Chris Elmore (Ogmore) (Lab)
14 Dec 2017, 1:04 p.m.
I rise to speak as secretary of the all-party group on state pension inequality for women. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) on securing this debate. The manner in which the state pension change has affected 1950s women is totally unjust, unfair and immoral. This injustice has short-changed 2.6 million women, causing untold damage to them and their families. It is extremely important that we acknowledge that this is having an impact on families: women are moving back in with their children; and this situation is leading to some marital breakdowns. There are awful stories linked to these financial burdens that women are now facing.
Previously, during Prime Minister’s questions, I have mentioned my constituent Dianah Kendall, who suffered a bleed on the brain in 2012. She carried on working, under the assumption that she would be able to retire in September this year. She was not told of the change and she has had to carry on working, because she simply does not have the money to retire. When I asked the Prime Minister when Dianah would be able to retire, I was told, yet again, that she would wait no more than 18 months—she is waiting six years. That is the reality of what was wrong with the Prime Minister’s answer. Dianah has carried on running her business and has carried on working. She will not be able to give up working, yet the Government seem completely disinterested in helping women, even those who have major health issues, to be able to retire.
I have other constituents with arthritis, heart conditions and mobility problems who have had to simply deal with the hike in the state pension age. Despite finding it extremely difficult to work, these people have been forced to do so. That is unacceptable for a group of women born at a time when employment rights, support for national insurance contributions and maternity rights simply did not exist. It is deeply unfair that these women are facing yet another injustice.
As part of my work as secretary of the all-party group, I have spoken to women in my constituency and in other constituencies. Women have contacted me with countless lists of problems they are facing. There are women saying to me that they own their own home but they are selling their furniture. How can Ministers justify these sorts of things that are happening to women? Some of them have worked for 40 years, only to be told that they cannot retire when they are expecting to. The answer they are getting is, “Well, simply carry on. By the way, you will only wait 18 months.” That simply is not true.
Beyond this House, it is not just the women who were born in the 1950s who are campaigning; there is a huge amount of support from the public. There is also support from Members from across this House. I have made a list of no fewer than 50 Government Members who support the campaign, in addition to colleagues from the Democratic Unionist party, the Scottish National party, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru. That should mean that if the Government gave us some legislative time to reverse these decisions, we would win. Is it not about time they stepped up and offered support to these women, because there is support right across the House for actual support and change for these 1950s women?
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), I held a meeting, just two weeks ago, for women across my constituency, many of whom still are not aware of the pension changes, or have only recently become informed because of the campaign being led by 1950s women. More than 100 turned up. Some of them raised new issues—for example, when some were deciding to defer their pension, as is their right, they had not realised that they should have been entitled to it two years before. It was only when they have engaged in what the 1950s women are campaigning for that they realised they should have had it two years before. But because of the lack of information and no letters telling women about the changes, they were not been aware that their deferment is forced, whether they want to defer or not.
I truly believe the tide is turning, with the pressure on the Government. I hope the Government and Ministers are listening to what is going on out in the country and to the fact that these women are suffering. We need the Government to step up, cave in and find the legislative time to make changes to support the 2.5 million women affected. I will always fight for the women in my constituency who are affected, and for women up and down the country. The Government need to listen. I urge Conservative Members—the co-chair of the all-party group, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), is a true champion of this issue—to come with us, to get the Government to change their mind and to start to help the 1950s women who need our support now.