Pension Equality for Women Debate

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Department: Department for Work and Pensions

Pension Equality for Women

Grahame Morris Excerpts
Thursday 14th December 2017

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Work and Pensions

[Relevant document: e-petition 200088, entitled “Make fair transitional state pension arrangements for 1950’s women”.]

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris (Easington) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 9:30 a.m.

I beg to move,

That this House calls on the Government to publish proposals to provide a non-means tested bridging solution for all women born on or after 6 April 1950 who are affected by changes to the State Pension age in the 1995 and 2011 Pension Acts.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate, and the sponsors who have supported me in the application for it. I also thank the WASPI campaign nationally, which is well represented in the Gallery. Its members are involved in protests and demonstrations outside the Palace in support of their legitimate claims.

Ian Murray Portrait Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab) - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 9:30 a.m.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all his work on the issue. As he says, a lot of WASPI campaigners are listening to the debate in the Gallery, so does he think that this would be an opportune time for the Minister to apologise for the crass remark he made in Westminster Hall that WASPI women could get modern apprenticeships?

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris - Hansard

I will come on to the Minister’s remarks in that debate, but if he did want to take the opportunity, I am sure that the WASPI women would welcome it.

What we and the campaign are asking for, as set out in the motion, is simple: a non-means-tested bridging pension. That would mean that some 3.8 million women would not have to live in poverty. The pension would be paid as a percentage of the full state pension, with compensation offered over the period between the age of 60 and the new state pension age.

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) (LD) Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:10 p.m.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. We all agree that this injustice needs to be dealt with, but should we not also consider how that could be funded? I have discovered from the House of Commons Library that bringing forward the proposed increase in the pension age from 67 to 68 from 2037 to 2036 would in itself raise approximately £7.5 billion, which would go a considerable way towards helping these women to address the injustice that they face.

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris - Parliament Live - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:09 p.m.

I am grateful for that intervention. I shall come to some of the proposals that have been made and how the injustice might be addressed.

Joan Ryan (Enfield North) (Lab) Hansard

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Does he agree that it is shocking and unacceptable that the WASPI campaigners have had to work so tirelessly to get absolutely no response from the Government?

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:09 p.m.

I completely agree. We have debated this issue many times—perhaps 29 or 30—in the Chamber and Westminster Hall, and we have been incredibly active over the past few months. Early-day motion 63 has 195 signatures, while an e-petition that was laid before Parliament attracted 109,000 signatures, and that number continues to grow. A Westminster Hall debate was so oversubscribed that some Members were sitting on the window ledges.

Derek Twigg Portrait Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab) - Hansard

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate and his tireless work in supporting this cause. I certainly support the call for fair transitional state pension arrangements for all WASPI women, but a number of options have been suggested. Will my hon. Friend be dealing with those in his speech?

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:09 p.m.

Absolutely. There are a number of options. There are things that the Minister could do immediately to mitigate and alleviate the worst hardship that is being suffered. This is a matter of concern throughout the House, as is demonstrated by the number of signatures to the early-day motion, and representations have been made from every UK nation and region, as well as every political party in the House.

Sir George Howarth Portrait Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab) - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:13 p.m.

My hon. Friend is doing a good job in making his case, but may I put to him the words of a retired teacher from Knowsley who was born in July 1954? She says:

“The boy I sat next to in school was born in November 1953. We left school at the same time and began to pay our NI and income tax at the same time but he receives his state pension on his 65th birthday. I have to wait 10 months beyond my 65th birthday. How can that be fair”.

Does she not sum up the position very well?

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:10 p.m.

Absolutely. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House can give many examples of WASPI women who have come to their surgeries, written to them and sent them e-mails. Every day I receive heartbreaking letters and e-mails from women in my constituency and further afield who have been suffering extreme hardship.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:14 p.m.

