Meeting date: Wednesday, April 3, 2019
Meeting of the Parliament 03 April 2019
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, NHS and Social Care Staff (Workplace Support), Health Education, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Recall of Parliament, State Pension Changes (Compensation for Women)
- Portfolio Question Time
- NHS and Social Care Staff (Workplace Support)
- Health Education
- Business Motion
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Recall of Parliament
- State Pension Changes (Compensation for Women)
State Pension Changes (Compensation for Women)
The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-15784, in the name of Sandra White, on the women against state pension inequality campaign. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I ask members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak button.
A lot of members want to speak in the debate, so I need to be quite tight with time, because there are several receptions after the debate and I do not want to hold them up. At some point, we will need to extend the debate, but I will let members know when we do so. I ask for a crisp four minutes from all members, other than the opening and closing speakers. I am sure that you can all manage that.
That the Parliament regrets what it sees as the UK Government's inaction to end the injustice experienced by women affected by the changes to state pension laws; welcomes the campaign by the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) group to achieve fair transitional state pension arrangements for all women born in the 1950s affected by changes to state pension laws, including those in Glasgow Kelvin, and notes calls on the Scottish Government to urge the UK Government to provide a bridging pension that supplies an income until state pension age, which is not means tested, as well as compensation for the absence of a bridging pension to those who have already reached their state pension age, compensation to all those who have not started to receive a bridging pension by an appropriate date, which would be sufficient to recover lost monetary interest, and compensation to the beneficiaries of the estates of those who are deceased and failed to receive a bridging pension.17:10
I thank the MSPs who have signed the motion and enabled the debate to take place, and I thank Jackie Baillie, my co-convener of the WASPI cross-party group, for her support throughout the meetings that we have had.
I thank the WASPI campaigners for their dogged determination in highlighting the serious injustice that women who were born in the 1950s face. I was going to say that some of them are in the gallery, but I can see that the gallery is full of WASPI women. I thank them so much for turning up. That shows the importance of the debate and the subject to all women in Scotland and beyond. As the Presiding Officer said, there will be a reception later, and I look forward to meeting all the campaigners after the debate.
This is not the first time that I have had the opportunity to bring this important issue to the chamber. In 2017, I held a members’ business debate, yet here we are in 2019 and the WASPI women’s situation has not changed at all. In fact, the situation for the women has got worse, thanks to further Tory austerity and cuts to benefits for those who need them most. The issue affects hundreds of thousands of women. It is estimated that no fewer than 250,000 women will be affected in Scotland alone, yet the situation has remained the same. There has been no justice so far.
No one disagrees that there should be state pension equalisation, but we disagree with the way in which the changes have been implemented, which has been so damaging. The timetable for the changes to women’s state pensions, as set out in the Pensions Act 2011, has been accelerated over a short space of time and, in many cases, women have not received letters or any notification of changes at all. Not only is that unjust, it is causing severe financial and emotional hardship for women who are caught up with the changes. They simply have not been given the opportunity to put in place adequate financial measures to compensate for the shortfall.
As I am sure many members across the chamber have done, I have heard stories that illustrate the appalling situation that such women and their families are facing. The Tory Government is adding further hardship by penalising the women and their families through its draconian reforms to our welfare system, which have cut pension credit.
I am certain that the following stories will be familiar to many members. I have left out the people’s names at their request. I have said that they are stories, but these things happened. One woman said:
“My own story is that I was born in mid-October 1954 and I have worked since I was 15. Then 6 months before I was 60 I contracted Viral Meningitis. I decided not to be a burden to my employer and take my retirement. It was only after the paperwork was signed that my sister who volunteers for CAB informed me that I would not get my state pension until I was 66. I have paid 43 years National Insurance”—
that is the important point; she paid that money—
“and I feel this is a total injustice that have to wait not 18 months, but an extra 6 years to get my state pension.”
Another person told us:
“Due to life circumstances I was unable to join the superannuation scheme until 2004. In 2005 I received a letter stating that I wouldn’t be eligible to my pension until I reached the age of 66! I have worked for the NHS from 1986 and paid my national insurance since I was sixteen.”
Again, she has paid her national insurance. She went on:
“In 2014 I developed pancreatic cancer. I have since undergone surgery and chemotherapy and have no doubt that it will return. Therefore I had to leave my post with the NHS and retire early due to my ill health and I fear by the time I reach the age of 66 it will sadly be too late for me to even receive my pension that I paid into for 40 years.”
Those are shocking lived-experience testaments from women across the country. I am almost certain that other members will know of examples of the impact that the changes are having on their constituents, such as women who are unable to work as they care for elderly or ill parents or are suffering from ill health themselves. There are women who are forced to take jobs that are inappropriate for the state of their health, in order to qualify for limited jobseekers allowance, and then endure humiliating tests or face sanctions. Women are being forced to take jobs that place them in a worse financial situation, particularly jobs with zero-hours contracts. Single, divorced or widowed women often have no other sources of income; we know that that is the case because those women turn up at our cross-party group meetings. There are women who have planned and saved for their retirement and are living on dwindling limited savings until they reach the new state pension age, when the only income that they will have will be their state pension.
United Kingdom Government ministers are quick to defend their position by citing statistics that show that life expectancy is on the increase. As I am sure they know—and it is not news to us—the latest research shows that Glasgow has the lowest life expectancy, with women on average living to 78. So, tell them the statistics.
Pensioners are being hit under Tory austerity cuts. The UK has the lowest state pension in the developed world, and the UK Government is robbing the lowest earners of vital funds in their retirement. I say this all the time to WASPI women and to others: the state pension is not a privilege or a benefit, it is a contract that is entered into by hard-working women with the UK Government, and the UK Government has reneged on that contract. We must constantly say that it is not a benefit.
