Tory Minister Guy Opperman was heckled today as the Tory party faced yet more splits – this time over robbing women in the 60s of their state pension.
In a rowdy debate in Westminster Hall, MPs from all parties rounded on the government for leaving millions of women born in the 1950s without a state pension after laws to equalise the state pension age for men and women at the age of 65. This will rise to age 66 by 2020, but many women who up to now were able to draw a pension aged 60 argue that the policy is unfair as they have not had time to prepare for this change in their circumstances.
Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) campaign warns women now face years of retirement without their pension and MPs from all parties are calling on the government to ease the transition.
When Pensions Minister Guy Opperman today insisted that women stuck without a pension could instead apply for an apprenticeship he was greeted by jeers and members of the public who usually watch such debates in parliament in respectful silence shouting “shame on you” and “disgraceful.”
“It is not the Government’s position that they are going to make further concessions to those affected by the 95 or 2011 act,” insisted the Conservative MP for Hexham, Northumberland. “But I suggest there is a massive amount that this Government has done on a progressive basis to get people back into employment or retraining in their pre-pension years.”
As he was heckled loudly, he added, “we have also extended apprenticeship opportunities as one of the best routes to skilled employment for people of all ages and gender.”
Labour’s Graham Jones asked for clarification: “I’m struggling to hear the debate, did the minister just say that women aged 64 could go on an apprenticeship course?”
And other MP’s warned of the suffering that this would cause 2.6 million women born in the 1950s who have lost out.
Easing ton MP Grahame Morris, who led the debate, insisted: “As a nation, we owe a debt of honour to the WASPI women who have paid their contributions, who are not looking for apprenticeships at 64.
“They are looking for some recognitions of their contribution, sometimes over 44, 45 years or more, and many of whom are now in ill health.”
Laura Pidcock, Labour MP for North West Durham, added: “For these women, who have not had enough time to prepare, who have had inadequate correspondence from the Department for Work and Pensions, and who through no fault of their own have ended up in poverty, the right thing to do is to compensate those who have already reached state pension age and to provide a bridging pension for those who have not.”
The SNP’s Pensions spokeswoman Mhairi Black recounted how she had been contacted by a woman who said her friend committed suicide after the general election result “because she could not face what was going to happen to her”.
“Citizens committing suicide over an issue that could be solved like that – an issue the government could do a U-turn on at any given moment,” implored the MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South, adding it was “laughable” that the government “can find a billion pounds for a deal to cling on to power, but we cannot find the money to give women the pensions that they are due… The only other two things they are guilty of is being born in the 50s and the fact they are women.”
Labour MP for Swansea East Carolyn Harris said the government “has betrayed these women. They’ve stolen their security and they’ve shattered their dreams without time to prepare and make the necessary alternative arrangements”.
Conservative MP for Broadland Keith Simpson talked of how his own wife was affected by the changes: “she feels incandescent with rage. She had no correspondence whatsoever.”
Sammy Wilson, DUP MP for East Antrim, said his party would use its “influence, however minimal or maximum”, to try to persuade the government to back down on this.
A House of Commons motion asking the Government to introduce a temporary “bridging pension” to help women affected has been signed by 124 MPs from the Labour Party, SNP, DUP, Plaid Cymru, Liberal Democrats and Green Party, and one Conservative.