Pension Equality for Women DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
James CartlidgeMain Page: James Cartlidge (Conservative) - South Suffolk)
Department Debates - View all James Cartlidge's debates with the Department for Work and Pensions
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. She works unstintingly for carers up and down the country, and we could have a broader discussion about how we value carers, who are predominantly women.
The hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) highlighted the specific issues facing a lot of the affected women, but I say gently that those are issues that women—whether they are in their 50s, 40s, 30s or 20s—are dealing with across the piece. Women tend to bear the brunt of these things. As my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mrs Trevelyan) said, there are challenges in rural areas, and my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney brought up the issue of financial service organisations and banks not playing their part by also being a conduit of information for women. A series of events led to the current situation, and we have all found ourselves learning that communication should be better.
At the nub of this is the fact that we have a problem. In 1917, 24 letters were sent from the Monarch to women who were turning 100; last year, the Queen sent 24,000. By 2050, some 56,000 people will celebrate their 100th birthday.
Indeed we will. The nub of my point is that many of us come to this place as women and as carers. My husband and I still have four living parents, which is great. It is a sign of improved medical care and so on. Nevertheless, we have four children who arguably will bear the brunt of paying for these costs.
In one of my surgeries recently, I spoke to a woman who is affected by the changes to the state pension age—she is a WASPI woman. She said:
“I was born in 1956 and have been fortunate to work all my life”—
I take on board the point made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy)—
“in a variety of careers that I have enjoyed.”
She explained that some of those careers were due to necessity of circumstance. She was warned in two letters that her state pension age would be changing. She will receive her state pension at 66.
She went on:
“I will be 62 next birthday and even if I was in receipt of a pension, I would struggle to stop working as I thoroughly enjoy my current job.”
That is what I mean about the need to consider this issue on a more individual basis. The woman continued:
“I appreciate that I am very fortunate as I am blessed with good health”—
there have been several allusions to that in the debate. She said that she had a supportive husband
“and 3 lovely children. I expect to live longer than my parents but my perception is that my children struggle more financially than I did at their age. I realise that my taxes contributed to my parents’ pensions and my children’s taxes will fund mine. I cannot expect my already financially challenged children to contribute to my pension, for many, many more years. That would seem very unfair.”
If we do not see through these changes to the state pension, the burden on our children will be astronomical. This is not fair, but it is where we find ourselves. We must ensure that our response is proportionate.
It is about choices. I say gently to the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mhairi Black) that the Scottish National party has the ability to make a unilateral decision if it wants to.
Break in Debate
Yes, I most certainly do agree. I am asking the Government to meet the WASPI campaigners, explore solutions, look at transitional state pension arrangements, and make resolving this issue a priority for the 3.8 million women affected. This is a campaign powered by women with determination and courage, and I commend all who are determined that this cause will be addressed.
I am very grateful to my former Committee colleague for giving way. I would just like to ask whether the same pay-as-you-go system applies for the Democratic Unionist party and remaining in power.
Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that, regardless of the figure that he quoted, the people who are paying the price for this are women born in the 1950s?
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we must get away from talking about women born in the 1950s as though they are some kind of burden on society? These women are asking only for what they were promised and what they themselves have paid for. They are not a burden; they are people looking for justice.
Order. I have to reduce the time limit to four minutes.
Break in Debate
I too woke up this morning and thought, “What the hang am I going to say?” I have said everything multiple times, and there are only so many ways you can state the same facts.
I had an email from a lady called Hazel. She said that, just out of curiosity, she wanted to look at the old TV adverts for the multi-million-pound campaign that the Government had apparently launched. Given that we have focused so much on communication today, I think this is a very valid point. Hazel showed me various adverts; having searched the whole archive, we could find three. The first was presumably aimed at women. It is very patronising, as is the one that is aimed at guys.
Two dogs are talking to each other in a field. One says that it is very confused by pensions because there are so many different types. The other dog says, “Well, the Government have this great new handbook that you can request to be sent to you.” The punchline is “Is that you a guide dog now?” Oh, the banter. That is very good, right? But it was not adequate in the slightest when it came to getting across to people the grave changes that were being made.
