I have been contacted by constituents who are concerned about or have directly been affected by the way in which the increase to the State Pension Age is being enacted after the state pension age equalisation started with the 1995 Act. The then Conservative Government set out a timetable to equalise the pension ages for men and women at 65. From April 2020, women born in April 1955 or later would get their pension at 65.
In May 2010, the coalition agreement stated:
“We will phase out the default retirement age and hold a review to set the date at which the state pension age starts to rise to 66, although it will not be sooner than 2016 for men and 2020 for women.”
That pledge was broken when the coalition Government decided in the 2011 Pension Act to accelerate the planned changes, a move that would particularly hit women born in the 1950s. The changes brought about by the 2011 Act affect the lives of millions of women born in 1954 and throughout the 1950s who are unfairly bearing the burden and the personal costs of increasing the state pension age.
By not providing adequate notice of the change and by speeding up the process without putting in place any suitable transitional protection, the Government are failing to support the women born in the 1950s who are affected by their policies. Having promised much during debates, the only concession the Government made was to ensure that the additional increase in the state pension age could not be more than 18 months, but that small concession is of little comfort to those women who were not even informed of the change until very close to the age at which they expected to retire. They have worked hard and contributed to the system.
Throughout their lives, this generation of women have been disadvantaged in the workplace in terms of pay because of their gender. Even now, women in their 60s earn 14% less than men. Many women affected do not have private pensions. Until 1995, women who worked part-time were not allowed to join company pension schemes, and others did not qualify because they took time away from work owing to ill health or a caring role. Very many have no other sources of income, and they now find that once again they are being treated unfairly because of the way changes to the state pension have been enacted and because they are women.
The acceleration of the changes to the state pension age can mean that women born just months apart, and who were possibly in the same class group at school, receive their state pension at very different ages. In some cases, a one-year difference in date of birth can mean a woman will receive her state pension three and a half years later than other women.
I am aware that the WASPI campaign is not campaigning against the equalisation of the pension age in itself; but it is rightly opposed to the way the changes have been enacted and to the lack of transitional protection for the women born in the 1950s who are hit hardest by the changes.
For example, women born between 6 April 1951 and 5 April 1953 are not eligible for a single-tier state pension; a man born on exactly the same day will be. There is a dual impact of the increase introduced in the 1995 Act and the subsequent ineligibility for a single-tier pension—women have been affected not once but twice.
The issue of notice is fundamentally important. Notice periods of 10 or 15 years should be the norm because once people retire, their ability to top up their income is extraordinarily limited. Therefore, when Government makes changes to the pension age, it is vital that people are told about such changes in good time, so that they may change their lives to adjust to the new reality. That is the fundamental issue at stake. There is incredibly deep anger about the fact that appropriate notice was not given and I believe that the Government must consider transitional provisions for those affected by the changes and not slam the door on the 1950s women affected.
I therefore support the WASPI campaign as it is a vitally important issue and I will continue to work with colleagues, including Shadow Pensions Minister Nick Thomas-Symonds MP, to see what we can do to get the Government to think again.