That is why I whole-heartedly support the WASPI campaign and its call to the UK Government to
“provide a bridging pension that supplies an income until state pension age, which is not means tested, as well as compensation for the absence of a bridging pension to those who have already reached their state pension age, compensation to all those who have not started to receive a bridging pension by an appropriate date, which would be sufficient to recover lost monetary interest, and compensation to the beneficiaries of the estates of those who are deceased”
—such as the lady I talked about—
“and failed to receive a bridging pension.”
That is justice and fairness, which is what WASPI women want and are entitled to.17:17
I start my contribution to the debate by acknowledging that all the women who are affected by the pension changes have every right to feel disappointed, angry and aggrieved at the impact on their lives. I understand and empathise with their arguments, particularly as they faced significant barriers to work and workplace rights during their working lives. I believe that there was a failure in communication when the changes were accelerated. However, as I only have four minutes, I will focus on the position that we are in, as I understand it.
It is important to reflect that we are discussing a course of action that has its roots in the European Court of Justice, as part of a drive to ensure equal pay for men and women—a sensible, necessary move, as I am sure many members in the chamber would agree. Life expectancy was changing—positive changes meant people were living longer—and the pensions system was experiencing increasing demands. The Pensions Act 2011 was passed in the heat of the financial crisis with very real concerns in mind.
All of us would no doubt agree that a pensions system is only effective if it is sustainable, and if it is not sustainable, it will do little good. With spending on the state pension set to increase by £26 billion, action had to be taken in the face of the risk that future generations would receive nothing at all.
The motion calls on the UK Government to provide a “bridging pension” and I have asked about the options. It is my understanding that the UK Government has fully explored the options that are available to mitigate the pension change, which shows that it realises that, although change was necessary, as was the acceleration of the timetable, there may not have been adequate communication with some women, which the Work and Pensions Committee has confirmed.
However, as the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions said the other month, the Department for Work and Pensions—
Will the member take an intervention?
I do not have time; I have only four minutes.
The secretary of state said that the DWP has found that there are
“substantial practical, financial and legal problems to all alternative options that have been suggested.”—[Official Report, House of Commons, 17 December 2018; Vol 651, c 6P.]
Perhaps the greatest barrier to mitigation is that reversing the 2011 state pension age changes would cost more than £30 billion up to the end of 2025-26, while returning to a female state pension age of 60 would cost more than £77 billion by 2020-21.
There are also legal issues to be considered here. There is a high risk that, if the UK Government was to acquiesce to calls for a bridging pension, it would find itself in contravention of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which insists on parity between men and women when it comes to pay—and, after all, that was the initial purpose of the change. Such a move might also bring the UK into conflict with European Union law, and particularly the ECJ decision that sparked the process of pension equalising across Europe. [Interruption.] You support European law
Please. I want to hear the member.
Interestingly, if the Scottish Government was at last to ratify CEDAW—it is disappointing that it has not done so—it could find itself bound by the same legal constraints and be unable to reverse or mitigate the changes for the risk of falling foul of equalities discrimination. I note that there have been conversations about that and, in the meeting that I went to, the cabinet secretary at the time was quick to say that Scotland could not afford to support the changes and would fall foul of the law if it did so.
Personally, I think that it is important that we wait for the result of the case that has been brought to the High Court. The Department for Work and Pensions has temporarily suspended action on state pension age matters until the judicial review is complete, and I think that the results of that legal action will provide us with a useful litmus test on which options the Government should pursue. Bearing that in mind, I think that it is clear that the UK Government will not make a decision until that review has gone through the courts, and that should be considered in any calls to action. Although I recognise the issue, I think that, if we are going to act on behalf of the women effectively, we need to wait until the court case has gone through and then look at the issue in the light of what is said.17:21
I am pleased to have been called to speak in this important members’ business debate on the on-going plight of women who were born in the 1950s and are affected by changes to UK state pension provision. I congratulate my colleague Sandra White MSP on securing this timely debate and on her tireless work over the years to secure justice for those women. I take the opportunity to mention my Westminster colleague Mhairi Black MP, who is also is a real heroine of the campaign. I also commend the work of the west Fife women against state pension injustice group, which has also campaigned tirelessly to see that justice is done and has helped to ensure that the issue remains at the forefront of debate. I, too, welcome all our guests—all these fabulous women campaigners—to the gallery tonight.
As we have heard, the problem stems from the fact that the UK Government accelerated the increase of the state pension age for women who were born in the 1950s. Although it is true that there was a lead-in time for the changes, nobody knew about them. The first letters were not sent out until 2009, some 14 years after the Pensions Act 1995, which introduced them. In the intervening years, the DWP sent out letters about the state pension to the women without even bothering to mention that they would now not be getting their pensions at the age of 60. The accelerations under the 2011 act simply exacerbated the problems.
Regrettably, it has to be said that the UK Government has had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to even recognise that the problem exists. Whither, then, the social contract with the state that state pensions represent? It is a social contract that involves paying into the system over many years through national insurance contributions, and it means that there is, therefore, an entitlement and a legitimate expectation that, upon reaching a certain age, the state pension will be paid. Planning is done and family commitments and aspirations are dealt with on that basis, and for the UK Government to pretend otherwise just shows how out of touch it is.
How were the women supposed to build up the necessary resources to replace the state pension that they will now not receive? In that regard, we know that many of the women simply do not have private pensions to fall back on. Tens of thousands of women across Scotland and hundreds of thousands of women across the UK are losing tens of thousands of pounds. The UK Government has pauchled their money, and it is not on. This is the UK Government’s mess and it is therefore incumbent on the UK Government to sort it out.