My favourite is the third advert. It is only 10 seconds long, and half of it shows a dog chasing its own tail. There is no dialogue whatsoever. That summed up, for me, the Government’s reactions to this entire saga. They are just spinning in the one circle, refusing to acknowledge the facts that people are pointing out to them.
I raised that for two reasons. First, it is the only new thing that I have to add, and secondly, the onus is still on the women to request the information. The onus is still on them to go and find out what the Government might or might not be up to with their pensions.
It is incredible that we are still having to have this debate. As far as I am aware, this is the 13th in which I have taken part since I was elected, and I know that there were others before that. The key issue is that at no point have these changes been explicitly mentioned, and at no point have they been communicated to the women affected.
Until the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), I thought that everyone here agreed that there was poor communication for many years. I think that that still stands. It is a historical fact that both Labour and Conservative Governments totally ignored the problem and, to an extent, there is still a huge communication problem that we have to look at.
From the admission that there is a communication problem, we can safely draw two conclusions. The first, which is the more important, is that the women are utterly blameless. The second is that it is actually an admission of guilt on the Government’s part. It is a recognition that the institution of government has failed those same women again and again.
The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) said earlier that the 2011 Act had been rushed, and I agree with him. It was shoved in at the last minute. Then, all of a sudden, people said, “Wait a second: there is a 1995 Act. Oh my God, this has kicked off.” Instead of doing the sensible thing and saying, “Let us step back and see what we can do to soften the blow,” the Government decided to vamp ahead with it anyway. Can we deal with the fact that the job of current Governments is to fix the mistakes made by previous Governments? That is what we are all here for. We are trying to move society forward, and it is not going to get anywhere if the response is always, “We looked at that; it is rubbish, but let us move on.” However, that is all that we are getting from the Government. We can shout about whose fault this is until we are a Tory shade of blue in the face, but it will not fix a damn thing. I recognise that the Government have made slight concessions to the 2011 Act. That gave some women an extra few months, but it was a wholly inadequate response because it totally neglected the chaos that started back in 1995, and the huge leap that nobody knew about. Can we focus on how to fix the issue now, rather than getting drawn into the blame game of whose fault it is or is not?
As has been mentioned, the SNP produced a report that did the Government’s job for them. It stated that with £8 billion spent across five years—one whole Parliament—things could effectively revert back to the original timetable of the 1995 Act. That would allow a lot of breathing space for a lot of women, especially those worse affected. The national insurance fund has a surplus of £23 billion. People can disagree with that all they want—I am happy to talk to them afterwards.
I am about to come specifically to the hon. Gentleman. He mentioned the problems faced by the pensions system, and I completely agreed with the spirit of his speech. I understand that Gordon Brown had a field day with the pensions pot and made things a hell of a lot more complicated for everybody. I accept that as reality and a historical fact. However, the fact that I agree with the hon. Gentleman about those grave concerns shows why we need to fix this problem. We always hear the argument about it being unfair to put costs on to the younger generations because they are the ones who will be footing the bill—the pay-as-you-go system that the hon. Gentleman referred to. I am from that generation, and I am looking at this problem and thinking: these women have done nothing wrong, yet the Government are still able to afford all these things that I really do not think are that important. Are the Government really not going to act because of me? Wait a second—why should I be paying national insurance, if at the last hurdle the Government can change the rules and move the goalposts? Why should my generation take anything that the Government say seriously? We must be grown up about this—I can’t believe I have to say that in here—and we need to address and fix this problem. This is above party politics, so let us be practical.
Where the hon. Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) and I will disagree is when I say that this comes down to tough political choices. The Government have a deal with the DUP to maintain power, and billions of pounds are being spent on Trident. There is the refurbishment for this place, and we have heard about some ridiculous campaigns for boats and royal yachts and so on. I am sorry, but those things are not the priority right now. These women entered a contract—national insurance is a contract; it is a basic fundamental of our welfare state as it functions. We cannot undermine that, yet that is all the Government are serving to do. If this were a private company it would, rightly, be getting dragged through the courts right now, and the Government should reflect on that.
The hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) said that section 28 of the Scotland Act 2016 gives the Scottish Parliament the power to mitigate these changes. I have a problem with that argument because section 28 of that Act states that we cannot give pension assistance or assistance by “reason of old age”. We are not allowed to do that—pensions are completely reserved, and when we campaigned for the devolution of pensions we were told no.