response to steve webbs pensions comments at lib dem conference

Tuesday 20 September 2011

In response to the Pensions Minister speaking on state pension age at the Liberal Democrat conference, Ros Altmann, Director General, Saga said:

“It is very encouraging to hear Steve Webb saying that state pension age changes 'have to be fair'. I sincerely hope this heralds amendments to the Pensions Bill that would grant a reprieve to those women - already in their late fifties who are currently threatened with up to a two year rise in their pension age, at very short notice (the same women whose pension age was already increased by up to 5 years under the last Conservative Government in 1995).

Of course we must equalise the state pension age for men and women and move retirement age to 66 more rapidly, but the current Pensions Bill proposals have caused huge distress and anger among those affected.  Many of these women are already retired - with only a few years left to pension age they have made irreversible decisions due to being ill or needing to care for others and their finances are now in disarray, since the pension they were relying on is being denied to them.

The only reason Government has given for these sudden rises in state pension age (despite having promised not to do so in its own Coalition Agreement last year) was to save £30billion in public expenditure between 2015/16 and 2025/26.  Of course this is a significant sum, but as Ministers also plan to accelerate the increase in state pension age to 67, perhaps by 2026, they will raise far more than £30bn and can, therefore, relax the proposed timetable.  For example, we could have equalisation at age 65 in 2020 and at age 66 in 2021 or 2022 (instead of rushing to raise women's pension age to 65 in 2018 and then going to 66 in 2020).  By increasing further to 67 by 2026, the Government could still save far more than the £30bn and also ensure that state pension age increases are fairer, with over ten years' notice of the changes.

The Prime Minister is apparently concerned about loss of support from women voters - he need look no further than the Pensions Bill plans to raise women's state pension age, to understand why women feel the Government does not take their issues seriously.  Around a third of women approaching retirement have no husband to rely on, and they rely far more heavily than men on the state pension as they were often banned from joining employer pension schemes - and yet their pension age is being increased by more than men's with shorter notice!
“Equalisation of the state pension age is the right thing to do but the timetable proposed is unreasonable.  People need time to plan pensions many years ahead, six years notice is inadequate, particularly when these same women had already uncomplainingly accepted a multi-year delay in receiving their state pension in 1995.
“It is right that Ministers now acknowledge the need for fairness  - but women want to know how?  A slower timetable initially, then further rises with adequate notice is a far better way forward - and can raise more revenue.  We have been promised transitional protection, but we actually need decisions.  The next two weeks will see the final chance to amend the Pensions Bill, Government must not let this opportunity slip away.  If it fails to undo the current unfairness, older women voters - and their daughters - are unlikely to forgive or forget.''


For further information please contact the Saga press office on 01303 771529.

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