The battle to give women a fairer deal over their state pensions scored a significant victory when it was the subject of a House of Commons debate.
A campaign group known as WASPI – short for Women Against State Pension Inequality – has been fighting to bring justice to hundreds of thousands of women who are facing delays in receiving their pensions from the government.
Will you have to wait longer for your state pension?
WASPI’s success in highlighting the issue through lobbying and the use of social media towards the end of 2015 resulted in Scottish National Party MP Mhairi Black applying to the Backbench Business Committee for a parliamentary debate. This request was granted and the debate took place on 7 January 2016.
Although the debate had no power to directly alter government policy, it represented yet another important step in bringing the campaign into the public eye and gathering support from politicians.
What were the issues debated?
WASPI says that women born in the 1950s – specifically those born on or after 6 April 1951 – have faced two increases to their state pension age, which until 2010 had remained at 60 for several decades.
In order to bring this into line with men’s state pension age of 65, legislation was introduced in 1995 which said women’s pension age would rise between 2010 and 2020 to 65.
But in 2011, the coalition decided that both men’s and women’s pension age should rise to 66, and that this change should be introduced by 2020. As a result, many of the women affected by the 1995 law would face a further delay in becoming eligible for their pensions.
WASPI’s campaign is based on the contention that successive governments have not done enough to inform those affected of these delays, and that the 2011 reforms are being implemented too quickly. This has resulted in many women being given too little time to plan their retirement finances, the group says.
State pension changes cause confusion and misery
Points raised in favour of taking action
Opening the debate, Mhairi Black moved that the House of Commons was concerned that the acceleration of state pension age equalisation directly discriminated against women, adversely affected retirement plans and caused “undue hardship” in some cases.
She called on the government to “immediately introduce transitional arrangements for those women negatively affected by that equalisation”. Ms Black – who became the youngest MP in UK history when she was elected at the age of 20 in Paisley and Renfrewshire South last May – also thanked WASPI for producing “one of the most comprehensive and articulate briefings that I have seen since being elected”.
Click here to view the WASPI petition
Ms Black said that, while the government claimed to have written to all those affected by the changes, many notices had not been received or had been sent to the wrong addresses. She also pointed out that communication did not in fact begin until 2009, 14 years after the 1995 Act was passed.
Ms Black added that these women were being “shafted and short-changed” purely because of their gender and when they were born.
The Labour MP Geraint Davies said that the state pension delays only added to the financial difficulty many women faced as a result of lower pay and careers interrupted by bringing up children.
Conservative MP Tim Loughton said: “I believe that we risk breaching the trust of women who have made many sacrifices, and who do not now have the expectations for their retirement that they were led to believe they would have.”
How to review your pensions
Support for the government
The Conservatives have said there are currently “no plans to alter state pension age arrangements” for the women affected by the equalisation of eligibility ages. A number of MPs supported this position in this week’s debate.
Julian Knight, the Tory MP for Solihull, said that the house should “reflect on how much this Government have done to improve the position of women in the pensions system”. This was in reference to measures which will see women given National Insurance credits when out of the workforce bringing up children, for example.
Knight added: “It is no secret that, without change, our current state pension arrangements will simply not be financially sustainable. People are living longer than ever… That is to be celebrated, but it also imposes serious burdens on welfare systems that were designed in another age.”
Knight’s fellow Conservative MP Marcus Fysh said he thought the women in question had in fact been given sufficient notice. “It is hard to say who was contacted or who was not,” Fysh said, “but from what I have seen…it seems that most people were given notice of the change, allowing them to plan.”
Are the new state pension rules unfair to women?
The next steps
The debate is likely to put pressure on the government to respond in more detail to WASPI’s requests for fairer transitional arrangements.
The group started a petition on the government’s website last October which has since gained more than 110,000 signatures. Any petitions which gain the support of at least 100,000 people should be considered for a parliamentary debate, so it may be that the issue is brought to the House of Commons for a second time at some point in the coming weeks.
Financial journalist Paul Lewis, who was quoted during the debate, commented: "It was gratifying that so many MPs from all parties broadly supported the campaign and that the information which the WASPI women and I have extracted from the DWP was widely quoted.
"Sadly, even a 158:0 vote for the motion to give some transitional help is not binding on the Government. And no hint of change was given by the Minister. But the pressure is certainly on the Government and we can only hope that it is at least looking again at what, if anything, it might do.”
Saga has called for the Pensions Minister to take urgent action.
"It is simply untenable that those approaching retirement can be given inaccurate information about their pensions." said Saga's director of communications Paul Green.
"Most people make significant financial plans based on this information, and if inaccurate could leave them with little to no time to make up for this government information error."
He added: "Many women born in the '50s already feel betrayed by changes that have been poorly communicated and introduced at a galloping pace. This latest information could have a profound impact on them. It is surely not too much for those saving for retirement to get fair treatment along with accurate and timely information.
"Perhaps less time should be spent on developing adverts with giant furry pension monsters, and more time on getting the basics right would avoid the monster mess the Work & Pensions Select Committee investigation highlights."
For more useful information about the state pension and other financial topics, browse our money articles