress the use of the word “urgent”, which I will return to and on which several hon. Members have already commented.

I will first say a few words about the women who have been affected by this wholly unfair and unacceptable matter. We need to remind ourselves that the women born in the 1950s did everything required of them to ensure that reliable arrangements were in place when they reached pensionable age. That is the crux of the matter. I strongly believe that we as Members of this House have a responsibility to accept our duty to remedy the situation.

To return to the ombudsman’s emphasis on the word “urgent”, my fear is that we will not deal with the situation urgently. Let me be clear: I do not believe that allowing the clock to run down to the forthcoming general election is an acceptable option. My fear was confirmed yesterday at Prime Minister’s questions when, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), the Prime Minister said:

“Following the ombudsman’s multi-year investigation, it is imperative that we take the time to review the findings thoroughly.”—[Official Report, 15 May 2024; Vol. 750, c. 255.]

The problem with that is the facts are already well known, and it certainly does not reflect the ombudsman’s conclusion about the urgency of the issue.

I will make a suggestion that I urge both Front-Bench spokespeople to adopt. I believe that we could do the right thing in this Parliament if the Government and Opposition parties held talks, convened and chaired by Mr Speaker, with a view to putting a Bill before the House as speedily as possible. I am mindful and supportive of the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms) that we could do something seriously before the summer recess.

As other hon. Members mentioned, every generation experiences injustices. In my time in the House, they have included the thalidomide victims, Hillsborough, Primodos, contaminated blood and, most recently, the Horizon scandal. For me, they are all debts of honour that we have a duty to redeem. I suspect that a majority of Members of the House would agree, so please let us have the opportunity to do so.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Roger Gale)
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Order. After the next speaker, I will impose a time limit of 10 minutes, which, as they say, is not a target but a maximum. If hon. Members adhere to it, we will have time for the Front-Bench spokespeople and we will have the ability to accommodate every hon. Member who seeks to speak. I call Peter Aldous.

13:55
Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con)
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I congratulate the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) on securing the debate and the Backbench Business Committee on granting it. The purpose of the debate is to consider the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s report of 21 March and how best to implement its recommendations.

In brief, the following issues arise from the report. First, the PHSO found that in 2005, the Department for Work and Pensions,

“failed to take adequate account of the need for targeted and individually tailored information”

to be shared with women affected by the changes to the state pension age. That amounted to maladministration and resulted in the six complainants whose cases were considered not being able to do things differently or make informed, mitigating decisions. The PHSO concluded that they should be compensated for that.

Secondly, the PHSO took the highly unusual step of laying its report before Parliament, due to its concerns that the DWP would fail to provide a remedy. Although the PHSO has put forward a suggestion as to what the compensation should be, it has asked Parliament to intervene to agree a mechanism for remedy and to hold the Government to account.

Thirdly, the PHSO points out that it is “extremely rare” for an organisation that it investigates not to accept and act on its recommendations. It makes the observation that a failure to comply with its recommendations represents a constitutional gap in protecting the rights of citizens who have been failed by a public body and in ensuring access to justice.

My interest in the injustice arises from the fact that, for approximately eight years, as regular as clockwork, constituents have been highlighting to me the enormous challenges and hardship that they have faced and endured. For the past four years, I have had the privilege of co-chairing the all-party parliamentary group on state pension inequality for women with, first, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) and, more recently, the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey). I take the opportunity to thank our predecessors, the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) and my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton).

It is important to thank the PHSO for its work and the duty that it has carried out. It has received criticism for the time that it has taken and for the narrow remit of considering six cases that some are concerned do not fully reflect the injustice that 1950s-born women as a whole have had to endure. However, it would have been very easy for the PHSO to have decided that this was not a case for it to investigate. Instead, it has not shied away from the past. The investigation has taken a long time because it is complicated and there was a need to get it right.

The PHSO has provided us with a snapshot. It is up to us—Parliament, Government and the DWP—to extrapolate and put right a problem that may well extend much more widely. To do that, the PHSO has provided some guidelines that we need to follow. Parliament should take immediate steps to find a resolution for those who do not have time on their side. Each case should be considered on its own merits. Finite resources are not an excuse for failing to provide a fair remedy. If Parliament chooses to do nothing, that will undermine the ombudsman. The Department for Work and Pensions should respect what Parliament recommends. There must be a commitment from Government to take on board the PHSO’s findings and to work collegiately with Parliament in finding and then implementing a fair and just remedy.

A wider issue that needs to be considered, perhaps in the first instance by the right hon. Member for East Ham and his Committee, is the breakdown in communication and implementation of policy in the DWP, going back over 30 years. I accept that the Department’s remit is large, challenging and complicated, but the PHSO highlights repeated failures in the Department’s communication of state pension reforms.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes
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We must not let cause become more important that effect. As my hon. Friend described, it is right that we look at why and how this happened, but what really matters is what happened, because what the WASPI women need is action quickly. If we were to spend a great deal of time looking at the genesis of the issue, I am not sure that quick action would be delivered, so I endorse what the right hon. Member for East Ham said about establishing criteria that can be effected with reasonable speed.

Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous
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I thank my right hon. Friend for that point, which he makes quite well. I am diverting slightly from the main cause and theme, but I think he and I are on the same page.

As I said, I am concerned about repeated failures in the Department’s communications. Only last Saturday, a constituent highlighted to me how the introduction of the new state pension penalises those women born in 1951 and 1952. The End Frozen Pensions campaign points out that 85% of frozen pensioners did not know of the policy’s existence prior to moving abroad.

Sara Britcliffe Portrait Sara Britcliffe (Hyndburn) (Con)
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On that point, will my hon. Friend give way?

Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous
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Very briefly, because this is a side issue.

Sara Britcliffe Portrait Sara Britcliffe
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The report acknowledges that the DWP is now modernising its system so that people are informed, but does he agree that moving to a modernised system might pose a risk, specifically to pensioners who are digitally excluded, that something similar could happen again in future?

Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous
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My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is a side point to the main point, but nevertheless the PHSO has pinpointed that issue. These are debates for another day. I suspect the right hon. Member for East Ham and his Committee need to look at these issues in more detail, but the PHSO has shone a spotlight on a wider problem.

The aims of the APPG that I co-chair with the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles are threefold: first, to represent those women who have been treated unjustly by the short-notice changes to the state pension age, 280,000 of whom have died, according to WASPI, since the start of the campaign; secondly, to develop and promote policy solutions to support 1950s-born women and their families who do not have access to their pension and are facing mental and physical health consequences; and thirdly, to feed the views and experiences of 1950s-born women into future policy decisions relating to state pensions and welfare.

Over the years, the APPG has had regular evidence-gathering sessions with various representative groups, and we have considered policies and initiatives to best help and assist them. In January 2022, the APPG made its own submission to the PHSO about the level of compensation that should be provided. I give special thanks to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish for the work that he and his office did putting that together. Based on the evidence presented to us from across the UK, we reached what, for us, was the logical conclusion that level 6 of the PHSO’s compensation scale should apply. Subsequently, we refined that recommendation by proposing that compensation should be provided in a bell curve, with those who received least notice of the longest postponement receiving the most compensation, and those who received longer notice of shorter increase receiving lesser sums.

Julian Lewis Portrait Sir Julian Lewis
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May I take the opportunity to thank my hon. Friend for his key role in the APPG? I put on the record the dignified and well-informed views of local WASPI co-ordinators in my part of the world, Shelagh Simmons and Sal Robinson. We heard an intervention suggesting each case should be judged on its individual circumstances. I can see the merit in that, but it would have a devastating effect on the speed with which we would come to conclusions. What balance does my hon. Friend think should be struck on those two factors?

Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous
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My sense is that there is a need to strike a balance, as the PHSO says. A way forward is beginning to emerge from the work of the APPG and the Select Committee, and I will elaborate on that.

Since the PHSO published its report on 21 March, the APPG has sought to play its role, as part of Parliament, in finding a fair and just mechanism, as quickly as possible, as the PHSO asked Parliament to do. The hon. Member for Salford and Eccles and I wrote to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and we have subsequently met the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), who is now back in his place. I thank him for the hearing he gave us.

Last Tuesday, the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles and I appeared before the Work and Pensions Committee —likewise, I am grateful to the right hon. Member for East Ham and his colleagues for the fair and full reception they provided. We are holding our own evidence sessions with the various representative groups; the first three sessions took place on Monday and there are more to follow. This is a complicated matter. While the APPG is yet to reach a settled and final recommendation about the form a compensation mechanism should take, it is fair to say that ideas are fast evolving and are pointing in a direction.

Martin Docherty-Hughes Portrait Martin Docherty-Hughes
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Will the hon. Gentleman advise the House, as well as WASPI women in West Dunbartonshire and across the UK, on whether one of those recommendations will be for a ministerial apology, on behalf of the Department, for where we are now?

Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous
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PHSO suggests an apology from the DWP should be encapsulated in what it comes up with as a way forward. The DWP’s own guidelines include an apology as well.

I will focus on the form of compensation redress, which is emerging in a little more detail. While the PHSO has suggested that compensation should be paid at level 4 on their scale, there is disquiet among those affected that that is too low and that level 6 should apply, in line with the APPG’s recommendations. The PHSO comments that a flat rate is easiest to implement but not perfect, and that there may well be a need for a balancing act, as my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Sir Julian Lewis) suggested in his intervention.

The PHSO also suggests that the National Audit Office may be able to provide guidance on how to structure a compensation scheme. The WASPI group has emphasised, as we have heard, the need for speed, simplicity and sensitivity, and it recommends that the DWP should bring forward proposals for a financial redress scheme to Parliament before the summer recess. It also proposes that higher payments should be targeted at those most impacted.

The Work and Pensions Committee is to be commended for getting out its recommendations in less than 10 days after its evidence session. It also asked the Government to bring forward proposals for the summer recess. It, too, proposed that payments should be based on the extent of change to an individual’s state pension age, and the notice of change that they received. It adds that there should be some flexibility for individuals to be able to make the case for a higher level of compensation based on experiencing direct financial loss.

Clear parameters as to the form that the compensation should take, I sense, are rapidly evolving. Parliament, in the past two months since the PHSO published its report, in its various different guises is playing its role to the full. I would suggest that now is the time for the Government to step up to the plate. A mechanism should be put in place before the summer recess. I acknowledge that the matter is complicated, and that there is a need for contemplation and reflection, but we should have in mind that the most notable achievement of this Government is that, under enormous pressure in a very short timescale, they put in place a furlough scheme that saved hundreds of thousands of jobs and got us through covid. There is no reason why the Government cannot move with such speed and alacrity again. I would add that failure to comply with the PHSO’s recommendations would be almost completely unprecedented over the 70 years that the ombudsman has existed and would drive a coach and horses through what is an integral part of our parliamentary system of democratic checks and balances. In conclusion, I support this motion.

14:12
Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP)
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I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) for her blistering and brilliant opening speech. She speaks for many of our constituents and for those Members who cannot be here today. We must remember, as other Members have said, that WASPI women are not just some distant, transient group, but real people with real lives, and that this injustice has had a real impact. They are mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers, sisters, aunts, carers and daughters. Many have passed away in the time that we have been trying to secure them justice.

I find it remarkable that the ombudsman has such little faith in the Government that it is turning to Parliament to try to find a resolution and a remedy. And we owe it to those WASPI women to do so. We have taken an oath of office to our constituents—all of us—to find a resolution and a solution. Sadly, it has become the business of this Government to kick the can down the road, whatever the issue is. Whether it is the Horizon scandal, Primodos or contaminated blood, it seems to have become an ingrained and institutional habit to kick the can down the road and make those who have suffered at the hands of Government to wait even longer.

A Conservative Member made the point about the cost of redress and remedy, and of course we must recognise that. But in doing so we must also recognise the money that has already been spent by the civil service and the money and the time that have been spent by our constituency staff and all of us. I suspect that the amount of money and time that has been spent on this report is almost equal to the money that needs to be paid to bring redress to the WASPI women.

While we are looking at what remedies we can find and what money can be sought, perhaps we should be looking at proceeds of crime money. Perhaps we should be looking at the Russian oligarchs who need to have their assets seized—or have had their assets seized—proper sanctions against those who launder money, and the dirty money that flows through the financial institutions of the UK. I have sat on Bill Committees in this House and seen the Government take lacklustre action. The money is there; it is about political will, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran said.

I have had many representations from the 6,500 WASPI women in my Livingston constituency, and today I want to give them a voice. Shirley Sharp was born in October 1954. She took early retirement from the Scottish Government in December 2008, when she was 54. Before deciding to leave, she contacted the pension service and received her forecast. She said:

“I knew when I left my job I would receive my pension on 6/3/2019 when I was 64 years 6 months old.

After I left another 18 months was added to my pension age which I couldn’t make provision for. To add insult to injury my husband is 8 months older than me and he received his pension 14 months before I did. If it was about equality why was I penalised 6 months more than men?

I have been in receipt of my state pension since 6/9/2020. I am still very angry about how this whole thing has been/is being handled.”

Another constituent, who did not want to be named, took early retirement from the civil service and looked after elderly relatives for four years until 11 months before her 60th birthday. At that point, her sister asked her whether she was planning on getting a part-time job. She said that she was exhausted and that she could manage financially as long as she got her pension in 11 months’ time. She could not believe it when she was told that her pension at age would be 66. She thought that her leg was being pulled. She phoned the DWP, which confirmed what she had been told, but she had “never had any communication” about this from the DWP.