In that respect, when suggestions are made that seek to transfer the responsibility to the Scottish Parliament, which has no power over the matter, we have to recall that the unionist parties—Tory, Labour and Lib Dem alike—have used their best endeavours to ensure that the Westminster Parliament keeps exclusive control over pensions. I presume that that is not on the ground that Westminster is doing a good job, given that the UK state pension is among the lowest in Europe, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The women are fed up with the UK Government’s stalling, procrastination, misinformation and outright rejection. The situation is all the more galling given that the UK Government is sitting on a surplus of some £30 billion in the national insurance fund, which is far in excess of what would be required to sort the problem—£8 billion is the current accurate estimate.
I entirely support the calls for the UK Government to provide the women with a bridging pension so that they will have an income until they reach their state pension age. I also support the calls for appropriate compensation for the women who would not otherwise benefit from that bridging option. It is time for the UK Government to pay out and honour the financial debt that it owes. Why will the UK Government not just do the right thing?17:26
I thank Sandra White for her determination to take this important issue forward. Few issues have unified women across the country more than the scandal of the women who have been robbed of their pension at 60—a pension that they had paid for. The gallery is a sight to behold.
In her Westminster hall debate, Patricia Gibson MP pointed out that the issue is not about people living longer, as some would have us believe, but about women who had their pension age changed with no notice and, further, who faced an accelerated timetable in 2011 that brought the change forward by nine years. It is the biggest scandal of the decade, and it is a shame that the Tories cannot see that.
The goalposts were moved not just once but twice—it was a double whammy. The age of equalisation was 65, and then the pension age moved up to 67—those women have had a double whammy. Westminster robbed them and Westminster should pay. It was right that we had the equalisation of men and women, as Sandra White said, but that should not have resulted in women being robbed in their later years in life. The vast majority of those women started work at the age of 15 or 16 and have not had the educational opportunities that younger women may have had. They were carers and they were mothers, and they worked part time and probably on the lowest levels of pay. They have been rewarded with a baseball bat across their entitlement.
When George Osborne was Chancellor of the Exchequer, he told a global investment conference in 2013 that raising women’s pension age was
“one of the less controversial things we have done”
“it has probably saved more money than anything else.”
Today, women around the country are making it clear that that will never be forgotten.
Baroness Altmann said that the former pensions secretary, lain Duncan Smith refused to engage with her, saying that she was not to speak to the women, because they would go away.
Stella Taylor, who was born in 1955, said that she worked all of her life. She became unwell at the age of 58 and discovered, quite accidentally, that her state pension age—she had expected to receive her pension at 60—had been moved to 66. Sandra White recalled the same type of story—they are not uncommon.
We need to be clear that it is the lack of notice that is the biggest scandal of all. Women were not able to prepare for their retirement years. Steve Webb, who is another former pensions minister, acknowledged that when his department wrote to women for the first time to let them know of the changes—that they were to work an additional year—it was probably “the first time” that many of them realised that they were to work an extra six years.
As Annabelle Ewing said, until the 1990s, women were not allowed to join company pension schemes. Women faced returning to work at difficult times, and a lack of age-friendly policies will be a factor in that regard. Some divorce settlements have been calculated using the projected incomes that women might have received at a pension age of 60—the clock cannot be reversed on that one. The Government can find the money to bail out the bankers, so it is time that the Government found the money to pay these women their pensions.
We should not lose sight of the fact that pensions are a wider issue in society. The retirement age has gone up, and we have not had much of a say in that. We need to educate people about how important their pension is to them. It is their deferred pay—it is money that they have paid to the state or into their pension scheme, and they need to have a say in the state retirement age. Pay the WASPI women what they are due. Back the WASPI women.17:30
First, I declare an interest, in that my wife is a WASPI. Secondly, I pay tribute to Sandra White, not only for securing the debate but for so persistently campaigning, along with others, on the issue. It is a great pity that decisions on the issue do not lie with this Parliament, because I am absolutely sure that, if they did, the problem would never have happened. Had we inherited the problem, we would have sorted it long before now.
Michelle Ballantyne used the term “failure in communication” about the failure of the UK Government to tell the WASPI women that they would have to wait much longer than they thought to get the pension to which they were entitled. I do not call that a failure in communication; I call it the deliberate deception of those women and an attempt to undermine their right to the pension that they have paid for.
I say gently to Michelle Ballantyne that I have been in this chamber for 20 years and I have never heard so much rubbish in one speech as I heard in hers. On the argument that the issue is down to financial hardship, I remember Cameron and Osborne telling us that we were all in it together. Well, we were not all in it together. Cameron is already worth an estimated £10 million and is reputedly about to make another £3 million or £4 million from his memoirs, while Osborne has about 100 different jobs, totalling millions of pounds a year. Nobody is delaying the payment of their pensions; nobody is punishing them for the damage that they have done to these women—and, indeed, to pensioners more widely, because, as Pauline McNeill said, there is a wider debate.
We are told that the money is not there. That is not true. Pension tax relief is worth £45 billion a year, 80 per cent of which goes to something like 10 per cent of the wealthiest people in the country. If they can get the same tax relief as the rest of us, the money is there to pay the WASPI women many times over. It is not accurate to argue that the money is not there. The money is there if the will is there, but the policy was introduced by people who want to keep the wealthy wealthy and to deprive people who have been working all their lives of the pension to which they are entitled.
