Debate on WASPI

Clare spoke in the debate on the WASPI pensions campaign, and talked about the plight of ordinary women affected by the late change to retirement age. Full transcript follows.

Transcript

I, too, thank Sandra White for bringing the debate to Parliament, and I welcome the WASPI women who are in the gallery, including those from my Rutherglen constituency.

Unfortunately, I have not heard about any positive steps from the Tories—Annie Wells spoke of those in her speech. However, I will read what was said to see whether I missed something.

It has been estimated that 243,000 women in Scotland have been and will be affected by the change in respect of women’s pensions. As many members have already said, we do not object to the equalising of the pension ages of men and women, and neither does the WASPI campaign. What we oppose is the ill-thought-out decision that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of women enduring significant changes that have been imposed on them with no appropriate notification.

Anne Potter, the WASPI co-ordinator for Glasgow and Lanarkshire, has argued:

“Those born in the 1950s are angry. They feel persecuted and singled out as soft targets for the government to save money.”

That reflects the opinions of many women who have had their retirement plans obliterated, with overwhelming consequences.

New analysis suggests that individuals in the poorest households lose most from tax and benefit changes; it also suggests that single mothers are hardest hit by cuts to services and by tax and benefits changes. Simply put, women’s lives do not mirror those of men; differing working patterns, priorities and attitudes to saving have important roles to play in the discrepancy between male and female retirement planning. For a woman who was expecting to retire at 60 to be told, with little notice, that she must work for an extra six years, is crushing—especially if she has contributed for more than 40 years.

It is even more calamitous if the woman has poor health and is now expected to struggle on regardless. One of my constituents—Susan—is in exactly that situation. Having started work at 15 in a local factory, she eventually became a nurse, got married, raised a family, studied for and earned a master’s degree and changed career. In a demanding job, she suffered during her 50s from ill health, with a debilitating condition that can result in seizures. The condition is managed with medication, but a regular side-effect is chronic fatigue. In effect, she has to take prescription drugs to enable her to continue working. Susan had been looking forward to retirement last year at 60, but she must now work until she is 66. She is fearful that her health might not hold up, but with no pension at 60, she must continue to work for an income. A fair transitional arrangement could have offered her the prospect of perhaps an additional two or three years of working instead of six. That would not exactly have been the best of circumstances, but it would at least have offered some improvement on the current arrangements.

It cannot be right or fair that, after 45 years of paying into the system, Susan and many other women are now expected to work and contribute for up to 51 years, and might lose up to £40,000 in pension income in the process. It is also important to note that the increase in the state pension age also has multigenerational effects because, while older women continue to work, fewer jobs will be made available to younger generations. In addition, as we have heard, there will be an impact on caring arrangements, too.

As Sandra White mentioned in her opening speech, an independent report that was commissioned by the SNP found that it would cost £8 billion to return to the original timetable that is set out in the Pensions Act 1995. Rather than spending £7 billion on upgrading the Palace of Westminster, or £8.4 billion on the Iraq war, or £167 billion on the renewal of Trident, surely Westminster could easily have found £8 billion to prioritise women’s pensions and economic advancement. At the very least, consideration could be given to equalizing the pension age at some later point in the 2020s.

The SNP has raised the issue of women’s pension age 44 times in the House of Commons, has brought forth three debates on it at Westminster, and has even commissioned its own research, as I mentioned. However, as a result of inaction and indifference, the issue persists. That inaction indicates that women’s lives and their economic security are viewed as disposable or non-essential. That cannot continue. To ensure women’s economic safety, the Government must develop fair transitional arrangements for all women born on or after 6 April 1951 who have had to bear the undue burden of the state pension age increase.

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