Pension Equality for Women

Carolyn Harris Excerpts
Thursday 14th December 2017

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Work and Pensions
Scott Mann Portrait Scott Mann (North Cornwall) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:49 p.m.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham), and I congratulate the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) on securing this important debate. I am here to speak on behalf of my North Cornwall WASPI women. I have met them numerous times at different events over the past two and a half years. I presented a petition on their behalf last year, and many of them have come to see me at surgeries in the towns and villages of my constituency to express their concern about the challenging times that many women are facing. Other hon. Members have alluded to some of those challenges today.

Most people who come to see me have worked their entire life. They might well own their own home and not be in a position to make the transition for those 18 months. I support transitional measures for our WASPI women, and I believe we can reach a practical solution by reducing the state pension over a longer period of time. Private pension providers already allow that. The option should be given to people with public pensions.

The changes in 2011 were rushed and wrong. The equalisation of pensions from 1995 was the right thing to do but, with increases of between two months and 18 months, people have suffered in different ways, which we should acknowledge. People should be able to take their pension earlier, or have the option to wait and have the £159 a week, as it currently sits. I have produced some figures, and my benchmarks are based on the current life expectancy for a woman in the UK of 83 and the pension age in 1995 of 66.

At the moment, the state pension is £159.55 a week. Over the 17 years leading up to average life expectancy, the pension would cost just over £141,000. I have done some modelling based on £130 a week, £140 a week and £150 a week for a reduced pension over a longer period. I have used the baseline to measure that against the least affected women, those affected for two months, and the most affected women, those affected for 18 months.

I put together my proposals over the past few days. The conclusion I have reached, according to the figures, is that the only group that would be affected if the proposals were introduced are the people who have to wait for 18 months, the most affected group. Even then, the Government would have to find only £2,357 over the lifetime of the pension. All the other models come out positively for the Government. We should do this as a gesture to the affected women.

Will the Minister sit down with me to look through my figures to see whether there is a satisfactory solution to the problem? I am happy to meet him if he is happy to meet me. We should consider a sensible way forward. I am not entirely sure I will be here for the winding-up speeches, but I would welcome the opportunity to meet the Minister at a later date to discuss a practical solution.

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab) - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:53 p.m.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) on securing this important debate.

I say to the Government, one more time, that they need to stop burying their head in the sand and do the right thing by these women. We are at the same point yet again, debating the unfairness and injustice to women born in the 1950s as a consequence of the pension changes. Without time to prepare and make the necessary alternative arrangements, so many women born in the 1950s are left in financial despair. The reality is that the women are desperate. Affected women call, write and email my office every day to let me know that they have had to sell their belongings and are relying on family, friends and food banks just to exist.

More than 2.5 million women have been wronged by this injustice, which is 2.5 million voices that will not be ignored and 2.5 million women who will not go away.

The changes in the Pensions Act 2011 gave women insufficient time to prepare for retirement, which has caused particular hardship for certain groups: those with lower average life expectancy; those who depend more on their state pension in retirement; those who are more likely to suffer from health problems or disability; and those who have to care for elderly parents, husbands and grandchildren, limiting their ability to work up to and beyond 65.

For some of those women, their jobs are physically demanding and, because of their health, they can no longer do the things they were able to do when they were younger. Although the Minister believes that apprenticeships and accessible work are available to these women, I believe that is an insult. Caseload data shows that the number of women aged 60-plus claiming unemployment benefits increased between 2013 and 2017, more so than the increase among claimants of all other ages.

Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op) - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:55 p.m.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there are still loads of inconsistencies, such as that a one-year change in date of birth means an additional three years to reach the pension age for some of these women? That makes the way in which the Government have introduced these changes even more illogical.

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:56 p.m.

I have put my thoughts on that on the record many times. Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend.

The number of women aged 60-plus claiming benefits increased by some 9,500 between 2013 and 2017, a 115% increase. Pension age changes have played a substantial part in that increase. It is crucial that this Government recognise the need for fair transitional state pension arrangements, yet they are still not listening. They have deceived these women, stolen their security and shattered their dreams.

In September, my co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on state pension inequality for women, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), and other cross-party members of the APPG joined me in tabling the Pensions (Review of Women’s Arrangements) (No. 2) Bill, which will have its Second Reading in April 2018. In preparation for the Bill, the APPG recently launched a consultation to gather opinions from affected women. The number of responses to our questionnaire within the first few hours was staggering. To date, we have received nearly 90 responses from groups representing many thousands of women. These women are the people who are living with the consequences of the pension changes, and their voices will be heard.

I have met many women, both in my constituency and as chair of the APPG. I have visited many constituencies across the country to speak to affected women. Most recently, I have visited women with my hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) and for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock). My office is currently dealing with requests to visit 1950s women’s groups in Scotland, northern England and across Wales.

Wherever I go, the story is always the same. These women feel cheated and disrespected, and they are angry. Every meeting is packed. Not one of these women has any intention of giving up until they get the result that they have earned and that they deserve—fair transitional payments that allow them to enjoy the retirement for which they have worked very hard over many years.

What about women born in the 1950s who have left this country to live in other parts of Europe? They are not only concerned about how their lives will pan out after Brexit; they are currently feeling extremely vulnerable and, to be honest, left out in the cold when it comes to their pension. Those women do not have an MP to voice their concerns, so they have contacted me and, I am sure, many others in the Chamber to ask what is happening to their pension. They left this country believing that they would get their pension at 60, and they feel robbed.

Many colleagues on both sides of the House agree that the changes to the state pension are unjust and unfair, so it really is time for the Government to stop blocking their ears and start listening. They should let these women have justice. They should do the right thing, the honourable thing, and give the WASPI women, and all 1950s women, the transitional payments they deserve. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing) - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:59 p.m.

Order. Before I call the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) to begin his speech, let us make it very clear that we do not have cheering and clapping in any part of this Chamber. We do have, “Hear, hear” and we do have smiles and laughs, but we do not have cheering and clapping.