Another constituent, Anne Seenan, missed out on £14,000, having had her state pension delayed by two years. She said:

“I never received any communication from the DWP”.

Another constituent, Dianne Risbridger, said:

“Unfortunately I am one of the women affected by a chronic life limiting illness which adds to the distress, as well as being born a mere three weeks after the cut off date for appealing, so a double whammy in my case.”

Another constituent, Jill Parton, is watching this debate. She is an incredible woman who I know well. She said:

“Unfortunately, I am one of the tens of thousands of women, born in the 1950s, who have been badly affected by the rapid rise in State Pension Age for women.

I worked part time while I was training to become a teacher and started full time working in August 1975 when I was 20. I always expected that I would receive my State Pension at age 60. I married in 1977 and continued working full time.”

Jill took six months off to have her two children. She separated from her husband before her son was born. She found out that she would not receive her state pension at 60 during a staff meeting. She reminded me today that her divorce settlement, like those of many of her constituents, was predicated on when she would get her state pension. Unfortunately, she also lives with a diagnosis of Fuchs’ corneal dystrophy. The unpredictability of the condition, and the impact of teaching under bright lights, meant that she could not teach. She said:

“I find it very difficult to understand the government position on this. While they are making tens of thousands of women work until 66 they have even more young people who can’t get jobs. For the mental health of all concerned would it not be more economical to allow the 60+ women to retire and the young jobless to have their jobs?”

Mental health worries affect many people. Jill is deeply concerned about the impact that the issue has had not just on her, but on many others.

The bottom line is that we are talking about a social contract between our constituents and the Government. Many of these women have already suffered great discrimination throughout their lives and have not been able to pay their “full stamp”, as it was called back in the day. They had no idea this was going to happen. It is not good enough for some to say that the communication was adequate. Putting out a press release is not proper communication.

The Government need to get a grip on this issue, and understand the profound impact that it has had on other constituents of mine: Susan Rankin, Chaw Atkinson, Elizabeth Donnelly, Linda Howieson, Meg Wilson, Marion Wight, Margaret Diamond, Anne Waugh and Gloria Fairgrieve. I wanted to read their names out because they are real people with real lives, and this is having a real impact on them. If there is one decent thing that the Government could do before they are booted out of office, it would be to give the WASPI women the justice that they deserve.

14:19
Matt Vickers Portrait Matt Vickers (Stockton South) (Con)
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I rise to speak on behalf of the 6,180 women across Stockton South affected by this issue—women I come across every day in all corners of my constituency, and from all walks of life. My mother is a WASPI woman. She found out while chatting to her sister. Knowing my mother, that will have been an interesting conversation. I have had many conversations with constituents about the issue, and the impact that it has had on their life. None of them disputes the need to equalise the pension ages for men and women, and they all understand the challenges of communicating that change to the public, but they want justice and fair treatment from the system that they have spent their life paying into.

After years of debate under Governments of both colours, we have arrived at the point at which an independent ombudsman has told us that the WASPI women were wronged; maladministration occurred; and there should be compensation for those women affected. The system that they paid into all their life was meant to provide them with comfort in retirement. They based their life plans around it, and now the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman report confirms that the change was made without adequate notice. That had a huge impact on those affected and their families. These women lost the chance to make informed decisions in preparing for retirement. I have heard stories of women who worked all their life and deserved to retire with dignity, but who have instead been forced to rely on help from their husbands or even their children. Those most affected were often those already vulnerable: widows and those living alone; those with health issues; and those already facing financial hardship.

I am glad that we now have the ombudsman’s report, but this issue has gone on for way too long. These women have waited a long time for justice, and as we have heard, for some it is now far too late. I pay tribute to all the WASPI women in my constituency and further afield who have campaigned tirelessly for years, and exhausted every avenue to right this wrong. I urge the Government to consider the report as quickly as possible, and ensure that the WASPI women get the fair and fast compensation that they deserve.

14:22
Rebecca Long Bailey Portrait Rebecca Long Bailey (Salford and Eccles) (Lab)
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I thank the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) for his comments, which I associate myself with, and for his hard work over the years on the all-party parliamentary group. I also thank the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) and the Backbench Business Committee for securing this important debate.

We all know how we got here. For people watching at home, many women born in the 1950s retired at 60 in the belief that they would receive their full state pension, only to realise that the Government had increased the retirement age by five years and not told them. Many had handed in their notice at work, and in many cases those women were forced to exist on meagre welfare benefits that left them living a hand-to-mouth existence. Many were left destitute. Some even lost their home. Many experienced depression, and some were even suicidal. That is a scandal and a clear injustice.

I give my warmest thanks to all the 1950s women against state pension inequality campaign groups, on behalf of myself, the hon. Member for Waveney and all members of the all-party group. I also thank the 5,000 women in my constituency of Salford and Eccles who were born in the 1950s, in particular a lady called Judith Robertson and the women of the WASPI Campaign 2018, who have set up stalls in our local supermarkets, and lobbied me and other MPs on this important issue. We all recognise the determination and strength of these brave women. Their relentless campaigning against this profound injustice is the reason why we are here today.

The issue is not whether these women faced injustice; the ombudsman’s report makes it clear that they did, that the DWP was guilty of maladministration, that these women are entitled to compensation urgently from the Government, and that Parliament must urgently identify a mechanism for ensuring that. I will briefly make a few comments about the ombudsman’s report for clarity. First, it is important to stress that the ombudsman has looked at only one aspect of injustice: maladministration by the DWP—that is, whether they adequately notified the women affected by the change to their pension age. The ombudsman’s remit was not to look at the wider discriminatory impact of the policy; that has been left unaddressed.

Sadly, the UK’s pension system systematically favoured men in this age group. They often receive higher state pensions, and even higher private pensions. Many of these women affected spent significant periods out of the workforce caring for their children and family members. That was coupled with a gender pay gap that was far more acute during their time in the workforce than it is today, so they were already at a disadvantage in terms of their ability to contribute to their private and state pensions. The only element that went some small way towards addressing the gender pension gap was that the national insurance pension was paid to women from age 60, whereas it was paid to men from age 65. Obviously, that advantage was taken away.

The fairness and the gender impact of the policy need to be urgently addressed, and I hope that we continue to fight for that in this House, but today we are focusing on the ombudsman’s findings. The key finding was that the failure by the DWP to adequately inform thousands of women of their state pension age constitutes maladministration. The ombudsman also found that, as a result, some women had lost opportunities to make informed decisions about their finances, and that the DWP’s failure had diminished women’s sense of personal autonomy and financial control. The ombudsman also recommended that the DWP acknowledge its failings and apologise for its impact on those affected. The report concludes very clearly that the women concerned are entitled to compensation urgently.

We have discussed what the remedy could look like, and the report is very clear that it leaves that open to Parliament to determine. Crucially, it says that finite resources should not be used as an excuse for failing to provide a fair remedy. This is a clear injustice and should be treated as one. If we go down the path of deciding which injustices are and are not deserving, we are in very dangerous territory. The report also points out that HM Treasury requires compensation schemes to be efficient and effective, and to deliver value for money.

In particular, any administrative costs associated with compensation schemes should not be excessive. That leads the ombudsman to suggest that while Parliament might favour a mechanism for assessing individual claims of injustice, it might want to consider the point that a flat-rate payment would deliver a more efficient resolution. A note of caution here: it is important that we consider the impact of that carefully, as some women may be paid far less compensation than they are entitled to.

On the amount of redress, as we heard from the hon. Member for Waveney, the ombudsman’s guidance on financial remedy sets out six levels of compensation. The ombudsman suggests that solely in the very small set of six cases that it assessed, the range could be within level 4, but in further sessions with the Work and Pensions Committee last week, it acknowledged that that small subset may not cover all the extreme financial situations that many women affected have faced; that could be addressed by an appropriate redress mechanism that Parliament looks at.

All the women’s campaign groups that have contacted the all-party group so far have stated that setting compensation at level 4 would be grossly insufficient, and I agree. When gathering evidence, the all-party group found that in a vast number of cases the injustice was actually at level 6, and that was the recommendation that the all-party group made to the ombudsman.

A whole range of options are being discussed, from a flat-rate payment to a flat-rate tapered payment, the bell curve that the hon. Member for Waveney spoke about, a flat-rate payment with top-ups over a five-year period or mediation for 1950s women alongside an initial payment, to address the full scale of loss and discrimination faced. Whatever option Parliament chooses to take, it is important that it is not means-tested, that it is fast, fair and enshrined in legislation and, most importantly, that it garners the support of the women affected.

However, there is one major hurdle before us. Before we even get to the point of discussing and fine-tuning any proposals the Government have, they must first lay before Parliament their proposed redress mechanism. There is no excuse for delay. The report was laid before Parliament in March; it is now May, and still we have no Government response. It is just not acceptable. We have heard that nearly 280,000 women have already died waiting for justice and as we speak, at least one woman will die waiting for justice every 13 minutes. I say to the Government, “Just do the right thing and, as a matter of urgency, lay before Parliament a mechanism for redress so we can all act in accordance with the ombudsman’s recommendations.”

14:30
Steven Bonnar Portrait Steven Bonnar (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (SNP)
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I begin by commending my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), not only for securing this debate on the ombudsman’s report, but for her continued determination in representing the WASPI women and seeking the justice that they have been so cruelly denied by their own Government.

Those include women such as Mary Barclay from Bellshill, who came to my advice surgery just on Friday to ask me to come to this House today and ask this Government to do the right thing by her and the thousands of other women who have had the rug pulled out from underneath them. She also spoke to me about some of the 280,000 women who have died during this fight for justice and how, along with thousands across my Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill constituency, she will continue to fight for what they are entitled to. I put on record my thanks to Mary for the time she spent informing me of the real and deep impact that this issue has had on her in later life.

Across Scotland, it is estimated that almost 356,000 women were impacted by the WASPI pension scandal. Many of the women affected were already in ill health. Others had taken early retirement and were planning to get by until the age of 60, when they thought they would receive their state pension. However, Westminster Tories had a different idea. The UK Government instead invented reasons for countless delays in the hopes that the WASPI women would simply go away, but I think they have proven that they will not go away—no chance. Their campaign for justice continues.

I return to that figure of some 280,000 women who have passed away without seeing the justice that was owed to them. As many as 40,000 woman are dying every year without getting any form of compensation. That is outrageous and wilful neglect of the duty of any Government. It is shameful. It is a betrayal of the most callous kind of those impacted by the UK Government’s maladministration.

The SNP welcomes the findings of the PHSO’s report, and it is clear that the Westminster Government must now take responsibility for the hardships that they have caused women born in the 1950s and make urgent amends for mistakes made. WASPI women have been struggling for years now with this injustice, and just about every other whim and decision that emanates from this place has also taken its toll. We have heard about the Horizon scandal and the infected blood scandal, but there is also the cut to pension credit for mixed-age couples, the freezing of the hard-earned state pensions of pensioners living overseas, and this Government’s scrapping of free TV licences for the over-75s. All those decisions impact on WASPI women. On top of the self-inflicted cost of living crisis, it is just becoming too much for some of them.

The UK Government must not only apologise for the harms caused by their clear and obvious maladministration, but act urgently to deliver the justice and the compensation that these women so richly deserve. The report is clear and damning. It has made a finding of failings by the DWP in this case and has ruled that the women affected are owed compensation. The PHSO’s chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath said:

“DWP has clearly indicated that it will refuse to comply.”

That is outrageous. She continued:

“This is unacceptable. The Department must do the right thing and it must be held to account for failure to do so.”

To this very day the DWP has not acknowledged its failings. It has also failed to offer any apology or explanation, and has indicated that it will not compensate women affected by its failure.

The SNP here in Westminster and in government in Holyrood has always supported and will continue to support the WASPI women and their valiant efforts, yet many here in Westminster who were previously very vocal in supporting the WASPI women have now fallen eerily silent. The very same can be said for prominent Tory and Labour figures up the road in Holyrood as well. On 1 May the Scottish Parliament moved a motion on women’s state pension compensation that

“agrees that the UK Government must now urgently deliver on the ombudsman’s recommendations to pay compensation in full to those women without delay”.

That motion passed in the Scottish Parliament with votes from the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish Greens and the Alba party. The Tories and the Labour party shamefully abstained on that vote, and that speaks volumes. It certainly speaks a lot more than the silence that comes from their Benches. I have to say that, if the WASPI women are pinning their hopes on an incoming Labour Administration, they probably need to prepare themselves for yet more despair.

Why is that? They need only familiarise themselves with the lengths that the Labour administration in North Lanarkshire Council went to in order to avoid paying out on equal pay claims owed to women over many years—spending millions upon millions of pounds on legal fees in the process of fighting those justified claims, and then losing. The same happened, as we have heard, in Labour-run Glasgow City Council. Those two parties, the Tories and Labour, are not interested in equality for women; the evidence is before us, friends, so forgive me if I have no faith whatsoever in the change that the Labour party is purporting to offer.

Labour could, of course, surprise us; it could support the State Pension Age (Compensation) Bill in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), of which I am a co-sponsor. The UK Government and the Labour party could and should back his Bill and immediately set up a compensation scheme for all the women affected. We know that they will not, but we are asking them here today and reinforcing those calls.

It is clear that only a strong SNP voice in Holyrood and here in Westminster can hold this or any UK Government to account, whether it be a Tory or a Labour- led Government.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)
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We have heard demands that the Secretary of State here in Westminster should apologise, and quite clearly he should, but my hon. Friend will remember that 10 years ago, almost to the day, a very senior former Labour Prime Minister was doing the rounds in Scotland, speaking at meetings of middle-aged and elderly people, promising them categorically that their pensions were safe with any United Kingdom Government. Does my hon. Friend believe that it is now time that an apology came from that politician for the way that he deceived and misled millions of people in Scotland?

