Pension Equality for Women

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Excerpts
Thursday 14th December 2017

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Work and Pensions
Madam Deputy Speaker - Hansard

Order. As I have indicated, a great many people wish to speak, so we will have to start with a time limit of six minutes.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Mrs Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con) - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:36 p.m.

I thank my north-east colleague, the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris), for securing this important debate.

Yesterday, in Parliament, we celebrated the centenary of the formation of the Women’s Royal Naval Service. We celebrated and remembered the service and sacrifice of the women who gave so much to our nation. Today, we are yet again debating the plight of 3.8 million women from across the United Kingdom who have been financially impacted by the lack of notice of pension increases—our WASPI women. Those women have quietly contributed to our nation’s economic growth throughout their working lives in paid work, alongside providing the bedrock on which our families and children depend, through unpaid parental and caring duties, without question. Those women have now created one of the biggest campaigns we have witnessed in many years, because Governments of all colours over two decades have failed them.

As a believer in the power of people peacefully coming together to campaign for change and working together for what they believe is right, I am completely supportive of the WASPI women from across our country, many of whom are here today, including two dedicated and effective campaigners from my own constituency who are leading the campaigning. They are giving up all their time to voice the concerns of my 6,200 Berwick-upon-Tweed WASPI constituents, the 23,800 WASPI women across Northumberland and the 3,777,000 across our four nations.

In this debate, we need to remember that the WASPI women have served our nation in many different forms and guises. We have military service personnel, teachers, doctors, nurses, mothers, midwives, accountants, farmers, lawyers and office workers—those are just the ones who come to see me in my constituency—and many others who have been the backbone of our nation’s economy since they started work in the late 1960s. Those women have provided the building blocks that have taken our country through the strong economic times and the hard. We need to keep them in mind during this debate, not just as one big story, but by remembering the individual story of each WASPI woman who has come to our surgeries with problems of financial hardship.

With that in mind, I would like to reflect on some of the issues faced by my WASPI women living in north Northumberland. People in my patch have a strong and ingrained spirit of independence and self-sufficiency. Perhaps it is a remnant of the border reiver spirit that being on the border of two nations brings, but I sit comfortably with my Scottish friends here today.

A long history of hard work, regardless of weather—of which we have much—remains the hallmark of rural Northumberland. That is particularly clear in the strength of the women who have been to see me. They have raised families alongside a lifetime of hard work and have made sacrifices to ensure that future generations have better lives than previous generations. That last point means that it is hard for some women, who have explained this to me in great detail, to ask for benefits to survive, particularly because they were led to believe that they would be receiving the state pension, into which they had paid, at a certain time, but that has now been altered without due time to prepare.

Mark Menzies Portrait Mark Menzies (Fylde) (Con) - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:40 p.m.

I recognise the type of people to whom my hon. Friend is referring. Women out there clearly feel that they have experienced miscommunication, and they are facing genuine hardship, so I ask my hon. Friend to continue her cause.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Mrs Trevelyan - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:41 p.m.

I thank my hon. Friend. It is so important that we think of the individual women. There may be 3.8 million of them, but that means 3.8 million individual women across our nations. These women have worked hard all their lives and now face some incredibly difficult circumstances, and ill health can mean that they are struggling to survive on what they have. The lack of notice of changes to their pensionable age means that their financial plans—where they were able to make them—have been thrown entirely out of kilter.

Such issues are exacerbated by the intrinsic problems that people face in rural areas. Job opportunities can be limited, and I have met constituents who face age discrimination when trying to get back into the workplace as a result of the changes. The challenge is compounded by limited or non-existent—as it is many parts of my constituency—rural public transport. Connectivity can be extremely poor for some people who live many miles from a bus stop. Without a car, many people’s options are severely restricted. The personal stories of financial adversity faced by my constituents have been beyond frustrating for me to listen to.

Those of us who brought together the all-party parliamentary group on state pension inequality for women have found the Department for Work and Pensions unwilling to engage with us to try to build a relationship to seek viable and fair solutions for the 3.8 million women. Every case is unique, and each woman’s financial situation is different, and we need to treat each one on its merits. I gently suggest to the DWP and to Ministers that that needs to be how we start to treat the women.

Too many women have told me of the inefficiency and inconsistency in the treatment of their cases by the DWP, and I will be most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), my constituency neighbour and our Pensions Minister, if he tackles today the impasse that this campaign and the Department seem to have reached. I have tried on the behalf of my constituents to bring all the parties together for a considered, open discussion to provide some progress on these historical failings. Sadly, I have so far been unsuccessful.

Whatever the historical failures of communication on the changes to the pension age, and regardless of which Government, of whichever colour, failed to get this right over the past 20 years, the key questions for me are how we now start to work together, listen to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman and tackle the failure to deal with the WASPI women’s complaints. We want to ensure that the Department puts in place rigorous processes for the pension age changes that are no doubt to come. I am sure that I will be 80 before I am allowed to retire, and I want to be certain that, whoever is in government, the Department is comfortable that it has robust processes in place so that this situation can never happen again.

Women rarely push themselves forward; they are wont just to get on with life and look after their families. However, this situation has driven them to gather together and speak with one voice on behalf of each other as much as for themselves. It behoves us as their Members of Parliament and the incumbent Government, who have been asked to right historical failings, to listen and to work with my constituents to find a fair and honest solution. I urge the Minister to meet me and my Northumbrian WASPI ladies to start that process in a spirit of conciliation and understanding.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab) Parliament Live - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:46 p.m.

Like many hon. Members, I have taken part in at least seven debates over the past two or three years, and still the Government have not actually done anything about the situation. Nor have they actually listened to what has been said. It is not my intention to rehash all the arguments that have been put over the past seven or eight debates, but we obviously have to congratulate the WASPI women on their tenacity over the past few years and on staying the course, to get justice for themselves. I congratulate the WASPI women from Coventry and the other women who have travelled down here today from all parts of the country, some of whom have had to do so at their own expense.

I want to emphasise just one or two points. The Government had a golden opportunity to do something in the Budget. They could have made some sort of gesture —a halfway house—towards achieving what the WASPI women want, but they totally ignored the situation, while telling the public that they want to listen to their concerns on a whole range of issues. In some ways, the Government have actually used austerity to justify not taking any action on help for WASPI women. If they can spend £50 billion or £60 billion on high-speed rail, I am sure that they could the find the money to cover the costs of helping these women.

The WASPI women were not given time to plan for their retirement. That is the tragedy here, and it is important to emphasise that point. Somebody suggested earlier that that was not the real point, but it is. That and finding resolution to the problem are the two main points. It was also suggested that Gordon Brown somehow had something to do with the situation. Well, we all know that that is not true, but we are where we are, so we should not dwell too much on that; suffice it to say that it was the John Major Government who introduced pension age equalisation, so Members should bear that in mind. We should also bear in mind that 53% of the WASPI women actually rely on their pensions to make ends meet. Many of them look after elderly parents. Some of them have children who suffer from disabilities. People tend to forget that many of the women have to look after grown-up children—probably in their 20s. There is an organisation in Coventry that supports such women, but it gets no help whatsoever.