As Annabelle Ewing pointed out, there is a £30 billion surplus in the national insurance fund, so £8 billion over the years that we are talking about is perfectly affordable. We can take from richer people to give to the WASPI women and use some of the surplus to pay out compensation.
This is not just about politics or economics; it is about morality in public life. These women are being denied their money—it is not someone else’s money. The whole point of the contributory system is that we pay in during our working lives and we get our pension from the age that we have been told that we will get it from. That was the deal, and the deal has been broken in respect of the WASPI women.
Relative to average wages, our pensioners are the poorest paid in the whole of Europe. Although this is primarily about the WASPI women, the fact is that our pensioners, in the fifth largest economy in the world, are living in poverty compared with our European brothers and sisters. It is high time that all our pensioners, especially the WASPI women, get the justice that they are entitled to.17:35
Alex Neil is absolutely right: if anyone was under the impression that the Conservative Government was working hard on behalf of pensioners, that myth has been well and truly busted.
I thank Sandra White for giving us another opportunity to highlight the injustices that the WASPI women face. I also thank the WASPI women for making the issue live and bringing it here. They must not go away.
I was glad to debate the issue last year, and it is important that we continue to debate it until the wrongs are righted. Millions of women around the UK are retiring much later than they had planned because, over a long period, the Department for Work and Pensions and its predecessor departments repeatedly failed to ensure that women who would be affected by changes in the pension age were aware of the changes. Those women were not made aware sufficiently in advance to allow them to prepare accordingly.
Even worse, the UK Government had opportunities to correct that situation, but it did not. For instance, in 2004, a DWP survey found that although 73 per cent of female respondents who were set to be affected by equalisation were aware of it, only 43 per cent were aware of their new state pension age. It also found that awareness of the state pension age was lower in certain groups, including women who carry out unpaid work and those who carry out poorly paid manual work, which are the very groups that are least able to cope financially with having to work many more years at short notice. The survey found that just 2 per cent of those who knew about the changes were made aware through DWP or pension service communications, so the UK Government knew fine well that its message was not getting out.
The DWP concluded:
“This low figure provides cause for concern and shows that information about the increase in state pension age is not reaching the group of individuals who arguably have the greatest need to be informed.”
Why, then, was that not acted on? Why did the UK Government wait until 2009 to send out personalised letters to the women who were affected to inform them of their changed retirement age? If the DWP knew, as has been admitted, that letters are only read by one in three recipients and that many people were not getting them because they had changed address, why was more effort not made to contact the women concerned?
A House of Commons select committee report concluded that
“governments could have done a lot better in communicating the changes. Well into this decade far too many affected women were unaware of the equalisation of state pension age at 65 legislated for in 1995”.
That was more than 15 years later. Even now, despite the fantastic work that is being done by the WASPI campaign, too many people around the UK are still unaware of their state pension age, and it is certainly not up to the WASPI women to make people aware.
There was clearly a major failure to properly inform the 1950s women of changes to their retirement age, which is why the motion is absolutely right to support the WASPI request for bridging pensions and other forms of compensation.
We must also look at pension credit, with regard to which there is another injustice that will mean that some WASPI women are hit again. From May, mixed-age couples in which one partner is below the pension age will no longer be able to receive pension credit and both will have to claim universal credit—that great success story. Couples who claim after 15 May could be as much as £140 a week, or £7,000 a year, worse off. That will make it even harder for WASPI women to get by.
As Age Scotland argues, it is particularly disappointing that, rather than making sure that everyone is aware of that big change—it had been on the statute book since 2012, but not implemented—the announcement was made quietly through a ministerial statement on a busy day in the UK Parliament. Clearly, lessons have not been learned.
The Scottish Greens congratulate the WASPI campaign on the incredible work that it has done so far in raising awareness of this injustice, and fully back its calls for bridging pensions and compensation to right this wrong. Philip Alston, the United Nations rapporteur on poverty, concluded that some UK welfare reforms could have been written by a roomful of misogynists. This is another such example.17:39
I congratulate my friend and colleague Sandra White for securing this important debate. It is appalling that, in 2019, the debate, fight and campaign are still taking place. I thank the WASPI women who are in the Parliament today and those who have campaigned so tirelessly on the issue over the past number of years.
Michelle Ballantyne clearly has a different political view of the issue, which is understandable when we bear in mind her political party. In her speech, she spoke about the Pensions Act 2011 and stated that it was passed in the heat of the financial situation in 2011. However, most people recognise that the situation is different now, so why has the 2011 act not been revisited to fix the problem for all the WASPI women who are in the Scottish Parliament today?
Politicians from the pro-union side of the constitutional debate have argued that the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament have the powers to do something about the WASPI situation. There have even been suggestions that we should top up the pensions, but those suggestions are disingenuous.
First, if the system is wrong and pensions need to be topped up, there will be a shortfall, which will need to be fixed. Secondly, women are being targeted by the Tory UK Government to make up for its own mistakes. Thirdly, the Scottish Parliament does not have the powers to fix the situation, so any suggestion by politicians that it does is misleading and does the WASPI campaigners yet another injustice, on top of the one that has already been inflicted.
Does Stuart McMillan agree that slipping the policy under the wire was not a mistake, but a strategy to ensure that women did not take to the streets ahead of the decision and did not realise that supporting the Tory party was a mistake?
I absolutely agree with Gillian Martin.
My fourth point is that in 2014, the people of Scotland were told that a vote to remain in the UK would protect and guarantee pensions. Clearly, among other things that they were told, such as that voting no would safeguard Scotland’s membership of the European Union, that was not the case. It was another false claim by the pro-union side.
