Pension Equality for Women DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Alan BrownMain Page: Alan Brown (Scottish National Party) - Kilmarnock and Loudoun)
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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.
Break in Debate
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.
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.