Steven Bonnar Portrait Steven Bonnar
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My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. That was just one of the mistruths we were told during that campaign—we were also told that we would maintain our place in the European Union. The WASPI women have been completely shafted, for want of a better word, by the politicians who were charged with delivering justice for them.

The SNP and the Scottish Government in Holyrood stand ready to engage with the Department for Work and Pensions when the UK Government finally agree to compensate the WASPI women. There is still hope that this Government will agree to do so, because justice should be done. After years of promises made by Tory and Labour MPs and MSPs, both parties are now refusing to accept the report’s recommendation to compensate fully the women who have been impacted.

It is time for the Tory and Labour parties to stop dithering and to put the funding in place so that these women can get the justice they deserve before it is too late. It should also be crystal clear once again—this is not an extreme proposition and it should not be seen as such—that the only way to protect Scotland’s pensioners from the whims of Westminster Governments and to ensure dignity and fairness in retirement is for Scotland to have the full powers of its independence.

14:39
Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi (Gower) (Lab)
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This issue is very close to my heart, and I thank the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) and the Backbench Business Committee for the opportunity to speak about it in the Chamber. However, some Members are not working with good will and consensus and based on the cross-party work that has been done—in particular, that of the APPG led by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) and her co-chair, the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), whom I thank for their work.

I have been acutely aware of the 1950s women’s state pension injustice for a long time. I have family and friends, as well as thousands of constituents, who have been impacted by it. Since I was elected in 2017, I have written to and met numerous women in Gower born in the 1950s who have shared their experiences and told me of the profound impact this issue has had on their lives. I led an Adjournment debate on the matter back in 2019, and have worked to represent women affected throughout my time as an MP, by supporting their complaints to the ombudsman and speaking at every opportunity.

The then Conservative Chancellor’s decision to accelerate increases in the state pension age in the Pensions Act 2011 produced considerable hardship for many women, as it meant that a lot of them received little notice of an increase in their state pension age. The Government failed to communicate the changes effectively: some women were given only one year’s notice, while others got up to five years’ notice, but many received none at all. That put those women in a serious position. Women who had already made plans based on previous pension statements had to scramble on and continue to work to make ends meet. Women’s income in retirement is already significantly affected by unequal and low pay at work, pregnancy discrimination, discrimination against part-time workers and a lack of affordable childcare and carer support.

Recently, my constituent Carrie Williams came to visit my surgery. She was in the first cohort of women affected. Initial leaflets on changes stated that the increase to 65 would happen in 2020. She then received a letter in 2013 informing her that the changes would be in force from 2018, and would gradually increase from then, meaning that she would have to wait not until she was 65, but until her 66th birthday—an extra year—before being able to receive her state pension. Following a period of poor health, the knowledge that she would not be getting her pension for several years more made her increasingly stressed and—combined with other issues that she had with the DWP at the time, which were affecting her income—led to her again falling ill and having a seizure. Correspondence of the various changes was littered with suggestions that Carrie pay for a financial advisor, which as a single mother in poor health she could not afford to do. She did not have spare cash just lying around to set up a new savings pots, an ISA or anything else that was suggested as an apparent solution to her problem. I am glad to share that Carrie is now in good health, but unfortunately for her, as for many of the women affected, that was not the end of it. Not only did she unexpectedly have to wait until 66 to access her state pension, but the amount that she receives from it has drastically reduced year on year due to fiscal drag. I would not have believed it had Carrie not brought me about six or seven years-worth of evidence. This Conservative Government’s recklessness with our economy is squeezing everyone’s finances—I have seen it with my own eyes—and exacerbating the hardships that the WASPI women have already endured.

This has been a long and frustrating process for the women affected. Several groups represent them. The Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign is probably the best known, but there is also the Pension Justice for Swansea Women campaign, which includes women from my constituency and others in the local area.

A lot was hinging on the ombudsman’s report. It took some time, but we now have it. It is a serious report that requires serious consideration, and the Government must not use it to continue kicking the can down the road, as they have done over the past 14 years. The report found the DWP guilty of maladministration. The Secretary of State said in March that he would provide a further update to the House on the matter, but is yet to do so. He should update Parliament, or tell us when he will finally do so.

Although there are strong feelings and a variety of asks, the overarching issue is that an injustice must be addressed. Lessons must be learned to ensure that this never reoccurs, and that everyone has the right to properly plan for their retirement.

14:44
John McNally Portrait John Mc Nally (Falkirk) (SNP)
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I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) for securing the debate and the Backbench Business Committee for granting it.

It is my privilege to speak on behalf of WASPI women, particularly those in the Falkirk WASPI women group, who have been with me for a long time. I held a public meeting way back in 2015 for the approximately 7,000 women in my constituency who are affected by the state pension age change. I discovered that the overwhelming majority of those who attended had not received any notification of the changes.

The majority of women were only one year away from the original retirement age of 60 years, and faced a further six years of working life without any warning. Many had already started to make plans to retire because of ill health or their caring duties for grandchildren and/or elderly parents. It was not just the women who were badly affected by these changes; family members also had to make changes or other arrangements in their lives.

A cohort of the Falkirk women got together and formed the Falkirk group in 2016. They made arrangements to join the very first demo down here in London in June 2016. Since then, they have participated in other demos—both here and in Scotland—and in 2019, they published a calendar, from which all proceeds went to Breast Cancer Care. Local co-ordinator Anne Campbell and I have had many discussions and meetings about this issue, along with other stalwarts of the group—namely, May Rookes, Mags Burns, Lorna Binnie, Sheila Harkness, Elizabeth Lumsden, Maureen Mcleod, Valerie Sutter, Ruth McIntosh, Helen Reeder, May Farrell, Elspeth Slater and many other women campaigning on this total injustice. I pay tribute to them all.

The Falkirk Women are positive and strong in their endeavour to right the wrong that was foisted upon them in the cruellest and most calculating way. I praise them and the rest of the WASPI women for their organisational skills. They would like an apology and compensation for the turmoil thrust upon them. They want respect, dignity, and, most importantly, a fair and fast compensation scheme to redress the injustice. It is fair to say that those women are not going away, so the Government ignore them at their peril.

The WASPI women need an answer, and they need it now—no more unnecessary delays. The Government can and should resolve this pitiful state of affairs here and now, and do the right and proper thing by putting an end to this bureaucratic shambles. They must not procrastinate any longer. Action is required, not more words. Stop insulting the WASPI women. Compensate them now, with speed and simplicity.

14:47
Margaret Greenwood Portrait Margaret Greenwood (Wirral West) (Lab)
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I pay tribute to all the WASPI women and others campaigning on this issue in Wirral West and across the UK, and those who are in the Gallery this afternoon. I stand in solidarity with them—I myself am a 1950s-born woman. I pay tribute to all who have sadly passed away, too.

I believe it is important to consider the broader pensions landscape, and the discriminatory and quite frankly sexist nature of provision that has adversely affected 1950s-born women. For example, rules that required a fixed number of qualifying years to be eligible for a pension have disproportionately adversely affected women. In 1973, the right to a deferred pension was introduced for those who left service on or after 6 April 1975, provided that they were over 25 years old and had completed at least five years’ service. One WASPI campaigner told me that she had worked for the Army for four years and then left after she had had her baby. She received no pension for those years, which is grotesquely unfair. That five-year qualifying period, which clearly discriminated against women, was reduced to two years from April 1988, and so it remains for the Army and civil service today. Again, I believe that this is discriminatory, and I ask the Minister to look into it.

Part-time workers have been similarly adversely affected by the design of pension schemes. There is insufficient time to provide detail today; however, women have clearly been disproportionately affected by that, too, as they are by the current earnings threshold of £10,000 per year for auto-enrolment. Again, I ask the Minister to look at addressing that discriminatory element of what is otherwise a very important policy that affects large numbers of women and men on low pay.

Women born in the 1950s have already been adversely affected by pensions policy. The pensions gender gap is still high: analysis by the DWP published in 2023 put that gap at 35%, meaning that women have 35% less private pension wealth than men at age 55, the minimum age at which most people can start to take their pension. Women have less state pension, too: analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies last year showed that women born in the early 1950s receive around 5% less state pension income than men.

The reasons included having spent less time in paid employment compared with women born in later periods, and the way that the rules for entitlement to the state pension before the introduction of the new state pension in 2016 created a significant gap between pensions for men and women. For example, before 1978, married women could opt to pay a married women’s stamp, meaning that they paid lower national insurance contributions and then received a lower state pension. It is scandalous, too, that many of the women who paid that married women’s stamp did not receive all the pension that they should have been entitled to, due to the complex rules and computer errors by the DWP.

Then, of course, the gender pay gap means that women are paying on average less into their occupational pensions. All those things are still affecting women today, so it is in that context that I ask the Minister to act swiftly in relation to the parliamentary and health service ombudsman’s report on women’s state pension age. The WASPI campaign has shone a light on how the changes affected women: many 1950s-born women found out about the changes to their state pension age at a time that was too late for them to alter their retirement plans. Others have said that they had no idea that they would have to wait longer to receive their state pension. As a result, many women have suffered financial hardship and emotional distress.

A survey of around 8,000 WASPI women carried out in December of last year found that in the previous six months, 55% of WASPI women had seen their economic position get worse, 49% had struggled to pay essential bills, and shockingly, 25% had struggled to buy food. As we have heard from Members right across this House, our constituents have spoken about how they have been personally affected. One woman in Wirral West told me that she had struggled to feed herself and had had to sell her home as a result of how she was affected. Another constituent wrote to me recently to say that she feels robbed of her future, and still feels that she is being ignored. It is insulting to those women that the Minister has barely acknowledged the clear maladministration that the ombudsman says occurred. Can he tell us today when his Department will acknowledge that maladministration, and will he apologise for it?

Because of “significant concerns” that the ombudsman has

“that DWP will fail to remedy the injustice”,

it has taken the “rare decision” to bring matters to Parliament’s attention, and specifically to ask Parliament

“to intervene and identify a mechanism for providing appropriate remedy”.

The ombudsman’s report sets out what that remedy might look like. It also says that it is

“open to DWP to forestall this process”

by acting on what the ombudsman says to Parliament. Will the Minister take this opportunity to do just that—to look carefully at what the ombudsman has said, and come forward with fair and fast compensation for the women affected? Jane Cowley, the WASPI campaign manager, said last week at a Work and Pensions Select Committee oral evidence hearing that

“We have attempted to meet with the Minister throughout our campaign but unfortunately those requests have never been accepted.”

This is incredibly disappointing. That campaign is acting on behalf of 3.5 million women adversely affected—it is utterly astonishing that the Minister should show them such little respect.

Time is of the essence for the Government to put things right. According to the WASPI campaign group, by this weekend, 280,000 WASPI women will have died since their fight for justice began. To put it another way, as has already been said in this House, one woman dies every 13 minutes. The Government talk about supporting all pensioners to have a dignified retirement, but can the Minister honestly stand at the Dispatch Box and say that his Government are treating these WASPI women with the dignity and respect they deserve? Last week, at the Select Committee’s oral evidence hearing, Angela Madden, the chair of the WASPI campaign, expressed frustration that the DWP

“have never accepted that they have done anything wrong”.

When will the Government remedy the injustice that so many 1950s-born women have faced? Ministers must apologise to those women who have suffered as a result of Government failings, and must bring forward fair and fast compensation as a matter of urgency.

14:55
Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain (North East Fife) (LD)
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I commend the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) for securing this debate, and the Backbench Business Committee for granting it. However, I do think it is disappointing that the Government have not sought to have a debate on this issue in Government time, particularly when there is quite clearly cross-party consensus about the need for speed on it following the ombudsman’s report. I hope the Minister will be coming forward with some clear proposals today about where we go, and I hope he is also hearing how strong the feeling is across the House that the Government need to do something quickly.

On Monday, we had an impassioned debate in this place about the role of Members, and speech after speech stated that we in this place must uphold the highest standards and set the best example of good practice. There were arguments made by others about the importance of democracy and representation, and I may not have agreed with the conclusions they reached from those arguments in many cases, but I cannot fault their dedication to this place and to the job that we do here on behalf of our constituents. We should all therefore be able to support the basic idea that, when someone is wronged, and an independent body investigates and makes recommendations for recompense, those recommendations must be actioned.

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), who is no longer in his place, made a very important point about the fact that we as constituency MPs refer constituents on to the ombudsman. How can any of us continue to do that in the future if the Government and indeed this place choose to ignore recommendations made by that ombudsman? The Government are not above the law, and we are here representing our constituents. It is damning that the report from the ombudsman had to be sent by the ombudsman to Parliament because, in its words, it had

“significant concerns…that DWP will fail to remedy the injustice”

and acknowledge the maladministration. What does that say? I expect the Minister will say that the Department needs more time to consider its response, but having listened to the other Members who have participated in the debate so far, I think many of us have no time for that any more, and certainly the WASPI women do not.

I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) about the fact that female pensioners are most likely to be living in poverty. She made a very powerful and compelling case for that, and the reality is that the gender pension gap continues to this day because the gender pay gap also continues. We must have a social security system and a pension system that actually recognises the work women do and are more likely to do from a caring perspective. I did a lot of work on that in relation to my Carer’s Leave Act 2023, but women generally are more likely to work part-time or have time out of the workplace, so they are always going to experience lower levels of state pension.