Some MSPs suggest that the Scottish Government should top up the pensions. However, section 26 of the Scotland Act 2016 says that the power to do that is limited to
“a short-term need that requires to be met to avoid a risk to the well-being of an individual.”
That indicates that, to get that done, each person would need to be assessed.
Exception 10 in section 28 of the 2016 act is about the power to create new benefits. It states that the power cannot be used to provide pensions to people
“who qualify by reason of old age.”
Exception 5 in section 24 of the Scotland Act 2016 relates to the “top-up of reserved benefits” and the wide-ranging power to make discretionary payments. However, in order for it to apply, people must already be receiving a reserved benefit that could be topped up. In the case of the WASPI women, they have been denied that which is rightfully theirs and they are not getting that pension. How can they get a top-up of something that they are not getting?
Some politicians will claim that it is not a constitutional issue, and neither should it be. However, when a system is broken and we are being asked to pick up the pieces by applying an imaginary top-up that we are not allowed to apply, it could be claimed that WASPI women will not get what is rightfully theirs until some MSPs and pro-union parties admit that the answer to the problem lies at Westminster. I agree with Pauline McNeill’s comments on that issue.
I am sure that every MSP will want to support Scotland’s WASPI women and ensure that they get what is rightfully theirs, because they have put into that pot.17:44
I reassure my good friend Alex Neil that David Cameron will never make £3 million from his memoirs, because not even the Tory members will buy them.
More seriously, I thank Sandra White for her powerful advocacy on behalf of WASPI women and Jackie Baillie for her work on the cross-party group that is supported by so many colleagues across the Parliament.
When the state chooses to change the pension age, the people affected by the change have a right to understand why it is happening and to be fully consulted on the change. Why, then, is it that WASPI women are so understandably aggrieved by the changes that now directly affect them? Why is a landmark judicial ruling, expected this year, so eagerly awaited? Why does the redoubtable Janet Ainsworth lead a public demonstration at the South Lochside roundabout in Lerwick every Saturday at noon no matter the weather? Janet and women like her have formed the Shetland pension justice group and have a Facebook page to prove it, so that people—not just from across Shetland but from the widespread campaigns across the nations of the UK—can keep in touch. Why have more women attended meetings hosted by Alistair Carmichael in recent weeks in both Orkney and Shetland than meetings on any other major issue?
It is because that generation of women speak about being robbed: robbed of the money from their hard work and service; and robbed of their rights. Shetland women talk about losing sight of and touch with their loved ones in retirement; of not being able to be a granny; of having to make a choice between giving up work, often to care for loved ones, and taking a drop in the hours that they work, with the financial shortfall that that means for the household. Why was there no direct consultation with the women affected by the pension changes? Would that have been so difficult? For those and many other reasons, the issue needs to be addressed. It cannot be right that a legal case is the only potential solution that 3,000 women in Shetland and Orkney alone will see to right this wrong.
Annabelle Ewing mentioned that the pension changes make women tens of thousands of pounds worse off. That money could be spent on many household things, not least on heating the home, as elderly people are particularly affected by fuel poverty. Shetland spends more per household on heating and keeping warm than most of Scotland, and that is even more true for people in elderly households. The cost of living for the 1950s generation of women is 20 to 60 per cent higher in the islands than the UK average, and state pensions do not include such geographic variations. The Shetland population is ageing faster than the rest of Scotland, with 19 per cent of it over 65, which is 4 per cent more than a decade ago.
Women in their 60s care for their elderly spouses and parents. Many look after the next generation, especially those with disabilities. They have been described as the sandwich generation—in Shetland that might be better termed the bannock generation. No matter the title, Janet Ainsworth, the Shetland pension justice group and the 1950s generation of women deserve better. It is time that that happened.
I still have six members who wish to speak, so I am minded to accept a motion without notice, under rule 8.14.3, to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes. I invite Sandra White to move such a motion.
That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Sandra White]
Motion agreed to.17:47
lt is good that so many members have stayed to contribute to the debate, which is of enormous importance not only to women, but to their families and their families’ wellbeing. When I was in my late teens, my mother and father continually lectured me on the need to provide myself with, first, adequate life insurance and, secondly, a pension. Although they were by no means well off themselves, that was always a priority for them and they encouraged me to follow suit.
Of course, when we are young, those things seem a long way off and of little relevance—they are certainly not the first of our priorities. However, I am glad that I listened to my parents, although that was more to keep them happy than because I thought it was the right thing to do. It was not until my late 20s that I fully understood why it was and appreciated the security that it provided, not just for me but for the family that I then had, being married with a child.
Thinking back, if the truth be known, I think that the fact that week by week, month by month and year by year I was contributing to the national insurance scheme and knew that there would be a time when the Government of the day would make good its promise of a state pension, so it was something secure that I had in the bank, worked against the notion of being bothered to make any additional provision for retirement. For everyone, the date of retirement was definite and certain and, since the Government was the public provider, it was considered to be rock solid.
Bringing that forward to today, we find ourselves in a situation in which what women have planned for and taken for granted all their lives, what they have worked for and what they were promised—and, indeed, entitled to—has been taken away from them, not by a callous private provider, but by their own Government, which has broken the contract without any redress of any kind. Just think what would have happened if a rogue private provider had said, at the end of the contract, “We have ripped up the agreement; we are ignoring the deal. We took your payments but we are unilaterally extending the date when we will pay out.” The roof would have fallen in on them.
