Pension Equality for Women

Alan Brown Excerpts
Thursday 14th December 2017

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Work and Pensions
Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:20 p.m.

We need to address where we are now—[Interruption.] Well, the hon. Lady asked a question. Do we think that the change was wrong? I think that the 1995 changes were incorrect. Under the Pensions Act 2011, those changes—they were originally spread over a longer period—were expedited, and the former Pensions Minister, Steve Webb, has elaborated on that point.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP) - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:21 p.m.

I commend the hon. Gentleman for his speech. To clarify, the Pensions Act 1995 was introduced by a Tory Government, while the Pensions Act 2011 was put through by a Tory-Lib Dem coalition. Why the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) referred to Gordon Brown is a mystery.

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:21 p.m.

I will give way to the Minister.

Break in Debate

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 2:41 p.m.

I will not. I apologise, but I do not have much time.

The WASPI women have been betrayed. They have been robbed of their dignity and were insulted when they needed help from the Government. I believe the Minister to be a good man who has taken a lot of stick on this matter, so he is in the perfect position to give the WASPI women hope, although his comments on apprenticeships have not built trust in this Government.

Let there be no more debates after today, and no more excuses. Let us have a decent settlement for women. The Minister and the Government are on the wrong side of history. These WASPI women are not going away. They will fight on; they will not tire; and they will not give up. As the son of a WASPI woman, let me say that neither will I.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP) - Parliament Live - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 2:42 p.m.

I stand to speak again on behalf of the 6,500 women affected in my constituency. I would also like to pay tribute to the campaigns up and down the United Kingdom, including by my local Ayrshire WASPI group.

In the last debate on this matter, I compared the different world that many Tories live in with the real world, and then—right on cue—up popped the hon. Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), arguing that women aged 65 should be able to get apprenticeships. It beggars belief to think that that is a credible option. It is even worse given that year-one apprentices over the age of 19 are entitled to a minimum wage of only £3.50 an hour. In the same debate, giving bus passes at an earlier age was also considered to be some mitigating concession, but that would go no way to make up for this injustice. In Scotland, the Scottish National party Government already give bus passes at the age of 60, so that measure would do nothing for women in Scotland. While I was thinking about these things yesterday, I got an email from the hon. Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay), who is looking to raise funds to bring back the Royal Yacht Britannia. You could not make it up—that is actually considered to be a serious campaign when there are all these other injustices.

In the real world, life expectancy has dropped this year for the first time in decades, as actuaries have shown. In the real world, The BMJ report estimates that 120,000 deaths are attributable to Tory austerity measures. In this real world that I live in, I get notified of a WASPI woman, suffering from cancer, who is likely going to lose her house. Her husband is stressed by having to work much longer to try to keep the household going. Meanwhile, her MP, the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant), has confirmed in writing to another Ayrshire WASPI woman that

“in Government difficult decisions have to be made and whilst in opposition you can promise the earth but do not need to deliver it”.

No one here is promising the earth. We want justice for these women. They should get the money that they are entitled to.

The hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock also says that he believes

“that successive Governments have taken adequate steps to inform the public about these changes”.

That is effectively saying that it is these women’s fault that they did not know about the changes. No one can credibly say that successive Governments have notified the women properly. Then there is the myth the Tory Government mitigated the impact on those most affected by the Pensions Act 2011. That is like saying that the school bully only took £2 rather than the £3 they demanded, so it is therefore a £1 mitigation measure. That is not mitigation at all.

In the wider world of the Scottish Tories, they argue, on some technicality, that the Scottish Government have the powers to do something about the situation. The Scottish Parliament does not have the competence to deal with pensions. At the same time, the Scottish Government’s budget has been cut by £2.5 billion and the Scottish Government are having to mitigate the effects of other measures, including bedroom tax and council tax. It was Westminster that refused to devolve pensions and voted against full fiscal autonomy for Scotland, so there is no way that the blame can be levelled at the Scottish Government.

There have been arguments about how much mitigation measures may cost and the Government have queried the independent report commissioned by the SNP that said that such measures would cost £8 billion. In the last debate, the Government Minister threw in the figure of £70 billion for good measure as an estimate of the cost of reversing the Pensions Act 2011 and the Pensions Act 1995, even though we did not call for that. I have updated figures from the Library on the Government’s tax giveaways such as corporation tax, inheritance tax, savings concessions and the higher tax threshold, extrapolated until the year 2025. These will cost the Treasury £63 billion. Corporation tax giveaways until 2025 will cost £50 billion. There is the solution. It is staring the Minister in the face. These are the choices that the Government have to make.

Laura Pidcock (North West Durham) (Lab) Parliament Live - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 2:46 p.m.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) for securing this debate. My mam is a WASPI woman. As the daughter of a WASPI woman, worse than the so-called burden on my generation or younger generations is seeing my mam not getting what she deserves, and the consequences of that, so I definitely do not see it as a burden.

There is an overwhelming case to reach a compensatory and transitional arrangement for women who were born in the 1950s—women who, through no fault of their own, have been robbed of a decent retirement. However, despite this long debate, I am sure that those women do not feel as though their voices will be heard by this Government. We will see when the Minister rises to his feet. If the hardship was really heard, the Government would take action.

I asked women to share their experiences, and they were stark and heartbreaking. Contrary to the comments on the Government Benches about the individualised nature of these experiences, there were patterns. It was a collective experience. For example, it is clear and cannot be disputed that these women have been left without information by the Department for Work and Pensions. The word that they used repeatedly about how they felt was “cheated”. The lack of notification has consequences; that is clear and cannot be disputed.

Women who often started work at the age of 15 have been suddenly asked to rip up their retirement plans and scratch around to make a living. Because of those new and sudden realities, they have been forced into often back-breaking temporary zero-hours work with no security or job satisfaction just to make it through to their retirement age. Illness has made them desperate and trapped, and having to search for ways to make ends meet is frightening in this new financial environment. Financial insecurity and poverty have caused many to experience acute mental health problems. Caring responsibilities have left them exhausted and with gaps in their pensions through no fault of their own.

Overall, these women, who have worked all their lives and have not had the advantages of many in this place—and for many, life has been a struggle—have felt utterly let down by the DWP, by their representatives in the House, and by the Government. What happens in this place has massive consequences.

This is one woman’s reality. She says that she is living from “hand to mouth”. It really is about whether she can “heat or eat”. She writes:

“I am not in the best of health…If I am unwell and cannot work I don’t get paid. I should not be in this position! I should have been informed years ago of the massive increase in state pension age! An additional six years to work is…unfair, it’s the best part of a decade and that means a lot when you’re in your 60s! I feel hopeless and frustrated. What will my health be like in another four years’ time? Will I ever get to enjoy my retirement?”

Those words are truly heartbreaking, and there are thousands of similar stories from thousands of women in my constituency.

These women want to know where their money is. They want to know how a contractual relationship with the state can just be ripped up. They want to know how there can be no consequences for the administrative inadequacies of the state. They know, deep down, that where there is a will there is a way. I say to the Government: please give these women the future that is rightfully theirs. When they do win, they will not be grateful, but they will be glad that they did not give up.