Sarah Dyke Portrait Sarah Dyke (Somerton and Frome) (LD)
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The injustice that WASPI women have faced is simply shameful. The financial burden has been outlined, but the anxiety they feel is also huge. A constituent has contacted me to tell me that the ordeal has had an enormous and horrible negative effect on her mental health, because she simply feels so powerless to do anything about it. Does my hon. Friend agree that this Government should immediately confirm that they will honour the ombudsman’s recommendations, and come forward with a proper plan to compensate the millions of affected women?

Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention, and I absolutely agree with her. We have had the report for some time, and I think the Government should be making a statement to say that they support it. It is quite clear that plenty of work has been done by both the APPG and the ombudsman to outline what a compensation scheme should look like.

My hon. Friend is right about the mental impact. I met a constituent of mine, Heather, several weeks ago. She is a single woman, so she does not have a partner’s or spouse’s income—that is the assumption made about women—to rely on. She has had to give up work as a teacher earlier than expected due to ill health, and feels that the injustice is compounded by the Government not having yet acknowledged the ombudsman’s report properly.

The DWP has had full notice of the investigation by the PHSO and its findings, and I would argue that they should therefore have had the opportunity to plan accordingly. With regard to the infected blood scandal, the Government have said that when the report is finally published on Monday, they will make a statement on what they will do very quickly thereafter. I feel, therefore, unmoved by the argument that they need more time to respond to the ombudsman’s report, when they have known for some time that it was coming. The first report on maladministration was published almost three years ago, so I just do not accept that the Government and the DWP have not had the time to consider the likely outcome of the findings. We knew that a recommendation for compensation was likely, so I would have expected the DWP to have started making plans for administering it.

While sitting in the Chamber, I have been notified by my researcher that I have had a response to a written parliamentary question, which states that the Department did not have sight of a draft copy of the PHSO’s report at the end of last year. My researcher has also confirmed with the WASPI campaign—I have met Angela Madden and others several times—who say that that is not the case, and that the Government did have sight of the draft report. I would be grateful for clarity from the Minister on that. I am happy to give way to him now—[Interruption] —or perhaps he can comment on that written response to the parliamentary question in his closing remarks. Is it correct that the Government did not have sight of the draft report at the end of last year?

Paul Maynard Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Paul Maynard)
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On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Opposition Members are complaining about the fact that I dip my head in order to listen, and suggest that is somehow evidence of me not listening. I take exception to their criticism of my body position.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Your comments stand on the record.

Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain
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Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I certainly was not suggesting that to the Minister. I am saying that I have two different versions of events. The WASPI campaign is saying that the draft report was seen by the DWP at the end of last year, and I have a written response from the Government saying that it was not. If the response to the written parliamentary question is found to be inaccurate, I would be grateful if the Minister wrote to me to confirm that. If he is unable to conform that in his closing remarks, I would be grateful if he would place that letter in the Commons Library. I have done a lot of work with the Minister. Previously he was heavily involved with me in the all-party parliamentary group on ending the need for food banks, so I know that he cares about people, but I really do not want to hear in his closing remarks that this is just the Department being thorough.

Like many here, I have met WASPI women, and the campaigners who stand in the rain outside Parliament on Budget days. I have spoken to group leaders and to my constituents. The one message they want me to bring here today is that they are dying. They are dying without the DWP admitting to its errors, without any acknowledgement of the impact that this has had on their lives, without compensation, and without resolution. Frankly, they now feel that the Government are waiting for them to die, in order for the problem literally to cease to exist. WASPI women deserve compensation—that is not just my view or the view of many Members in the House; it is the view of the ombudsman. If we in this place cannot adhere to the findings of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, what message are we sending from this place generally?

15:02
Zarah Sultana Portrait Zarah Sultana (Coventry South) (Lab)
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Mr Deputy Speaker:

“I was plunged into huge anger…upset…distress. I felt like I had been scammed. Why hadn’t anyone told me my pension age had changed? Why hadn’t I known about it?”

Those are the words of Hilary, who, like millions of other women born in the 1950s, was hit by the change in the state pension age. Hilary was left tens of thousands of pounds worse off. She had budgeted for her state pension beginning at 60, not six years later. She struggled to make ends meet and started to look for another job, but she asked, “Who’s going to employ a woman in her late 50s?”

Hilary was not alone. Millions of women born in the 1950s were robbed of their pensions. A survey carried out by the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign, to whose tireless advocacy I pay tribute today, particularly those WASPI women in Coventry South, found that half the women surveyed struggled to pay essential bills, and one in four struggled to put food on the table. But it was not just the financial hit; it was the worry, stress and the feeling that they had made a mistake, and that it was their fault they did not know that the pension age had changed. The ombudsman’s report puts that to bed once and for all. The fault for not knowing was not with those women; the fault was with the Government and the Department for Work and Pensions. There was maladministration in communicating the changes and an injustice was done. That is what the ombudsman concluded, and it utterly vindicates the WASPI campaign.

Justice delayed is justice denied, and every 13 minutes a WASPI woman passes away and is forever denied justice. Since the beginning of their campaign, 280,000 women affected by the pension change have passed away, never to see this wrong righted. It is utterly scandalous that the Government seem intent on dragging their feet for as long as they can. On 24 March, after the ombudsman’s report was published, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions told the House that he would respond “without undue delay.”

Almost two months have passed, another 6,000 WASPI women have passed away and still this Government are doing nothing. The Government have still failed to heed the report’s recommendation

“to identify a mechanism for providing appropriate remedy for those who have suffered injustice”,

and that is no surprise.

The report concludes that it strongly doubts that the DWP will provide a remedy to the injustice, so it is up to this place and all our colleagues to rise to this challenge and to right this wrong. We have a recent example of that happening. After the Post Office Horizon scandal was brought to life in a TV drama, the Government responded to the public outcry and introduced legislation to address that injustice. It was the right thing to do, but it should not take Toby Jones and ITV for the Government to do their job. They need to act, and act now.

I will finish with this: the ombudsman’s report is right that an injustice was done. These women lost out. Some were made tens of thousands of pounds worse off by these changes. They were made to feel like they had made a mistake, as if the fault was theirs. The stress and pain has been immense. I will conclude by saying that not only must the Government compensate these women as a matter of urgency, but they must go beyond what has been recommended by the ombudsman, which is not nearly enough to cover the hurt, distress and lost income faced by many of these women. I join the WASPI campaign in calling for fast and fair compensation, giving justice to women who have been denied it for too long already.

15:06
Allan Dorans Portrait Allan Dorans (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (SNP)
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I, too, thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) for securing this debate, and for her unflinching commitment and support for WASPI women everywhere. This has been an important issue for me for a number of years. In fact, it is so important to me that I chose to raise it as a matter of urgency during my maiden speech in this Chamber in 2020, when I highlighted the scandalous situation experienced by these women.

There were an estimated 3.8 million WASPI women, although 280,000 have died since the start of the campaign, including my constituents Margaret Meikle and Morag Syne. Those women died without receiving the compensation, apology or justice that they rightly deserved. There are about 6,800 WASPI women in Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock. To some people, they are just numbers; to me, every single one of them is an individual—a daughter and possibly a mother, a grandmother, a wife, a sister, an auntie, a carer and a friend. They are important. They matter. They have all had their hopes, expectations and aspirations of retiring at 60 with a reasonable pension crushed by a lack of notice of a change to their pension age by the Government. Each and every one of them deserved to be treated properly, and the grave injustice they have suffered should be put right by the Government.

Since my first contact with a WASPI constituent nine years ago, many have written to me and met me, expressing their frustration, dealing with burnout, caring for elderly relatives and missing out on time with partners, children and grandchildren, all in the context of a cost of living crisis. Many have also commented on the lack of pension income and having to use savings to survive, preventing them from buying clothes and presents for their grandchildren and seriously restricting any discretionary spending that would have been spent in the local economy. Above all, they are left with an overwhelming sense of injustice at not being informed of changes to their state pension age, which has left them understandably angry and resentful. The lack of information and the denial of choice by the Government has resulted in a reduced quality of life, serious financial losses, and sustained damage to their sense of worth, mental health and wellbeing.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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My hon. Friend mentions the enormous toll on the mental health and wellbeing of so many of these women. Does he agree that that damage has been deliberately made worse by the fact that they, almost alone of the millions of people who have suffered from grave injustices and miscarriages of justice, have had a Government who claim to be looking after them publicly say, “We will ignore the results of an independent inquiry and deny the fact that any injustice has been carried out against them”?

Allan Dorans Portrait Allan Dorans
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I could not agree more with my hon. Friend.

How much might it cost to properly compensate the WASPI women? In March, The Times estimated that to pay them the ombudsman’s paltry offer of between £1,000 and £2,850 would cost between £3.5 billion and £10 billion. The WASPI campaign is calling for about three times as much—£10,000—which would put the cost to the public purse at about £36 billion. It may be slightly more or slightly less, but by not paying the WASPI women the pensions they rightly deserve to date, the Government have already saved £181.4 billion. In only the last eight months of 2023, according to the Office for National Statistics, UK Government total expenditure was £755 billion. The compensation demanded by the WASPI women is insignificant in that context.

The failed covid test and trace system in England cost £37 billion, paid to former TalkTalk chief executive—and wife of a Conservative Member—Dido Harding for no reason whatsoever. That amount alone would have paid full compensation to all the WASPI women to date.

As many as 3.8 million women were given the news that their state pension age was to increase from 60 to 66 just as they were about to retire, so too late for them to do any proper financial planning. Many were already in ill health or worse, and others had taken early retirement with a plan to get by until age 60, when they thought they would receive their state pension and look forward to a reasonably comfortable retirement.

This is a long tale of suffering, misery and injustice not only for the women affected, but endured by their immediate and extended families. It has been allowed to go on for far too long. It needs to be concluded without further delay. I therefore call on the Government to apologise unreservedly and to act to compensate women affected by the worst pension scandal in history. They must do so immediately before even more WASPI women die without having received an apology, compensation or justice. I urge the DWP to bring proposals to Parliament for a financial redress scheme for all Members to debate and vote on, including a mechanism for MPs to put forward alternatives before the summer recess. In those proposals, the Government should set out eligibility for the compensation scheme, the amounts of compensation to be paid, the administration of the scheme and the timeframe for compensation to be paid.

WASPI women everywhere have campaigned to right this injustice, but may I pay tribute to the tireless work of Frances Brown and Lynn Paterson, the local WASPI co-ordinators from my area, who have given their best and their lives to obtain compensation for all the other WASPI women in our area and across the country? I thank them for their support.

15:13
Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris (Easington) (Lab)
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It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Allan Dorans), and I thank the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) for securing this important debate. I was rather disappointed that she used the opportunity to bash the Labour party. With all due respect, I point out that, had we won the election in 2017—my right hon. Friends the Members for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) can confirm this—this matter would have been settled. Had the SNP not lost 13 seats to the Conservatives, we would not be having this debate; we would have delivered justice for the WASPI women and for the miners, who are desperate to have pensions justice.

I want to extend my personal appreciation to the dedicated women of the WASPI campaign who have tirelessly campaigned for nearly a decade for fair and timely compensation for 1950s women affected by the DWP’s maladministration.

I do not recognise the criticism of Labour Members. I think that I have raised WASPI cases on 25 occasions in 12 different debates and remember how many Members were in their place. I remember a Westminster Hall debate where Members were sitting on the window sills because it was so crowded. Every effort has been made to bring this injustice to the attention of the public and the Government.

I thank the Sunderland, Durham and Hartlepool WASPI groups, who have worked diligently and assiduously in my constituency. I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with those remarkable women over the past decade, and I am full of admiration for their dedication and selflessness. There are around 5,000 WASPI women in my constituency, who have been waiting patiently for the final ombudsman’s report, which was published in March. I am appalled that the DWP refuses to comply with the report’s recommendations. This unprecedented response undermines the ombudsman’s authority and credibility. The Library found no other instances of a Government Department rejecting an ombudsman’s findings.

The DWP must own its mistakes, apologise to the 3.8 million women affected and swiftly deliver adequate compensation. There is no doubt that the DWP failed to notify 1950s women of their state pension age change, and now it denies its wrongdoings, as the PHSO highlighted. Ignoring the ombudsman’s findings sets a dangerous precedent, allowing Government Departments to evade accountability. We MPs have a responsibility to ensure that the Government establish a mechanism for redress. The urgency is critical. I do not want to rehearse the statistics, because they have been given many times, but the 1950s women are dying in numbers because of the age profile.

In March, the Secretary of State promised an update, but as far as I am aware we are still waiting for that. The Government’s standard delay tactics—evident in cases such as the mineworkers’ pension scheme, the contaminated blood scandal, the Post Office Horizon scandal and now the WASPI women—must end. The impact of the state pension age rise on those women, with little or no notice, is profound. The APPG on state pension inequality for women, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), highlighted that women felt worthless, ignored and disempowered, leading to severe mental health issues and, in some very sad cases, suicide.

There is no doubt that the DWP’s maladministration has caused immense stress. The evidence aligns that with the PHSO’s definition of level 6 emotional injustice, warranting compensation of up to £10,000. As Members have said, the Government have saved £181.5 billion by accelerating the raising of the women’s state pension age. Compensating WASPI women by up to £10,000 would cost around £36 billion. That is a fraction of the savings accrued by the Treasury to date.