I am proud to be a co-signatory of the motion. So far the hon. Gentleman has referred only to WASPI but, as we know, there is an awful lot of interest in this whole issue, and only some of the groups involved call themselves WASPI. We are actually talking about all the women born in the 1950s who are suffering from an injustice that has been disproportionately inflicted on them as a result of changes to the pension qualification age.

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

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I welcome the contribution that he has made to the campaign.

Mark Tami Portrait Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab) - Hansard

I thank my hon. Friend for all the hard work that he has put in. I am sure that he, like me, has come across many women who have based all their retirement plans—their partners may have already retired—on what they were told, and assumed, would be their retirement age. They all say to me, “It is just not fair.”

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

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Many of these women have worked since they were 16. They signed up to a deal that they considered to be an agreement with the Government, but that deal has been cast aside with little or no regard for their financial circumstances.

Lord Austin of Dudley Portrait Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab) - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:16 p.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for securing the debate. A moment ago, he used the word “heartbreaking”, and it genuinely is heartbreaking to listen to women—as I have in Dudley and the Black country—who had to retire early to care for a relative, or in some cases a husband, and were subsequently widowed. They are left with no income and face the prospect of having to wait much longer for the pension on the basis of which they had planned their whole future. Does my hon. Friend agree that particular attention must be paid to women in that position?

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:16 p.m.

Absolutely. There are things that the Minister and the Government can do immediately. We are unnecessarily creating a generation of women in which many now rely on food banks. Some are being forced to sell their homes and to rely on the benefits system, which is degrading for them.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP) - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:16 p.m.

Does my comrade agree that we should praise the role of the trade union movement in supporting the WASPI women? WASPI campaigners in Glasgow and north Lanarkshire are watching a live broadcast of this debate in the Glasgow city Unison office. One of them is my constituent Kathy McDonald, who has worked for 40 years—since she was 15—but now has to go on working until she is 66.

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:16 p.m.

Absolutely. This huge injustice affects all nations and regions of the United Kingdom. These are hard-working, decent women who have contributed through the national insurance fund and expected to receive their state pension.

Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab) Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:18 p.m.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for securing the debate, and for all the work that he does in support of the WASPI campaign and others. Does he agree that many of these women are being dealt with very inappropriately by both jobcentres and the benefits system?

A lady who came to my surgery last week had just been made redundant from the Walkers crisps factory. She has a full employment and contribution record, but she is really fearful about what will happen to her over the next few years. Will she be forced into inappropriate work? She does not know what benefits she will get. She is really stressed. Given her full contribution record, should she not benefit from proper transitional arrangements? Women should not be treated in this way.

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:16 p.m.

That case is doubly relevant to me. The Walkers crisps factory in my constituency is closing this week—just before Christmas—and 400 people will lose their jobs. Many of them are long-serving employees who have worked hard. Some are in their late 50s and early 60s, and had expected to receive their state pensions.

Mike Hill Portrait Mike Hill (Hartlepool) (Lab) - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:16 p.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and neighbour for giving way. I take great pleasure in praising him for his work on behalf of the WASPI women. Some 5,500 women in my constituency have suffered because of the Government’s lack of action. Some have been forced to go to food banks, and in all cases the women feel victimised.

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:09 p.m.

These women are disadvantaged in a number of ways, and Members might not realise how many. For instance, people have raised with me the issue of free bus passes. Many women who live outside London—in regions such as the north-east and the south-west—do not drive, and without those bus passes, they cannot travel.

Mrs Pauline Latham Portrait Mrs Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con) - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:19 p.m.

May I ask the hon. Gentleman and other Labour Members how much fuss they made when Gordon Brown introduced this change?

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.

Guy Opperman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Guy Opperman) - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:21 p.m.

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) will be aware that in 2007, after 10 years of a Labour Government, the then Government considered all matters of pensions legislation and passed the Pensions Act 2007. During their 13 years in power Labour Members had total capacity to do something about what they now say is not appropriate. With respect, there is a legitimate point to answer.

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:22 p.m.

