When the latest changes to pensions were made in the Pensions Act 2011, Labour Members objected to them. We had many debates about the issue-I remember speaking in them-and focused especially on the double-whammy effect on women, but the Government went ahead and passed the legislation.
I want to explain to the Minister what my constituents have written to me-I will read some of it out-about how women are being affected by the changes. Every one of the women who has contacted me has said that they agree with state pension age equality, but they object to and have difficulty with the way in which it has been implemented, particularly the acceleration of the increase and the lack of information.
Some of my constituents who are directly affected by the changes have told me that, even now, they have not received any communication or formal notification of the changes from the Department for Work and Pensions.
That is utterly unacceptable, given the gravity of the changes. Posting notices in women’s magazines and Sunday supplements is both patronising and ineffective. None of the women I have spoken to are readers of such publications; they found out about the changes through word of mouth.
As the increase in the pension age is literally life-changing, far more notice should have been given ahead of the changes, and the Government should have ensured that everyone affected can plan for their future. One lady I spoke to told me that she has lived at the same address for the past 30 years and has not received anything. There is no excuse for that. To suggest that people somehow knew what was happening is wrong.
Women have told me that their other major concern is that, even when they have been notified, they have not had enough time to prepare for the major changes in their lives. One of my constituents is 62 years of age and she was due to retire at 62 years and three months.
However, she will now have to work until she is 65. Understandably, that has caused a great deal of distress and uncertainty for her, because she had been planning to retire in a few months’ time. Her plan was to co-ordinate her retirement with the birth of her grandchildren so that she could look after them and not have to resort to having the Government pay for their childcare. The changes have thrown her life into turmoil and, of course, the Government will now end up paying for that childcare.
Another constituent has told me that, anticipating retirement at 60, she took voluntary redundancy aged 58 and a half when her company was seeking to downsize. She was later informed that she will not be able to access her state person until she is 66 years of age. She now finds herself unemployed and having difficulty finding another job, because of her age. She has been left in financial hardship as a result of not being notified about the changes to the state pension age until it was too late. She is not the only example; many thousands of women across the United Kingdom are in the same boat.
The discrepancy of two years and two months for women born between April and December 1953 is simply confusing and unfair. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government were told as much in the debates in 2011. It means that, for some constituents, the difference is about £14,000, which is a lot of money. Again, it is not just a few of my constituents who have been affected, but women across the country.
Hundreds of thousands of women have had significant changes imposed on them not just once, but twice, with a lack of appropriate notification, and retirement plans have been shattered, with devastating consequences. The Government seem to have failed to recognise the severe impact that the speed of the implementation of those changes has had on those women.
The changes have not affected men to the same extent, as their state pension age has not been increased by such a large amount and they have had much more notice. The pension system has historically discriminated against women, and the new changes are yet another example of that.
I urge the Government to reconsider the provisions and to diminish their impact by making transitional arrangements that are fairer for those women affected.