I recently met my constituents Denise McKenna and Kathleen Kerr, who illustrate the severe impact this issue has had. Both started work at 16. Kathy joined the British Army and Denise started work at the Inland Revenue. In their late 50s they took early retirement due to ill health. They carefully managed their finances. They had only a few years, they thought, until they reached their retirement. As a married couple who were both WASPI women, Kathy and Denise suffered a double whammy—an immense financial loss, due to the pension age change. They received no written notification of the change. The five-year delay to their pension meant that they lost in excess of £80,000. They exhausted their life savings and were forced to sell their home. Surely that is not how we respect those who have worked and served our country.

Many WASPI women like Denise and Kathy made significant life decisions without knowing that their pension age had increased. That injustice demands financial redress. Women were forced to return to work, despite disabilities and conditions. That highlights this Government’s disconnect from the realities that these women faced. A former Pensions Minister, the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), now a Transport Minister responsible for buses, suggested in a Westminster Hall debate in 2017 that the affected women should retrain and take up apprenticeships—[Interruption.] It was greeted with a similar reaction at the time. That ignores the challenges of re-entering the labour market, and the disproportionate care-giving responsibilities that these women bear.

Successive Governments have failed these women. It is our responsibility and the duty of this Parliament to right this wrong. Sadly, it is too late for the over 200,000 WASPI women who have passed away since the campaign started in 2015, but we cannot delay any longer. Compensation is not just financial reimbursement, but recognition of the harm inflicted on these women. My appeal to the Minister is this: heed the calls for justice, and acknowledge the emotional and psychological harm caused by the Government’s decisions and the DWP’s maladministration. As representatives of thousands of 1950s women, it is our responsibility as Members of Parliament to ensure that justice is served.

15:21
Ian Blackford Portrait Ian Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (SNP)
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It is a considerable pleasure to follow my friend, the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris). We have worked together on many issues over the years. I remember the debate in Westminster Hall that he mentioned, and the revulsion when it was said that 1950s WASPI women should go on apprenticeship schemes. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) and the Backbench Business Committee have secured this debate.

It is worth reflecting that the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has asked Parliament to find a remedy for the WASPI women who have suffered injustice; it strongly doubts that the DWP will provide a remedy. Let us just consider that. The ombudsman has proclaimed that maladministration has taken place, so it would be fair to expect the DWP to accept its moral and ethical responsibility to the women affected and their elected parliamentarians, and to bring forward effective remedies for that maladministration.

The report was published a couple of months ago, but we had the interim report three years ago, so the report is not a surprise to any of us here. The Government knew this day was coming, and must now act with haste to bring forward remedies for the WASPI women.

The Government, if they are meant to be anything, are supposed to be rooted in fairness, recognising their duty to citizens, and when a judgment is made that there has been maladministration, they should respond in an appropriate and timely manner. It is a damning indictment that the ombudsman has no faith in the Government to provide the remedy, and has therefore taken the unprecedented step of asking Parliament to intervene. It means that we parliamentarians must in effect do the Government’s job for them. Collectively, Members from right across the Chamber have to rise to that challenge. All of us here, every single Member of Parliament, has a responsibility to their constituents, many of whom will be looking at us today, whether from the Gallery or on television, waiting for us to take action. We cannot have any more procrastination. We need to take action.

Let us remind ourselves that there were 3.8 million WASPI women—1950s-born women who were affected by changes to the state pension age. They suffered from poor communication, which adversely affected the life choices that they were forced to make. This issue must be resolved by this Parliament. It must not be kicked down the road until after the election. The Scottish National party Westminster group commissioned a report on potential financial remedies for WASPI women, which was presented to the UK Government as long ago as June 2016 but which, sadly, was ignored. If the Government need advice, they might want to turn to Landman Economics, which produced that report.

Parliament has, of course, debated this issue many times, in the Chamber and in Westminster Hall, and the work of the APPG should be commended. On 29 November 2017, I opened an SNP Opposition day debate on a motion calling on the Government to improve transitional arrangements for women born on or after 6 April 1951 who were adversely affected by the acceleration in the increase in the state pension age. There was a vote at the end of the debate; 288 Members voted for the motion, and none against. The voting was cross party: five Conservative Members voted for the motion. If the Tory Government had accepted that proposition, we would not be here now. Why did the Government ignore that instruction from Parliament?

Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald
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Does my right hon. Friend not think that that was, regrettably, typical of the attitude of this UK Government to the WASPI women? The Government hope that they will simply go away if they are ignored. That is heaping insult on indignity, and it is wholly unacceptable. The lives of constituents such as mine have been destroyed by the UK Government’s inability to see what needs to be done. They deserve so much better from this Government.

Ian Blackford Portrait Ian Blackford
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Of course they do. We have heard today from a great many Members in all parts of the House about the 5,000, 6,000 or 7,000 WASPI women— more, in some cases—in every constituency. We have all heard the heartbreaking stories of those who simply could not afford to carry on working, and who were not given adequate notice of the increase in the state pension age. It was an injustice, and it needs to be dealt with.

I should emphasise that this was never about the equalisation of men’s and women’s pensionable ages; we all accept that there had to be such an equalisation. However, some of us will remember the 2016 Cridland review of pensions. Cridland said that there should be no more than a one-year increase in anyone’s pensionable age in every decade. The problem was the pace of the increase in women’s pensionable age. Let us also remember that this is about women who paid national insurance in anticipation of receiving a pension, and who were hit with the bombshell that their pensions were being deferred, in many cases by up to six years, with, in some cases, only 15 months’ written notice. A state pension should be seen as a right, but the Government changed the terms and conditions of that right without consulting those who were paid their pensions.

Some time ago, thanks to freedom of information requests, we learned that the Department for Work and Pensions did not begin writing to women born between April 1950 and April 1955 until April 2009, and did not complete the process until February 2012. Despite the need to inform women about changes to legislation dating back to 1995, the Government did not start the formal notification period for 14 years. What were they doing? Where was the responsibility to the women affected? Taking 14 years to begin informing women that a pension that they had paid into was being deferred is quite something. Can we imagine the outcry if a private pension provider behaved in such a way? There would be an outcry in this House, and no doubt there would be legal action.

Given that entitlement to a state pension is earned through national insurance contributions, with many women having made contributions for more than 40 years, that is quite staggering. A woman born on 6 April 1953 who, under the previous legislation, would have retired on 6 April 2013 would have received a letter from the DWP in January 2012 with the bombshell that she would not get a pension until July 2016.

Think about receiving such a letter. You think you are on the verge of retirement, and the rug has been pulled from under you—no wonder there is a need to pay compensation to those affected. The new pensionable age was three years and three months later than such an individual might have expected. With just 15 months’ notice, what she thought was a contract that she had with the Government was simply ripped up. The implications of all this have left women with no time to put alternative plans in place, despite many having looked forward to imminent retirement.

Then we have the issue of the change supposedly being phased in gradually. We were dealing with a three-month increase in women’s pensionable age for each calendar month that passed. It was simply scandalous that women’s pensionable age was rising so rapidly. That is why today we have the moral duty to immediately correct a wrong. This has gone on for too long. As has been said, sadly, 288,000 WASPI women have died since the campaign started. Another dies every 13 minutes, and a number have no doubt died while we have been having this afternoon’s debate.

We have the ombudsman’s report, and we have to put in place remedies now. The DWP has to play a part in bringing forward proposals for a financial redress scheme before the summer recess, and those proposals must be amendable. Most importantly, any scheme must clear the parliamentary process before the summer recess. We do not have long—less than nine weeks of parliamentary time. This means that within days—I have respect for the Minister, as she knows—the DWP must come forward with proposals. Will the Minister respond appropriately to that demand?

It is now nearly two months since the ombudsman’s report, and we cannot wait any longer. So many of the WASPI women who have suffered as a result of maladministration should have received financial remedy, which is why we must now take action, and this must not be a party political matter. It ought to be about all of us recognising a wrong that needs to be righted, and I appeal to Members from right across the Chamber to recognise our responsibility to do the right thing. Let us make sure that the WASPI women get an apology and get compensation.

15:32
Jeremy Corbyn Portrait Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Ind)
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This has been a timely and very powerful debate. We have heard some incredible contributions from many Members, who have shared first-hand knowledge of their constituents and the way they have been treated. I was very moved by what was said by the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) about the couple in his constituency who have basically lost everything because of this whole sorry saga. Some 3.8 million women have been affected by this issue, and many have now died—possibly over 270,000.

This debate would not be happening if it was not for the bravery of the WASPI women campaigners over many years. I have always been impressed by their verve and the demands that they bring to any occasion, and by their dressing appropriately in suffragette colours—one cannot miss them at any event or meeting anywhere. We should pay tribute to all of them for the incredible work that they have put into drawing attention to this grotesque injustice over many years. They deserve to know that they will get an answer that will give them some comfort and hope.

In the last decade, only three or four ombudsman’s reports have gone to Parliament because the Government have refused to acknowledge or accept them. The whole principle of the ombudsman is that it is an independent, non-political office that makes recommendations on the basis of the evidence it has collected. It went to a great deal of trouble to collect evidence and chose a sample of cases to give a holistic view on the situation, so the very least we can do is expect that the Government will undertake to act on the report.

I was very impressed by the Work and Pensions Committee’s evidence session on 7 May. I was impressed by the campaign’s detail, by the evidence it presented and by the commendable speed with which it responded to the Committee and to the all-party parliamentary group on state pension inequality for women, chaired by the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) and my hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey). We need to thank the campaign for its work.

The WASPI women came up during the last two general election campaigns, and let us be absolutely clear that my right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and I committed that an incoming Labour Government would have dealt with this issue, compensated the WASPI women and accepted that a grotesque injustice had been done. That would have been expensive but, as I tried to explain in my interview with Andrew Neil, it would only have redressed an injustice. It would not have been throwing Government money around willy-nilly. Treating people properly is a moral issue.

Many would say that Parliament is now confronted with a problem not of its own making, and that it has to do something to try to resolve the issue. Well, we are always confronted with problems not of our own making. We do not make problems—[Interruption.] Well, I hope we do not make problems, but we have to deal with them. In the case of the problems that have recently come before us—the injustice of the mineworkers’ pension scheme, the injustice of freezing the pension rate for overseas pensioners, the Horizon scandal, and the enormous question of the contaminated blood scandal—we are here to resolve those problems and secure justice for people who have suffered a grotesque injustice. People look to Parliament to achieve that.

We have the report, the information and the knowledge. We understand the injustice that has been done, the poverty that many people have been forced into and the insult when a person in their 60s finds that they cannot access their pension and is told by a DWP job adviser to take an apprenticeship, which is ludicrous. They know full well that they are not going to get it. Those people feel a sense of hurt. They believe that they did the right thing, and they believe that the Government and the DWP have done the wrong thing by them.

Rebecca Hilsenrath answered question 51 of the Work and Pensions Committee’s evidence session, on whether information should have been made better available, which obviously it should have been, by saying that services should be “user-focused”. She thought that the information system was poor, and that the advertising of it was poor.

Clearly many very well informed people were not aware of the dangerous situation they were moving into with their own personal finances. There is an opportunity to resolve this, and it could be resolved with a statement from the Government today undertaking that, by 18 July, when I understand the summer recess starts, they will put forward a proposal for a simple compensation scheme based on a formula, as the Chair of Work and Pensions Committee set out, to ensure that compensation can be speedily paid. If compensation was individualised, we would clearly have to deal with several million individual cases, which would take a very long time.

What we need is justice, and it is up to this Parliament to deliver that justice for women who worked so hard to deliver the services from which we have all benefited. We owe it to them, and we can do it now.

15:38
Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure to follow my good friend and comrade, the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn).

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) on securing and leading this debate. She started with some very hard truths that have to be heard, including the simple fact that we would not be debating this subject today if the Government had allocated their own time to discussing the report and how we go forward, which is exactly what should have happened.

I am getting good at the game of anticipating what is in the Government’s prepared text. We will no doubt be told that the pension changes were made for the great cause of equality—that if we punish people equally, it is a great stride towards equality. The simple and brutal dynamic is, however, that women born in the 1950s have been discriminated against throughout their life. It started with growing up and not having a cheque book or being able to hire a television unless they had the express permission of their father or husband. There was the expectation that if they fell pregnant, they were to leave their employment and give up their careers to raise children. As my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) said, if they were divorced, the expectation of the financial settlement was that their pensionable rights would be there at the age of 60.

The discrimination against 1950s-born women has been going on for a long time. To say to those women with very little notice, as if it is an episode of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”, “We don’t want to give you that. We want you to work an additional six years in the name of equality,” is frankly ludicrous. We need to recognise the injustices and discrimination that many 1950s-born women suffered throughout their life.

We also need to recognise that this change was not about some magical equality formula; it was to make women work longer. We need to have a serious debate about the huge difference between someone’s working age expectancy and their life expectancy, because they are two entirely different things, particularly for women whose work involves hugely physical tasks, as in the care sector and the NHS.

Ian Blackford Portrait Ian Blackford
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My hon. Friend is making an important point. I want to go back to the Cridland report; I remember meeting Cridland at the time. On the issue of healthy life expectancy, to be told that the DWP did not hold such information because that was the responsibility of the Department of Health and Social Care shows the dysfunctionality and the lack of concern about people’s healthy life.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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My right hon. Friend is right. I have always been told that there is joined-up Government here—[Interruption.] Well, I am often told that by Members on the Government Benches, but all too often, hon. Members on the Opposition Benches meet that with the surprised and quizzical look that I just got from the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) on the Labour Front Bench when I said that.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) is correct that we need to consider such things in future, because someone, particularly a woman, who works in a physical environment such as the care sector, the NHS or any other line of work, will not be able to work until they are 66. That is a brutal dynamic.