I will give way again in a minute, but I would like the opportunity to respond to the Minister’s point. We must recognise the injustice faced by these women, because there were many missed opportunities. There is no doubt that the 2011 Act accelerated the changes, and Steve Webb, the former Pensions Minister, is quoted extensively as indicating that. When he wrote to the WASPI women on behalf of the coalition Government, he not only informed them about the change in pension age of one year, as under the 2011 Act, but informed them for the first time about the earlier changes, meaning that some people’s state pension retirement age was being extended by six years.

Mhairi Black Portrait Mhairi Black (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (SNP) - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:23 p.m.

As someone who was one year old when the 1995 Act came into effect but is sitting here just like everybody else, may I ask all Members that we get past the party political nonsense of whose fault this is? The mess has been going on for long enough and the current Government are in charge now. This problem is not going away, and the Government need to deal with it.

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:23 p.m.

Absolutely, and there are things that the Government could do immediately to mitigate the worst cases of hardship. For example, the winter fuel allowance can be worth up to £300. If the Minister is looking for suggestions, that would be a decent start. If the Government were to give the WASPI women that payment each year, they would be able to have some level of comfort during this cold winter weather, but many in my region are having to choose between heating and eating.

Mr Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford) (Con) Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:24 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the problems date all the way back to 1995 under three or more Governments. Does he agree with many of my constituents who feel that this issue is as much to do with communication as policy? Many of my constituents who are affected tell me that if they had known the effects of the changes in time, they would have been able to respond to them.

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:24 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman makes a completely reasonable point. I am sure there is common cause across the House—I am looking at the Minister and hoping that common sense can prevail—and there must be an acknowledgement that there was poor communication. I am sure that the Minister is aware that a collective action is being taken by the WASPI women through Bindmans solicitors, and there could be a case of maladministration if the matter is found in their favour.

Bill Wiggin Portrait Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con) - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:25 p.m.

I have been listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman and he seems to know what he is talking about. Can he give an idea of how much this will cost? I suspect that there is a range of amounts, but I am curious to know what he thinks would be the right amount of money that could go some way towards putting this right.

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:19 p.m.

I think there are things that the Government and the Minister could do immediately, and I will come to those a little later—I have set out my suggestions in a sequential way, and they include immediately extending pensions credit to the group. I do not have the costings for that—[Interruption.] My colleagues on the Front Bench inform me that it is £800 million. We could do things with the winter fuel allowance or bus passes, which would offer immediate help to these women.

I alluded to the fundamental point made by the former Pensions Minister, Steve Webb, who said:

“The 2011 Act, which I was responsible for, did not add any more than 18 months to people’s pension age, typically 12 months. But when we did write to people—and we did write to them to tell them what changes we have made—this was the first time they had heard about the first changes. So instead of me writing to them to tell them there was an extra year on the pension age, we were effectively telling them they had six extra years added to their pension age, which is of course why they were outraged”.

Hopefully, we are having a sensible, constructive and meaningful debate, but we should make no mistake—there is real hardship and outrage out there.

John Penrose Portrait John Penrose (Weston-super-Mare) (Con) - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:27 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman is setting out his case beautifully and I congratulate him on securing this debate. As someone who represents a retirement town, many local constituents have raised this issue with me. Most of them have a slightly different point of view and do not object to the principle of the equalisation of pension age at all—indeed, they think it is just and right. They are upset because they say they were not properly advised and did not have time to plan for the changes early enough in their working careers. That is the injustice that those who speak to me feel most strongly.

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:27 p.m.

Absolutely. The hon. Gentleman, with typical alacrity, has hit the nail on the head. Nevertheless, there is an injustice that must be rectified, and the Government need to do that.

Scott Mann Portrait Scott Mann (North Cornwall) (Con) - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:28 p.m.

Does the hon. Gentleman contend that the changes in 1995 were wrong, or were the changes in 2011 wrong? Many people I have met feel that the 2011 changes were too rapid.

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:28 p.m.