The fact that it is the UK Government that has acted unilaterally in that way and which has stolen pension rights from the WASPI women does not make it acceptable. The fact that the UK Government brought in legislation to make that theft legal does not make it just. The fact that the UK Government has the power to act in that reprehensible way does not make it honest. The impact of this measure on women’s wellbeing is, and will continue to be, profound. It is time for the UK Government to recognise the damage that has been done and to reverse this mean-hearted measure and restore trust in the pension system. It is time to restore the pension rights of all the affected women.
I urge members to support the WASPI women.17:51
I, too, thank Sandra White for bringing the debate to the chamber. I know that the fight for state pension equality is one that we both care a great deal about, as co-conveners of the cross-party group on the issue.
I welcome the WASPI campaigners from my constituency and across Scotland who are in the gallery, and I encourage colleagues to meet them after the debate to learn more about the impact on them and what each of us can do to help with the campaign.
More than 2.5 million women who were born in the 1950s have had their state pension age changed without fair notification—in fact, it is probably true to say that many of them have had it changed without any notification at all. Those women deserve recognition for the injustice that they have suffered, an apology for the way in which their complaints have been handled and compensation for their loss.
As I am sure that the WASPI campaigners would point out, there is an argument to be had about the Pensions Act 1995 and the equalising of the retirement age at 65, but it is the completely unreasonable way in which those changes were implemented that has meant that millions of women across the country are being discriminated against purely on the basis of the year in which they were born. They rightly feel robbed—of their entitlement, because they paid into their pensions all their working lives. The almost complete lack of notice that was given to the women, more than 250,000 of whom live in Scotland, has resulted in many of them experiencing significant financial hardship. They have had no time at all to plan for their retirement, despite the Turner commission saying that a notice period of at least 10 to 15 years was required.
To add insult to injury, through a recent freedom of information request, it was found that just three people at the DWP have been given the job of dealing with the thousands of complaints from women who have unfairly missed out on their pensions. That is downright offensive to the millions of women who have spent their working lives contributing to our country, and it shows that the UK Tory Government has a complete lack of understanding of the issue at hand.
Women up and down the country are being forced to wait for significant periods of time just to get an answer to a complaint that they should never have had to make in the first place. The Independent Case Examiner was set up to deal with WASPI complaints. I welcome the fact that it has assessed around 400 cases for examination and has investigated more than 40 cases, but between October 2017 when ICE was created and February 2018, fewer than 44 investigation reports into complaints were issued, and the number of published reports is stagnating because of the size of the complaints backlog. Then, more than 2,000 cases still had not seen the light of day, and I understand that there have been many more since then. At the time of the freedom of information request, it was calculated that, if the DWP kept up its average reply time of 9.75 weeks per case, it would be over 20 years before all 2,000-odd cases were examined. Frankly, that is a disgrace.
This fight could have been avoided. The Government failed to give the women due respect. The amount of time, energy and money that WASPI women have given to the campaign has been recognised in this Parliament and in the UK Parliament. Just three weeks ago, the WASPI campaign won the Sheila McKechnie Foundation grass-roots action support award for specialist lobbying, on which I congratulate the campaign. I had the pleasure of organising a meeting for WASPI women in Dumbarton to which hundreds upon hundreds of women came. I congratulate my local WASPI groups in Argyll and Bute and West Dunbartonshire. I stand side by side with them to address the injustice that they have experienced, and I encourage everyone in the Parliament to join the fight. WASPI women deserve justice.17:55
I, too, am grateful to Sandra White for securing this important debate on behalf of WASPI women throughout Scotland. As others have done, I acknowledge her fight and determination on the issue. I also thank the WASPI women who are in the gallery. They are but a small fraction of the women across Scotland who are affected. I thank those who are involved in the campaign for all that they do for women across Scotland and the UK, including many women in my family who are affected.
I do not know whether to feel sorry for Michelle Ballantyne. Here she is, having been sent out by the Conservative Party to put on the face and defend the UK Government, flanked on either side by the landowning gentry, who are unlikely—
That is seriously disrespectful, Presiding Officer.
They are unlikely to be affected by the changes. I have to say that Michelle Ballantyne’s speech was a disgrace. She should have turned around and faced the gallery.
The subject is yet another example of how Westminster simply does not work for Scotland. The vast majority of MSPs and Scottish MPs oppose the strategy that the UK Government has adopted and the devastating impact that it is having on women up and down the UK. Like other members, I have been contacted by countless women in my constituency who have told me how big the impact of the decision has been on them and their families. Long-made plans for retirement have been thrown into the air by the heartless Tory party.
I believe that there is a consensus in support of equalising the retirement age for men and women. We have heard that from almost every member in the debate. However, it has to be done in a sensible and fair way. Simply to dictate to women a couple of years before they retire that they will need to work on for several years more is just not good enough. That is why I support the calls for a bridging pension and compensation.
Last year, I was privileged to speak at the Lanarkshire WASPI event in Coatbridge alongside the local MP—Labour’s Hugh Gaffney. On issues of such importance that span the country, party allegiances should be put to one side. All of us should stand four square behind the women who are affected by the changes. Some of the stories that we heard that day were absolutely heartbreaking. I was going to give specific examples, but many have been adequately covered by other members. Women have had to put their plans on hold: holidays, dreams of a lifetime and plans for children and grandchildren have been put on hold, there has been financial hardship and much more. It is absolutely heartbreaking.
Another issue that came out at the event was the importance of men also fighting the injustice, which was something that I had not thought about prior to the meeting. We have rightly talked about the women in the gallery: I note that there are a couple of men there, too. Women at the event said that the policy is an injustice for everybody, so we all need to fight it. That is why I am glad that there is cross-party support and that lots of male MSPs have spoken.