Several hon. Members, including my good friend the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, mentioned the former Pensions Minister who rose to his feet in the great Westminster Hall debate that was packed to the rafters and said that one of the solutions was for women to apply for an apprenticeship in a new phase of the economy. Those were the most ludicrous comments that I have heard—I have heard many ludicrous comments in my time in this place, but that was No. 1 on the list.

I pay tribute to the WASPI campaigners in Glasgow and Lanarkshire, particularly the great Kathy McDonald and Rosie Dickson, who have campaigned rigorously and vigorously over the last few years, including after the 2019 election, when many people thought that this issue was finished and was not getting anywhere. Those WASPI campaigners—the 1950s-born women who have campaigned consistently on this issue for the last five years in particular—should be commended in this House.

This Parliament has issues to grapple with. Next week we will discuss the report on infected blood; we will have a piece of legislation—rightly so—for the postmasters; and we have the issue before us. I agree with everyone who has spoken so far that we need to conclude this matter before the summer recess, so that we can all say, as a Parliament, that we know and accept the cost. Then we can debate matters going forward. I am very clear about justice for the 1950s-born women, the infected blood community and the postmasters. Those groups should not be blamed for a lack of investment in public infrastructure. The country badly needs those things, and we should not use those wonderful campaigners as an excuse.

I mentioned the great Rosie Dickson. She contacted me earlier with a quote from one of my favourite political philosophers, the great Jimmy Reid, who hailed from Govan, in my Glasgow South West constituency. He said:

“From the very depth of my being, I challenge the right of any man or any group of men, in business or in government, to tell a fellow human being that he or she is expendable.”

The view of many 1950s-born women is that this Government have viewed them as expendable. I want to send a clear message to the House on their behalf, as many of us have today, that they are not expendable. They deserve justice. If justice is delayed, the price tag will go up; I hope the Government recognise that. I hope the Ministers will confirm today that we will see action and justice for those wonderful, brave 1950s-born women.

15:46
John McDonnell Portrait John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab)
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I have lived this campaign for about 10 years, as have a number of other hon. Members. Today, we have heard unanimity from speakers from all political parties across the House. Unless we can get some action quickly, I despair of what parliamentary procedure is left to us. I do not want to go back to swinging the Mace about again, but something needs to happen fairly quickly because anger is building up, in the Chamber, outside and among the WASPI women.

I do not share the view of some hon. Members about the equalisation of pensions. I supported the equalisation of pensions, but not on the basis of the retirement age for women increasing. I thought we were entering a period when we would be reducing the age that men had to work until, so we would equalise pensions that way. The argument then was about whether the economy could afford it. The reason I was trying to equalise pensions by reducing men’s working age was largely for working-class people.

In many of our cities, the difference between the life expectancy of the rich and the poor is something like 20 years. We were told then that life expectancy would be continuously improving, but it has stagnated. Many people do not work in a sedentary role, so as we increase the retirement age—it is now going up to 68 and beyond—they will work until they drop. That is not acceptable, particularly in the economy that we have, where we could redistribute wealth, lower people’s retirement age and give them a decent pension.

I was involved in designing the scheme proposed in 2019. We commissioned Lord Bryn Davies, who is one of the most respected pensions experts in the country, and worked for two years with WASPI and the different groups to design the scheme. My commentary on the proposals by the ombudsman reflects some of the work that was done. We looked at a straightforward scheme. Going into individual cases would take decades, to be frank, so we looked at a flat-rate scheme for everybody, based on an average loss of £100 a week. That resulted in an average payment of £15,000, which is a lot of money. We costed it at more than £50 billion, which seemed a lot of money at the time, but it is less than a third of what the Government saved by increasing the pension age for these women. In addition, we looked at different options: should we pay it over a four or five-year period and reduce the cost to £12 billion a year. When I said during the debate that this was a large amount of money, somebody said that we had just paid out £500 billion to bail out the banks when they had crippled the economy. Then we went into 2020 and covid hit us.

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris
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The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) made some excellent points, but he asked us how we could fund decent pensions and the requisite compensation. I looked up the figures. As a percentage of GDP, the UK spends 5.7% on state pensions and pensions benefits. In Italy, the figure is 16%. In France, it is 13.9%. In Denmark, it is 10.1%. The OECD average is 8.2%. By any measure, we are miles adrift.

John McDonnell Portrait John McDonnell
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I also looked at what had been provided in tax cuts to some of the wealthiest in our country since 2010. It was £100 billion. I looked at how much had been given in corporate welfare benefits, and, again, it was £100 billion. Therefore, although it sounded like a lot of money at the time, in the context of fairness, it was the right amount. That is why the ombudsman’s offer of between £3,000 and £10,000 is derisory; it has to be more than that. The reason for having a flat-rate compensation scheme is for ease of administration, and I would recommend that wholeheartedly.

We have heard today about the individual hardships that people have endured. We cannot allow that to go on any further, which is why this scheme must be expedited. The ombudsman reports and is accountable to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, on which I serve. We have considered each of the reports as they have come forward. We were critical about the delays that were taking place, so we impressed on the ombudsman the urgency of the situation. When we got the report back, we found that it had at least accepted that there had been an injustice and that there needed to be a compensation scheme. We waited with bated breath for the Secretary of State to announce at least the timescale and the timetable for that compensation scheme, but all we heard was that the Government would go away and consider it. That was weeks ago.

PACAC wrote to the Secretary of State and asked for a timetable, stressing the urgency of the matter, because, exactly as Members have said, people are dying. Some people cannot wait, because they either will literally not be here any more, or they are living in poverty and hardship.

We received a reply this week. The Secretary of State said that he would be bringing forward a statement “in due course”. What that means is nothing; it is meaningless. As a Committee, we have agreed to write again to say that that is unacceptable and that we need a clear timetable in which this matter will be addressed and proposals brought forward that we can vote on and, if necessary, amend in this House.

If this Parliament is sovereign and the Government are accountable to this House, I believe that there is a majority, an overwhelming majority, of Members who will vote for a compensation scheme that is readily accessible, and also at a level that reflects the hardship that people have suffered and the scale that most Members would want to see.

As we go into a general election, the issue will not go away. The WASPI women and their campaign will not go away. People have expressed admiration for that campaign, which is not just impressive; it is terrifying. Unless a proposal is brought forward, it will become an election issue. I think people’s votes will stand or fall in many constituencies on the basis of the decision coming out of all the political parties. Voters will, however, blame the Government the most, because there is an opportunity now, as others have said, to make a statement by the recess with a timetable for implementation. We could almost certainly agree the funding. We looked at how to raise the funds. Some could be borrowing, but the Government normally have contingencies for legal liabilities. This is a legal liability. We have the opportunity to act now, and I urge the Government to wake up and listen to what the whole House is saying. If today’s response is not satisfactory, we will be back next week, and if necessary every day until the recess until we get some sense out of the Government.

15:55
Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure, as ever, to follow another expert speech from the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). I commend my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) for securing the debate, and my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) for taking forward his Bill. Both are real WASPI champions, and they make a fierce campaigning duo on the Front Bench.

The state pension is relied upon by more than 12 million of our citizens, and certainty about when they will be able to claim it is pivotal for many more who are planning retirement and making huge decisions based on that date. We now know that when changes to pensions impacting 1950s-born women were being implemented, those changes were not communicated properly. Many received no direct communication at all. Others found out what was to happen too late, having already made major decisions that they would not have made had they known the changes that were ahead. Communicating changes to the state pension must be done well in advance, and using all means possible. That did not happen with the WASPI women. That is the nub of what the ombudsman found, and it is what the Government have to acknowledge.

As the ombudsman said, an apology is due and compensation is owed. Parliament has been asked to take the lead on this, and so the first and most important point that Members have been making unanimously is that the Government must hurry up and deliver. It has already been a long and arduous road to justice for the WASPI women. It has taken far too long, and as has been noted, tragically too many will not get to the end of that road with us. Once again, I pay tribute to my constituent June Miller, a key figure in establishing our Cumbernauld WASPI group. It was an honour to work alongside her and the local team as they were establishing their campaign group, hosting public meetings and running WASPI surgeries. June marched outside Parliament with her WASPI colleagues from across the UK in October 2018. She made the case forcefully, eloquently and patiently—typical of the WASPI campaign.

It is heartbreaking that June is one of more than 280,000 WASPI women to have died during the lifetime of the campaign. That is why the most important message that we are conveying today is that the Government must move swiftly. The Work and Pensions Committee is absolutely right: let us have proposals before the summer, and as has been said a couple of times, those proposals must be amenable to amendment by MPs. It is Parliament specifically that has been tasked with this, not just Government Ministers. As others have said, there is no excuse. The Government should have seen this coming months and years ago.

The big point of contention is clearly the level of compensation. While the ombudsman spoke of level 4 compensation, most of us know that that reflects only the handful of cases that the PHSO looked at, and almost certainly not the range of experiences faced by the WASPI women as a whole. My view is that such a level of compensation feels significantly understated, and is not a fair reflection of the impact that the maladministration had on many of my constituents. I know that lots of hon. Members feel the same way. I therefore join others in commending the work of the all-party parliamentary group, which has argued that fair compensation means level 6 compensation, because of the

“profound, devastating or irreversible impacts”

that the changes had. The point that that went way beyond a financial impact, and caused

“extraordinary emotional, physical and psychological distress”

is consistent with the experience of WASPI women in Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East.

I also think that there is considerable merit in a system that allows for higher payments for those who suffered the shortest notice and faced the longest delays until their state pension age. There will be WASPI cases that have not been examined by the ombudsman where compensation for direct financial loss is absolutely appropriate, but again, speed is important. A general payment for lack of notice should not be delayed, but thereafter I do not see why claims for additional awards for direct loss could not also be proceeded with and considered. In that, there would be a parallel with the Windrush scheme, where concerns about the slowness of decision making led to pressure from the Home Affairs Committee for provisional or interim payments to claimants, which thankfully were implemented. It is possible to have speedy payments for all and thereafter to go on and have detailed consideration of individual claimants.

Another, perhaps even more important, lesson from Windrush that I do not think has been mentioned in this debate is that surely it would be wise for the compensation scheme to be run independently of the DWP, and preferably independently of Government altogether. That is surely sensible if people are to have faith in it, particularly when the Department is proving so reluctant even to recognise that it has done anything wrong. The perception of a lack of independence certainly hindered the Windrush compensation scheme and undermined people’s confidence in coming forward to claim from it. We should learn a lesson from that.

Finally, on another day we will need to come back to the question of why it has taken so long to get here. I do not mean any of this as a criticism of the ombudsman or its staff; it is more to do with the resources available to them and the parameters within which they have to work. However, whether with WASPI, Windrush, Horizon, infected blood or any other recent scandal, time and again the mechanisms for putting right injustice and Government maladministration seem to have been slow, and sometimes even more of a hindrance than a help. We need to revisit and overhaul how such failings are examined and remedied. As we have heard, justice delayed is justice denied, and that has certainly been the case for too many WASPI women.

In conclusion, our constituents are not asking for the earth—they never have been. They are quite realistic about what can and cannot be done, and now they have the backing of the ombudsman. The Government need to recognise, to apologise and to compensate, and more than anything they need to do so urgently.

16:01
Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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It is a pleasure to speak today on behalf of the WASPI women. Every right hon. and hon. Member who has spoken in this debate has done so with a heartfelt desire on behalf of their constituents, and I wish to do the same. A lot has been said, but I want to offer a Northern Ireland perspective in the debate. It unites the voices of those in this Chamber when we speak on behalf of all our constituents within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

In Northern Ireland there are some 77,000 WASPI women—ladies who deserve to have their pension but have been denied it. Tragically, many have passed away. In my Strangford constituency we have approximately 5,000 who should qualify as WASPI women. Although I am the only Northern Ireland MP in the Chamber now, I know that many of my colleagues from other parties have spoken on this issue. I had a well-attended debate on 12 March; it was unfortunate that in that debate Members only had about three minutes. In today’s debate at least Members have had at least 10 or perhaps even 15 minutes, depending on when they came in. I asked a question on the same issue on 25 March in this Chamber and again on 2 May.

This debate is vital, but—and I say this almost as a question—is it necessary? Hon. Members will say, “What do you mean, is it necessary? That’s almost a contradiction.” But it is not. The debate is not necessary: the problem is crystal clear and undisputed, at least by every person who has spoken. That being the case, we should recognise this and grant the compensation in a timely manner. That is what the debate is about. That is what we are asking for, and everyone from all political parties is united on that. We have the ombudsman’s report. Why, then, do we need to debate this issue again today, if the problem and the solution are clear and expected? That is the way I see it.

I congratulate the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), as I often do, on setting the scene; I know this issue has been a passion of hers in this House. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), who will sum up for the SNP at the end of the debate, on his Bill, which I have signed, along with others. The Government could grasp that Bill, push it through and have it all done by July. I also did not know until this debate, when the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) spoke, that he and the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who is not in his place, had a Bill or a process ready to bring forward. Would it be onerous or unrighteous of me to say that perhaps that is something that could be used as a text to move it forward? Right hon. and hon. Members have brought lots of ideas forward.

I say this with great respect to the Minister, who is an honest man and a gentleman, and who does his job well: the Government are dragging their heels. As we have said on multiple occasions, each day that passes means that another lady has been wronged. My constituents and others are missing out not simply on justice—that is reason enough—but on the quality of life that should have been theirs. Parties across the Chamber have come together to reiterate that, but the power for change—and the reason change is not coming forward—lies with the Government. That is the way I see it.