The fundamental point, which has also been made by Government Members, is the lack of notice about the 1995 changes, and in some cases, the failure to give any notice at all. There is an issue of communication. A number of groups are campaigning on this issue, and there is a general acceptance of the need to equalise state retirement pension age—I do not think there is dispute about that and we are in agreement on it. The issue is the phasing, and the acceleration of that phasing in of the original changes in 1995.

Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op) - Hansard

My hon. Friend is making a marvellous speech and I do not want to disagree with him. Does he agree, however, that the equalisation of the pension age for this group of women is not fair? In the era in which they worked, many were responsible for the children and had to undermine their career; they had lower wages and did not make allowances for their pensions. Some have since suffered divorce or a break up, and many of those who come to me in Swansea are becoming impoverished because of this change. It is all very well imagining a future utopian world where there is equal opportunity that justifies an equal pension age, but that is not what has happened to these women. It is quite wrong to say that this issue is just about how they were told about the changes.

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:30 p.m.

Absolutely. These women are falling off the edge of a cliff owing to the lack of transitional relief. There are many examples of women who made plans to retire at 60 to care for elderly relatives, and of women who worked in arduous, physically demanding employment who really cannot work beyond 60. This huge injustice affects 3.8 million women in this country, and it really needs to be addressed.

Sir George Howarth Portrait Mr Howarth - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:30 p.m.

My hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way. To support that point, I shall quote a woman from Knowsley who was born in June 1955:

“My elderly mother had a stroke and I subsequently became her full-time carer. The last 10 years of her life were particularly difficult as she needed 24-hour care, provided by me. My own health has suffered greatly due to the added pressure and I now find myself unable to work due to ill-health and, at an age when I should now be receiving my state pension, I am forced to attend regular appointments at the DWP and medicals to ascertain my entitlement to ESA. This is soul destroying”.

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:31 p.m.

Absolutely, and I am sure that every—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing) - Hansard

Order. Before the hon. Gentleman responds to that intervention, I must make it clear that I am making no criticism of him. He is making a very genuine speech and has a great many points to cover, and he has taken a lot of interventions. I do, however, criticise those people who have made interventions but are not remaining in the Chamber for the rest of the debate. The convention is that the hon. Gentleman introducing the debate should speak for approximately 15 minutes. So far, the hon. Gentleman has had a great deal more than that, but I am not blaming him. He has been very decent in taking interventions from other people, which is good for the pace of the debate, but those who make interventions and then just leave the Chamber are preventing some of the other 32 people who have indicated that they wish to speak from having the chance to do so. So I am asking for a bit of honour. There are to be no more interventions unless they are from people who are going to remain for the whole debate, and the hon. Gentleman ought to bring his remarks to a conclusion soon. However, I am not going to pressure him too much. This is not his fault; it is other people’s fault that he is in this position.

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 12:32 p.m.

I am grateful for your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will press on as I recognise that many Members wish to speak in the debate.

The Government must understand that this is a time-sensitive issue and, as has been said, we need to work cross-party to find a solution. If the Government are unable to do that, they will be letting down a generation of women who are being denied a fair deal on their state pension. In Easington, 4,542 women are affected, and the campaign is looking for justice, not just warm words. The suggestion from my own Front Benchers of early access to a pension credit is a good start, and that could be done immediately, but as a stand-alone option it does not take into account the fact that all the 1950s women have suffered maladministration and loss of income, and that they all deserve recompense.

The cost-neutral suggestion put forward by other hon. Members of an actuarially reduced pension for life asks the women who have been discriminated against to bear the cost of putting right the mistake that was not their fault in the first place. It also condemns women to retirement in pensioner poverty, with all its problems of greater reliance on benefits. Arrangements that address only the additional state pension age increases imposed by the 2011 Act are not good enough. There are also faults with the application of the 1995 Act, and the maladministration suffered by the WASPI women is an issue that the Government are going to have to address sooner or later. The women need recompense, and the Government need to find a solution that will bring relief to all those who are affected.