The situation is a national scandal involving blatant discrimination and injustice. The policy is misogynistic and includes gender and age discrimination. The Tories thought that they could get away with it, but they have had a bit of a shock, have they not? The WASPI campaign is to be commended for how it has conducted itself. The women should be paid what they are due. Support the WASPI campaign.
Before I call the next member, I say that members should be civil to other members in the chamber. The members to whom Mr MacGregor referred are not taking part in the debate; they are here supporting a member of their party. I think that members would understand that. The remark that was made was rather unfortunate, so I caution members about how they address one another. [Interruption.] That is the matter dealt with. I do not want to hear another thing.17:59
The debate is about justice and fairness. I thank Sandra White for giving members the opportunity to put on the record our support for the women who have been treated so badly.
As Sandra White said, the WASPI campaign is not about opposition to the equalisation of the pension age or about the state pension age reverting to 60. It is simply a demand for fair transitional arrangements for the many women who were born in the early 1950s who are affected by the Pensions Act 1995 and the Pensions Act 2011. For the majority of their working lives, those women were told that the state would provide pensions for them at 60, only for the rug to be pulled from under them.
We should remember that the WASPI women entered the workforce in an era in which sex discrimination was rife. Women were often paid less than men for doing the same work. Even the welcome introduction of the Equal Pay Act 1970 did not end that unfairness. Not only did many women earn less than men, but they often worked in industries in which company pensions were inadequate or non-existent. Even when women were covered by workplace pensions, those pensions were badly hit when they took time off to raise their children. They certainly did not enjoy the levels of state childcare support that parents like me now enjoy. We are talking about a generation of women, many of whom did not have highly paid jobs with gold-plated work pensions.
Philip Alston, who is a United Nations independent expert, found that WASPI women had been particularly impacted by a
“poorly phased in change in the state pension age”,
and that the number of pensioners living in poverty in the UK had risen by 300,000. As Jackie Baillie said, the Turner pensions commission recommended that 15 years’ notice of the change be given, and Saga recommended 10 years. The reality is that many women were not personally notified in 1995 that a huge change was in the pipeline.
One of those women was my constituent Anne Ferguson, from Kilbarchan. In 2012, she was told by the DWP that her state pension age had not changed, then it changed to 63.5 years, then it changed to 65 years and three months. She was given no notice to prepare. Anne was lucky, in that she found a job to tide her over. Many others have not been as fortunate.
Where is the justice for the women who received letters 14 years after the 1995 act was passed? A large percentage received a letter advising them of significant increases to their pension age only when they were approaching their pension age, which gave them hardly any time to make alternative arrangements. As members said, some women report not having received a letter at all.
As Pauline McNeill said, in 2013, George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said that raising women’s pension age was
“one of the less controversial things we have done, and yet probably has saved more money than anything else we have done”.
The comment shows that there was a cold and callous calculation that there were huge savings to be made without provoking a major backlash.
What we have here is a scandal of major proportions. It is a sexist scandal, because it hits women more than it hits men, and it hits lower-income women disproportionately hard. It is a scandal that could be fixed, if there were the political will to do so. As a country, we have rightly had to make financial provision for the impact of Brexit. We rightly find the resources to respond to national emergencies. When it comes to war, the money can be found.
Therefore, if we are so minded, across the political spectrum we can make a pact and say that we will do the right thing. We should listen to the women who are in the gallery today and to the many thousands more in my community and across the country. We should honour the contribution that those women have made to society and take the necessary steps to deliver the money that would address the unfairness and injustice.18:04
This issue continues to raise its head for all the wrong reasons.
First and foremost, I thank Sandra White MSP for, once again, bringing this serious issue to the chamber for debate.
There will not be one of the 129 members in the chamber who has not encountered the WASPI campaign and WASPI women within their constituency or region over the past few years. Their arguments have remained constant and consistent and they have been well rehearsed by previous speakers, so I will not go back over them.
Sadly, it is one of a number of unfair and unreasonable policies implemented by a Tory UK Government that is continually out of touch and out of luck, and which is rapidly running out of time.
Not only were the changes ineffectively communicated and, in many instances, not communicated at all, but they are reliant on the women affected remembering whether they were informed about them over 25 years ago, although I acknowledge that even that may not have happened.
That is not just ludicrous. It is completely unreasonable for the UK Government to just assume that it is all fine. The sheer ineptitude of this Tory UK Government is quite astonishing. Mind you, it is wholly unsurprising that they have taken a carry-on-regardless approach, just as we have seen them do with other issues that are coming home to roost.
Sandra White’s motion urges the UK Government to provide bridging pensions and compensation to those most affected by the changes, and I believe that that is the very least that the UK Government should be doing. A recognition that its approach to the issue is entirely counterproductive and personal apologies to all those who have been affected would go some way towards rebuilding those burned-down bridges.
While those who are living have to bear the brunt of the severe incompetence and intransigence of the UK Government, our thoughts should turn to those who have died waiting on it to get its act together. It is nothing short of a scandal that women across the countries of the UK who have been fighting against state pension inequality have since died waiting for the UK Government to clean up its mess; it should be utterly ashamed of that harrowing and abhorrent fact.
Make no mistake, the hundreds of WASPI women in my Falkirk East constituency, and those across the wider Falkirk district, have allies on the benches here to call on the Tory UK Government to face up to its own inadequacies and admit that it has failed those women. It needs to act on its failures and find a solution to the matter—a point that we in the SNP have been making for years now through our Westminster colleagues. I have little faith that the UK Government will make that happen, however, and I fully believe that if it does not make it happen, then it should give those powers to the Scottish Government to ensure that it does happen.