On the many occasions I have spoken about the WASPI ladies, I have given the example of a constituent of mine who was a school cleaner—everybody’s constituencies had school cleaners like her. That lady cleaned the school toilets until she was 60, with arthritis and pain. She spent most of her time on her knees. It is always good to spend time on your knees, as long as it is in prayer, but that lady spent her time on her knees on a floor with cold tiles, and she ended up with arthritis and pains. That is the issue. She focused on the end date when she could stop putting herself in pain and start enjoying her retirement without having to worry about turning her heating on because she could rely on her pension. That lady never had a sick day in 30 years—boy, what a record! She turned up every day for 30 years to clean the toilets at the school. She deserves credit for that.

We know that lady’s generation well. There is no shame in it, but she felt shame about taking benefits, and she worked hard for the entitlement to a well-earned pension, which she thought she was getting. That pension was about nine months or a year ahead of her, when suddenly it turned out to be six years ahead of her. What—really? There needs to be action. That was done to her without so much as a by your leave or a financial plan. I hear people saying, “Well, they knew about the plan,” but many of my WASPI women did not know at all. I cannot remember which Member said that 60% of people did not know about their financial options. My constituent’s option was to continue working on her knees, scrubbing, with tears in her eyes and in pain, which meant that she had to apply for sick pay.

This Government did that to her—and I say that with respect to the Minister. That is the reason why it happened. The ombudsman said that it was not right to do that to my constituent, and that we should compensate that honourable lady and the 5,000 other WASPI women in my constituency, as well as all those across this great United Kingdom. We are no further forward in giving her that entitlement. Meanwhile, those extra years of hard labour have taken their toll physically and emotionally. I genuinely have no words to say to that lady other than: “I am sorry. I continually ask for compensation for you and the others. I am sorry that the Government got it wrong. And I am sorry that it still is not rectified.”

I do not want to heap coals of fire upon the shoulders or the head of the Minister, but the responsibility for this lies with the Government. My words to the Government are clear and direct, and I have plenty of them, but they can all be summed up in a few words: do the right thing, and do it now. That is my request. The Government know their obligation, understand their duty, and accept the rationale behind that, so all we need now is the action to make this happen.

We have seen how quickly compensation can be sorted, so why are we in this position where we are no further forward and doing the right thing seems not to be a priority? It needs to be a priority—it needs to be a priority today, following this debate. It needs to be a priority before the summer recess, whenever that comes. That is the target date that I am asking the Minister to aim for, because we need to give hope to our constituents and those WASPI women who have resolutely, courageously, and in many cases physically, withstood the test of time.

I believe that compensation should be granted in the form of a lump sum to help pay off any outstanding loans or debts, and there should then be an enhanced payment for a clear and set period of time. We have heard stories today of people who made their plans on the grounds of the pension plan that they had, only to find out that they had been disempowered, and all the plans they had made had to be scrapped. They lost their houses, their jobs and their health. What are we doing to help those people?

Margaret Greenwood Portrait Margaret Greenwood
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The hon. Gentleman is making a sensitive and excellent speech. Does he agree that this is not only about the loss of a pension from the age of 60, the fact that people have not been able to plan and so forth? For many women, their occupational pension will have been tied to the date of their retirement or their state pension—it varies a lot, depending on what the pension scheme is. Some women have lost thousands upon thousands of pounds as a result of this decision.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. The occupational pension is another factor; it is incorporated in the plan that these people have made for their future. It is wonderful how you make a plan for the future and then the Government scupper it on you! All of a sudden, these ladies have found themselves in difficult circumstances, so I believe it is necessary to have a compensation scheme in place to help all of those ladies.

I will conclude with one more comment, ever mindful of the time limit that we all indicated we would keep to. I understand the magnitude of such a scheme, but we were able to get support quickly to households across the UK for cost of living and energy payments—something that I commend the Government on. That can be done on many occasions; we just need the commitment to make it happen. I know that the Government have the ability and the capacity to roll out all these schemes, so along with almost every other colleague in this House today, I sincerely ask that we prioritise finding a compensation formula and rolling it out. These women, our constituents—brave, courageous women—deserve no less, and we must ensure that we give them no less.

16:12
Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). Like everybody else, I commend my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) for securing this debate, and for all the work she has done in speaking up for 3.8 million affected women for all these years. I also commend all the other Members who have spoken in today’s debate; there have been powerful speeches, and powerful but harrowing stories of how various constituents have been affected by the increases in the state pension age for women.

There is a Back-Bench consensus today that the Government have dragged their heels, that a response is now long overdue, and that compensation is due. We have also disproved the nonsense that women should have known about the increases in their state pension age. Financial advisers and lawyers did not even know: as my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) said, divorces were granted on the basis of women accessing their pensions at the age of 60.

Some Labour Back Benchers today have rightly criticised the Government for their lack of action and for their policies elsewhere, but then somehow bristled at SNP speakers calling out the silence of their own Front Benchers. We are willing to work cross-party, but we also need pressure for action. If we do not call out what we think is wrongdoing, we are not doing the right thing for the WASPI women who we are all here to represent today.

We would not be in this Chamber today, debating this issue as parliamentarians, if not for fantastic campaigners such as Ayrshire WASPI Group, Cunninghame WASPI Group, WASPI in my constituency, WASPI Scotland, and of course the wider WASPI organisation. I pay tribute to my constituent Ann Hammell, who brought the issue to my attention in my early period as an MP in 2015. Again, it was heartening to hear so many MPs commend their own local campaigners.

Turning to the ombudsman’s report, there are a few key aspects: the findings and confirmation of maladministration in the DWP, compensation to be paid, and Government failures. I will explore each in turn. The ombudsman has not only confirmed that it believes that the DWP is guilty of maladministration, but has expressed outright anger at the belligerence of the Department and, by default, this Tory Government. I welcome the robust comments of the ombudsman’s chief executive, Rebecca Hilsenrath, who has stated:

“The UK’s national Ombudsman has made a finding of failings by DWP in this case and has ruled that the women affected are owed compensation. DWP has clearly indicated that it will refuse to comply. This is unacceptable.”

I agree with her.

It beggars belief that, in 2024, the Government are suddenly pretending that this ombudsman’s report is a bolt out of the blue and very complex. It is three years since the ombudsman found that the DWP was guilty of maladministration because of its lack of communication about increasing the state pension age. It is scandalous that the ombudsman is actually having to ask Parliament to find a way to create a mechanism to provide compensation for those affected. If the ombudsman does not trust the UK Government to do the right thing, I do not trust them either.

Unfortunately, at the moment I also do not trust the official Opposition, who have been too quiet on the report findings to date. That is why I have brought forward my private Member’s Bill, the State Pension Age (Compensation) Bill, which sets out a compensation framework. We need to remember that the Prime Minister was the Chancellor who boasted about setting up the furlough scheme in a couple of weeks for the covid lockdown. Clearly, if there is a Government will, there is a way, so why do the Government not have the will to get on with a compensation scheme for the WASPI women?

In the ombudsman’s report, compensation is unfortunately set at just level 4, which feels wrong. For the majority of the 3.8 million women affected, it feels like a smack in the face. Compensation of between £1,000 and £2,950 is an inadequate maximum payout. The WASPI APPG recommended level 6 for the worst affected, and my private Member’s Bill takes a similar approach. I have suggested a framework that follows the clear logic that those affected by the biggest increase in state pension age, while in effect having the shortest notice period, should receive the most compensation.

As for the 2.5 million women who have had to wait five years or more to access their pension, it would be absurd to award them just level 4 compensation of less than £3,000. In my framework, they would be allocated compensation at PHSO level 6, which is about £10,000. Those who have not had to wait quite as long, but who were still badly affected in some cases, will get levels 4 and 5, with a minority on lower levels. I thank Members from across the House who have signed my private Member’s Bill.

This subject has been debated in Parliament for nine years, and for over nine years these women and their families have been fighting for justice. It is tragic that, as has been repeated many times, the women are dying at a rate of 40,000 a year, or one WASPI woman every 13 minutes, and they are not getting the justice they deserve. This underlines that it is critical that Parliament takes action now.

However, there has not even been a suggestion on the way forward from the official Opposition. They should be putting proposals to the Government, and saying what they would do if they were in government. If their solution was accepted by the Government, they could then claim credit for getting compensation over the line. Instead, we have heard nothing from the Opposition—zip—apart from weasel words about listening. I hope the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), will change my mind and offer proposals during her summing up, but there was a bad example last week in the Scottish Parliament, when Labour MPs sat on their hands when it came to voting for compensation for the WASPI women. They had the temerity to get photographs taken with the campaigners, and to tell them that they backed them, but then they went into the Chamber in Holyrood, sat on their hands and actively abstained, which was disgraceful.

As I say, I hope the shadow Minister will bring forward proposals, but I would like her and the Minister responding to the debate to consider the constituents’ stories we have heard today, and a few of mine as well. Lynn was exhausted after working for 34 years in the NHS and agreed to take early retirement at 55, but she found out on her last day of work that it would be 11 years before she got the state pension, not the five years she anticipated. Nancy was widowed at the age of 54, while she was working part time, which was clearly traumatic emotionally and financially. She has suffered umpteen chronic health conditions while caring for her parents, but was forced to take NHS bank work just to survive.

Lesley, who has sometimes worked three jobs to make ends meet, was a carer for her partner when he had cancer, a carer for her dad when he had cancer, and had a period of travelling to Southampton every weekend to visit her aunt—superwoman efforts that would exhaust anybody. It is little wonder that she took early retirement age 56, only to discover later that she had to wait six years longer than she thought to access her pension.

Do not dare tell those women and others like them that they need to wait longer for justice. These are women who did not have maternity rights back in the day. They were paid less than men, and were more likely to work part time, and their private pensions were smaller, if they had them. In reality, pension age equalisation has further disadvantaged those women, especially as they were told that to get a full pension, they had to pay extra NI contributions. It is time that the right thing was done, and that right thing is fair and fast compensation now.

16:20
Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab)
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I, too, thank the Backbench Business Committee for making time for this important debate from the limited time that it has to allocate. I have listened carefully to every contribution. A number of Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi), the hon. Members for Livingston (Hannah Bardell), for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens), and for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), talked about the experience of women who have been part of this campaign, or who described to their MP what they had been through. Some Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood), and for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), also mentioned the context of those experiences, and the systematic sexism that women have faced.

Other Members described the detail of the ombudsman’s report, and the possibilities for redress, including the hon. Members for Waveney (Peter Aldous), for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker), for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain), and for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), and my right hon. Friends the Members for Knowsley (Sir George Howarth), and for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms), who chairs the Work and Pensions Committee.

We have had a thorough and extensive debate this afternoon. I recognise and pay tribute to the women who have joined us today, or who have watched the debate from afar. As I say, it has been a full discussion. The ombudsman’s report is important and has serious lessons for the Government. It also relates the serious consequences for the women who experienced the events that it describes. The ombudsman has rightly said that it is for the Government to respond, and that Parliament should consider the report’s findings. As we have heard, the Work and Pensions Committee has begun that process, and will hear from Ministers next week, I believe. I will follow those proceedings carefully.

In March, the Secretary of State said in this Chamber that he would proceed “without undue delay”, and on Monday he said that he still required an appropriate amount of time to consider the ombudsman’s conclusion. My first question is about time. For all the reasons that Members have set out, it would be helpful if the Minister set out a timescale, and told us, crucially, what advice has been provided to the Government, and what analysis is under way in the Department. It would be helpful to know what the process is.

In the absence of that further update from the Government, Labour’s position remains the same as it was when the ombudsman’s report was published. We are all waiting for the Government to respond, so I will not diverge from what my hon. Friend and colleague the Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) said six weeks ago. Although I understand the political reasons why the SNP wants to put pressure on me, I am not the Minister, and I do not have access to the information and advice that the Government have. I therefore call on the Government to respond without delay.

Issues around changes to the state pension have spanned multiple Parliaments, but I remind everybody that the moment that sparked the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign was the Pensions Act 2011, in which the then Chancellor, George Osborne, decided to accelerate state pension age increases with very little notice—a time described accurately by the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber. George Osborne’s comment that that

“probably saved more money than anything else we’ve done”

made me angry at the time, as I imagine it angered many other women. During that period, Labour tabled amendments that would have ensured that proper notice was given, so that women could plan for their retirement. That would have gone some way to dealing with the problem.

Have the Government, even now, done an analysis of why they pressed ahead with the changes, despite the clear consequences? In any case, the ombudsman began investigating how changes to the state pension age were communicated in 2019. That year, the High Court ruled that the ombudsman could not recommend changes to the state pension itself, or the reimbursement of lost pensions, because those issues had been decided on by Parliament, as many Members have mentioned.

The ombudsman’s report states that internal research from DWP in 2004 found that about 40% of the women affected knew about the changes to the state pension age. Is that still the Government’s assessment, now that the report has been published, or are they looking for other evidence? What is their assessment of the total number of women who would receive compensation under the different options put forward by the ombudsman? How many of them are the poorest pensioners, and how many of them are on pension credit? How many of those affected have already retired or sadly passed away? Given that the Government knew, as Members have described, that there were problems communicating the changes to the state pension age, I wonder about that moment in 2011, and precisely what advice was provided to Ministers at the time.