The Government have repeatedly stated that they are committed to supporting people aged 50 years and over to remain in and return to work. Several policies and initiatives have been put forward to support people to work longer, such as older people’s champions in jobcentres, lifelong learning and apprenticeship opportunities for people of all ages. However, these suggestions completely disregard the issues at the heart of the WASPI campaign. In reality, they are completely unworkable for the majority of WASPI women, as was illustrated by the case highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods).

I was incredibly disappointed that the Budget did not offer any form of help or relief to the WASPI women. I know that some Conservative Members made representations to the Chancellor in all sincerity, and I was disappointed that neither he nor the Prime Minister responded to them. I am rather incredulous that Her Majesty’s Opposition are being attacked for being weak on women’s issues by the Prime Minister. I understand that she herself is a WASPI woman, and I am curious to find out whether she received notification from the DWP about the change in her pension arrangements. Quite simply, women born in the 1950s were not given sufficient notice by the Government that their state retirement age would be increasing. I could go on and give further specific examples, but I do not intend to do so, because I want to leave time for other Members to make contributions. I am sure that they will have examples of their own.

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.

Break in Debate

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 3:16 p.m.

I am conscious of Madam Deputy’s Speaker’s desire that I should end my speech speedily, so I will write to the hon. Lady with a detailed reply to the point she just raised.

I have barely had a chance to address the arguments made by my hon. Friends from Scotland, which include the point raised eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) that Jeane Freeman, my opposite number as Pensions Minister in Scotland, has indicated that her Government have the powers to act under sections 24, 26 and 28 of the Scotland Act 2016. I stress the point strongly that there is no question but that they have this power, because this is not about dealing with pensioners as such; the provisions we are dealing with concern people who are of working age, according to the law. I rely strongly upon the words not of this Government but of the Scottish Government, as set out in her letter of 22 June.

The issue of notification was raised, and I can answer the points on that briefly. Clearly, there was massive parliamentary debate, on repeated occasions, in 1995. Thereafter, we saw multiple articles in the press and media; the distribution of a huge number of leaflets; a campaign in 2004 to educate people about their state pensions; adverts in a variety of ways; correspondence in two different ways, both prior to 2010 and after 2011; and state pension forecasts sent to 19 million people over the past 17 years.

I wish to make a couple of final points. We recognise that some men and women are forced to reduce their working hours or cannot work for reasons of sickness, disability or caring responsibilities. The Government are committed to supporting the vulnerable, and we spend about £50 billion a year on benefits to support disabled people, those with health conditions and carers, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies) particularly mentioned. That equates to 6% of all Government spending. With increased financial pressures, we cannot change a policy that was implemented over 22 years ago and supported by all three political parties.

I finish with a point about life expectancy, as the hon. Member for Easington and I are good examples of that—we have both suffered from cancer. I am delighted to see that he has made a recovery from lymphatic cancer. I have made a recovery from a brain tumour. Those illnesses would have killed us both 30 to 40 years ago. There is no question but that the life expectancy changes are what has driven this approach on the part of successive Governments. With increased financial pressures, it would be unaffordable and not right, in the light of the changes we have had, to place an unfair financial burden on future generations.

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris - Hansard
14 Dec 2017, 3:19 p.m.

I thank the more than 30 Members who have participated in the debate, either directly through speeches or in the numerous interventions. I hope that the Minister has taken note of what has been said. I am an eternal optimist, perhaps formed by my experiences, and I think that all sides are going to build momentum and bring this campaign to a successful conclusion. I point out to the Minister, with all due respect, that if the maladministration cases are found against the Government, we could be looking at a huge settlement, so it may well be in the Minister’s interests and those of the Government to seek a parliamentary solution. These women, many of whom were in the Gallery today, deserve justice, and we are here to try to deliver that. I hope that Parliament will speak with one voice in support of the motion.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House calls on the Government to publish proposals to provide a non-means tested bridging solution for all women born on or after 6 April 1950 who are affected by changes to the State Pension age in the 1995 and 2011 Pension Acts.