Let us think about the principle here. The Government are committed to providing 10 years’ notice of future changes to the state pension age. In 2015, the Pensions Commission found that that should be 15 years’ notice. It is important for the Government to state why there is that difference. We all want a result of this debate to be a guarantee that information about any future changes to the state pension age will be timely and helpful for the individuals affected. We have problems with the pensions dashboards. What is going on with pensions information? Crucially, will the response to the ombudsman’s report, when it comes, contain a list of the lessons that the Department is learning, and measures that it is putting in place?

The ombudsman took the rare decision to ask Parliament to intervene on this issue because it had doubts, as many Members have described, about whether the Department would provide a remedy. In the light of those concerns, and to aid Parliament with its work, I ask again, as we did previously, for the Government to commit to laying out all relevant information, and placing it in the Library. I have some experience of dealing with historical injustices, and I must impress on the Minister that my experience from dealing with the Hillsborough disaster is that open access to the evidence is extremely important. I hope that, in the spirit of the Hillsborough law, the Government will come forward and put that information before us, so that we can see it.

I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. I do not imagine that we will get a response today to the ombudsman’s report, but will he at least set out the timetable for a response, because we cannot move on until we have that? I hope that the women affected by all these changes—including those changes expedited in 2011—who were born just after the second world war can soon hear the Government’s response. As many have mentioned, they were born long before a woman’s place at work, and women’s full rights to their own earnings and pensions, were secured.

This place has always been slow when it comes to women’s rights. In 1951, more than 30 years after women could first come here, just 17 of 650 MPs were women, yet women of that generation built the platform that we all stand on. They fought to change things for women, and the least they deserve is a response from the Government to the ombudsman’s report.

16:29
Paul Maynard Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Paul Maynard)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for finding the time to host the debate. We have heard from Members on both sides of the House and from across the whole country, who have spoken both eloquently and passionately on behalf of their constituents. I know that many in the Public Gallery, as well as those listening remotely, who will be taking a close, scrutinising interest in this matter. I am always conscious that it is on behalf of those women that we are deliberating.

I pay tribute to those in my own constituency who have campaigned long and hard and met me down the years, even in recent weeks. I readily acknowledge the strength of feeling on both sides of the House. The Government are listening. What colleagues have had to say during the debate, which I have heard, will be taken fully into consideration.

In the oral statement made to the House on 25 March, the Secretary of State explained that the ombudsman’s report is complex, with the events that it considers spanning about 30 years. He committed to provide an

“update to the House once we have considered the report’s findings.”—[Official Report, 25 March 2024; Vol. 747, c. 1281.]

I understand the wide interest in this matter across the Chamber. We are all united in wanting a resolution. The ombudsman’s investigation has taken five years and produced a substantial report that requires careful and considered scrutiny. It is only right that we should give it that scrutiny. The Government are giving full and proper consideration to the ombudsman’s report, and that work is ongoing. The issues to be decided are significant and complex and require detailed understanding and deliberation.

I would like to remind the House of the Government’s strong track record of supporting pensioners. In 2024-25, we will spend more than £167 billion on benefits for pensioners. That is 6% of GDP and includes spending on the state pension, which is forecast to be about £138 billion in 2024-25. We are honouring the triple lock, having increased the basic and new state pensions by 8.5% in April. In 2024-25, the full yearly amount of the basic state pension will be £3,700 higher in cash terms than it was in 2010. We now have 200,000 fewer pensioners in absolute poverty after housing costs.

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris
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I am grateful to the Minister for sharing those figures. I am aware that people are a bit sceptical about statistics—someone said in the Select Committee the other day that 83.6% of all statistics were made up; I am not sure if that is true. Can I just advise the Minister of this? We have the poorest pensioners in Europe. Just 5.7% of our UK GDP is spent on state pensions and pensions benefits, compared with 16% in Italy, 13.9% in France, 11.9% in Spain, and an OECD average of 8.2%. His suggestion that our pensioners are generously provided for does not stand up to scrutiny.

Paul Maynard Portrait Paul Maynard
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I am grateful for that contribution. I heard the hon. Gentleman make those comments in his speech as well. I am trying to remember the precise figures, but I cannot, so I will write to him. More generally—this point is often made to me by pension experts—the international numbers are not directly comparable because each welfare system is entirely different, particularly in the public-private split in how pension systems are funded. To say that one percentage is generous while another percentage is not generous is not quite the point. I shall write to him none the less, because I think that he will find the fine print useful for his future contributions.

George Howarth Portrait Sir George Howarth
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The Minister said that the Government are to give the ombudsman’s report serious consideration before they decide what to do. How long does he think that process will take?

Paul Maynard Portrait Paul Maynard
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If I may, I will answer that in a moment, because I will now turn back to the report. In laying the report before Parliament, the ombudsman brought matters to the House’s attention, making it clear that Parliament has a role in responding to the report. The Government intend to engage fully and constructively with Parliament. I view this debate as a crucial part of that process.

I remind the House about what the ombudsman’s report says—and indeed does not say. The ombudsman has looked not at the decision to equalise the state pension age but rather at how that decision was communicated by the DWP. That is important to understand, as the motion calls on the Government to

“deliver prompt compensation to women born in the 1950s who had their State Pension age raised.”

Importantly, the ombudsman’s report hinted at the Department’s decisions over a narrow period between 2005 and 2007, and their effect on individual notifications. The ombudsman has not found that women have directly lost out financially as a result DWP actions. The report stated:

“We do not find that it”—

the DWP’s communication—

“resulted in them suffering direct financial loss.”

The final report does not say that all women born in the 1950s will have been adversely impacted, as many women were aware that the state pension age had changed. The stage 1 report found that between 1995 and 2004, the DWP’s communication of changes to the state pension age reflected the standards that the ombudsman would expect it to meet. That report also confirmed that accurate information about changes to the state pension age was publicly available in leaflets, through the DWP pension education campaigns and DWP agencies and on its website. However, when considering the Department’s actions between August 2005 and December 2007, the ombudsman came to the view that they resulted in 1950s-born women receiving individual notice later than they might have done had different decisions been made.

I welcome the wide-ranging contributions from Members on behalf of their constituents.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown
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The ombudsman clearly said that the DWP was guilty of maladministration during the period of 2005 to 2007. Does the Minister accept the finding that the DWP was guilty of maladministration, and should put its hands up to that?

Paul Maynard Portrait Paul Maynard
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I recognise that there will be an appetite from some Opposition Members for the Government to respond item by item to different parts of the ombudsman’s report, but the Government wish to respond in full when they have reached a conclusion from their deliberations. I will not go down the path that the hon. Gentleman seeks to take me along.

Some of the detailed commentary from Members today illustrates the interlocking considerations at play, depending on how each Member of Parliament responds to the report. The fact that so many have spoken today demonstrates the importance of this issue. Many parliamentary activities are worth noting to understand how they fit in. The Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, the right hon. Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms), mentioned the evidence session held last week and the recommendation that he has made to the Department, which I read after he mentioned it, so I have only just seen it.

Late last month I was able to meet the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) and my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), the chair and co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group, to discuss our initial views of the report and what steps they intended to pursue to take further evidence. I am looking forward to seeing what they have to say. I have noted the evidence given last week to the Select Committee. I also took careful note of what occurred in the Scottish Parliament. The many views expressed so far provide valuable input to the ongoing deliberations.

Let me come to the question from the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) about the written answer she received. I will take my glasses off to read this, because the print is very small and not clear: in November 2023, alongside other interested parties, the DWP received a copy of the PHSO’s revised provisional views on injustice, which was stage two of the inquiry, and remedies, which were stage three, for comment. The DWP responded with its comments in January 2024. The Department was notified by the PHSO on 19 March that the final report would be received on 21 March 2024, at a meeting between the permanent secretary and the ombudsman. I note that the hon. Lady’s written question was about the final report as opposed to the preliminary report.

Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain
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It was about the draft report, but I am grateful for that clarity.

Paul Maynard Portrait Paul Maynard
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Members raised questions about changes to the state pension age. As I said, the ombudsman’s report is clear that it cannot consider the impact of changes in the law on state pension age. The changes are set out in primary legislation and, as such, were agreed by Parliament. The announcement in 1993 of the equalisation of the state pension age addressed a long-standing inequality between men and women. The changes were also about maintaining the right balance between the sustainability of the state pension, fairness between generations and ensuring a dignified retirement.

Changes to the state pension age were made in a series of Acts by successive Governments from 1995 onwards, following public consultations and extensive debates in both Houses of Parliament. From the 1940s until April 2010, the state pension age was 60 for women and 65 for men. The decision to equalise the state pension age for men and women dates back to 1995. It was right to address a long-standing inequality between men’s and women’s state pension age. The report of the Pensions Commission in 2005 recommended that the state pension age should increase in a staged way to 68 in the three decades following the completion of equalisation in 2020. A broad consensus on that was achieved largely due to the commission’s evidence base, which showed that state pension age should follow increases in life expectancy to help ensure the affordability and sustainability of the state pension.

Legislation passed in 2007 introduced a series of increases, starting with a state pension age of 66 between 2024 and 2026, and ending with an increase to 68 between 2044 and 2046. As has been observed, the Pensions Act 2011 accelerated the equalisation of women’s state pension age by 18 months and brought forward the increase in men’s and women’s state pension age to 66 by five and a half years, relative to the previous timetables. The changes in the 2011 Act occurred following a public call for evidence and extensive debates in Parliament. During the passage of the Act, Parliament legislated for a concession worth £1.1 billion. The concession reduced the proposed increase in state pension age for more than 450,000 men and women, and meant that no woman saw their state pension age change by more than 18 months relative to the timetable set by the Pensions Act 1995.

Ian Blackford Portrait Ian Blackford
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Will the Minister give way?

Paul Maynard Portrait Paul Maynard
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Sorry, I won’t.

During the course of the ombudsman’s investigation, state pension age changes were considered by the courts. In 2019 and 2020, the High Court and Court of Appeal respectively found no fault with the actions of DWP. The courts made clear that under successive Governments dating back to 1995, the action taken was entirely lawful and did not discriminate on any grounds. During those proceedings, the Court of Appeal held that the High Court was entitled to conclude as a fact that there had been

“adequate and reasonable notification given by the publicity campaigns implemented by the Department over a number of years”.

We recognise the importance of providing information in good time about the state pension age to help individuals to plan for their retirement. Since 1995, the Government have used a range of methods to inform people about the increases in state pension age, including the provision of detailed and personalised information. The methods have included leaflets explaining the legislative changes, pensions education campaigns, press advertising and direct mailing exercises to millions of people. People have been able to request personalised state pension information since the 1980s.

John McDonnell Portrait John McDonnell
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We do not know the timing of the general election—possibly November, but maybe later—but it is likely that we will have only about 10 sitting weeks between now and a general election. Can I impress on the Minister to take back to his fellow Ministers that we need the proposals rapidly in those 10 weeks, and certainly before recess, if we are to get a viable scheme through Parliament?

Paul Maynard Portrait Paul Maynard
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I am happy to confirm that I will take that message back. I have heard it clearly today. I understand the points about the Work and Pensions Committee’s findings, too. The right hon. Gentleman will have heard the Secretary of State—and me, in oral questions on Monday—say that we wish to have no undue delay. That remains the case. I recognise that people are frustrated by that phrase, but it is an accurate phrase. We do not wish undue delay. As I keep saying, it is a complex issue. It is not just a matter of ticking a box. It needs to be gotten right, and we understand all the ramifications and options that are open to us.

Between April 2000 and February 2021, the DWP provided more than 41.2 million personalised state pension statements, and it continues to do so. As well as issuing letters to the 6.9 million women and men born in the 1950s notifying them of the state pension age increase, the DWP sent around 17.8 million automatic state pension forecasts between 2003 and 2006, which included a leaflet explaining that the state pension age for women was increasing.

As I have outlined, the Government recognise the importance of this issue. The ombudsman report has been laid before Parliament, and we have been invited to take a view and engage with this issue. Today is one part of that. We will listen to the views of the House with great seriousness. The report is currently being given active and extensive consideration within the Department, by me and by the Secretary of State. We will seek to provide a further update without, as I say, undue delay, and I hope to give the issue the airing that it deserves as soon as that is practically possible.

16:44
Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson
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Let me end the debate by making a few observations.

The motion garnered unanimous support from Back-Bench speakers, which expressed the will of the House, but unfortunately the contributions from the Labour and Government Front Benches did not reflect that cross-party consensus. Justice is too important to be denied for fear of the price tag. I remind the House that the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman concluded that ignoring the findings of the report would create an unprecedented constitutional gap in the protection of the rights of citizens who had been failed by a public body in respect of ensuring access to justice. That constitutional gap presents a danger to our very democracy.

What we have seen today is an apparent refusal from the Government Front Bench to accept the report’s findings, while, disappointingly, the Labour Front Bench continues to refuse to make any commitment to the WASPI women. That is why Labour Members of the Scottish Parliament were ordered to abstain on calls for compensation last week. I note that the tone of the response from the Labour Front Bench to this crisis—for it is a crisis—is entirely different from the tone of Labour Front Benchers when they speak of the infected blood scandal and the Horizon calamity. It is disappointing that the UK Government’s response takes us no further forward, and it is disappointing that the same applies to the Labour Front Bench. We have heard about considering, engaging, reflecting; what we have not heard about is any action, or any timeframe for action. It seems that the cosy, “do nothing” consensus between the Front Benches continues, which means that the campaign for justice for WASPI women—despite being vindicated by the ombudsman—must also continue.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House notes the findings of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman report on Women’s State Pension age; and calls on the Government to deliver prompt compensation to women born in the 1950s who had their State Pension age raised.