We often hear cries from the Tory benches about welfare powers, and I remind them that the benefits that are devolved to the Scottish Parliament still have to fit within the confines of a narrow UK system that is failing our citizens across these countries. The only way forward for Scotland to be able to treat our citizens with dignity, fairness and respect is to take the decisions that affect us most, ourselves.
We can see that this is a mess created by the UK Government that habitually turns its backs on its own citizens. Governments are supposed to be there to protect and provide for the people. However, in our experience, Tory Governments are interested only in protecting and providing for their own interests. I add to the calls from this Parliament for the UK Government to get its act together and ensure that WASPI women, who have lost out to date, get the apology and the money that they rightfully deserve.
I call Willie Coffey, the last speaker in the open debate.18:08
I too thank my colleague Sandra White for securing the debate and representing the case of many thousands of women across Scotland who are being robbed of their pensions by the UK Government. I also welcome to the Parliament the Ayrshire WASPI women and their families who have campaigned long and hard to right this wrong.
Robbery is the appropriate term here, because that is what it is: state-sponsored robbery of some of the poorest people in society. What has the UK Government’s response been? Basically it has been to do nothing, claim it is too expensive to fix, blame Europe, as we heard earlier, and tell those women—as the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions did in December—that they should count themselves lucky because they will
“receive more State Pension on average over their lifetime than women ever have before.”—[Official Report, House of Commons, 17 December 2018; Vol 651, c 8P.]
Across Ayrshire, about 14,000 women are affected, and it is a pity that they have had no support whatsoever from their Tory MP or MSPs who have given them a deaf ear on the subject. Personal losses for many are anything from in the region of £17,000 all the way up to £45,000 or £50,000. Let us also not forget that those women will continue to be required to pay their national insurance well beyond their previously expected years of service.
There is something fundamentally wrong about all this. The WASPI women upheld their end of the pensions contract when working and paying into their state pension all their lives. Surely it is unacceptable for any Government to break that contract for something as crucial as a pension, particularly so close to the point of retirement. Despite what the UK Government claims, those women did not receive any notification regarding changes to the state pension age, so most were shocked to find that they would not receive their state pension until they turned 66.
As a consequence of what has happened, many women have had to sell their homes or use up their life savings now, rather than keep what they had for their well-earned retirement. Many gave up work in anticipation of their retirement, and now have to try to get back into work. Disgracefully, many who gave up work in order to provide care for elderly parents or even their grandchildren are having to give those roles up, with the obvious consequences of that being clear to most of us in here.
There is no doubt that the pension-age changes are having a knock-on effect on the numbers of women over 60 who now have to claim jobseekers allowance or employment support allowance. Surely the Government assessed that before it decided its policy? There are many other consequential effects that the Government has either chosen to ignore, at best, or, at worst, simply does not care about. Think about the loss of the support for families and children that is very much a part of the caring role that retired grandparents offer. Think about the young people who will not be able to find work or get promotion because there are fewer opportunities as a result of older people being forced to stay in work longer. Further, think about the thousands of charities that rely on the voluntary work of older people who now cannot volunteer because they are being forced to work much later in life. All of those outcomes have a cost associated with them, both financial and social. The policy that we are discussing must represent one of the most deliberately callous policy decisions that has ever been taken by any Government.
As Stuart McMillan said earlier, even if the policy was justifiable, which it is not, it is not good enough to claim, as some have, that the Scottish Government should make up the shortfall. We cannot introduce a top-up benefit to mitigate this policy, which represents one of the worst Tory policies, because it would have to be an age-related top-up, which we cannot implement, because section 28 of the Scotland Act 2016 makes it clear that we cannot provide assistance by way of pensions to individuals who qualify by reason of age.
I once again thank Sandra White for bringing this important matter to the attention of the Parliament. Even taking Brexit into account, this pensions robbery must be the one of the most scandalous decisions ever meted out by a Government on its citizens, and it should be sorted.
The WASPI women have already paid their money in. It is their money, not the UK Government’s and the UK Government should not steal it now.18:13
I thank Sandra White for bringing this important motion to Parliament, and I pay tribute to the WASPI women who are here today, including those from my constituency of Dunfermline and from west Fife, and the many across the country who have been mentioned by Tavish Scott and others and who have campaigned tirelessly on the issue for years.
The UK Government’s mishandling of the issue is a grave injustice, and one that is sadly emblematic of the way that the UK Government has chosen to reduce public expenditure by laying the burden of austerity squarely on the shoulders of women. We pay our national insurance contributions in the expectation that we will receive a state pension at a certain age. As Sandra White and Annabelle Ewing said, the state pension is not a benefit; it is a social contract with the people. However, for more than 2 million women, that is not the case. The UK Government moved the goal posts just as those women were nearing retirement age and then, to make matters worse, did not even have the decency to tell them about it. The changes have shattered retirement plans. There is a deep financial cost, with many struggling to make ends meet while preparing for a longer road to their state pension. Further, many of those women will now miss out on valuable years of retirement with their families. They have been badly let down.
In principle, the Scottish Government is supportive of having an equal state pension for men and women. However, we do not agree with the unfair manner in which the UK Government has implemented the change.
When the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, concluded his visit to the UK last year, he said:
“The impact of the changes to pensionable age is such as to severely penalise those who happen to be on the cusp of retirement and who had well-founded expectations of entering the next phase of their lives, rather than being plunged back into a workforce for which many of them were ill-prepared and to which they could not reasonably have been expected to adjust with no notice.”
The UK Government fundamentally altered the life plans and life chances of hundreds of thousands of women and then neglected to properly inform them about it. Many of those women have faced staunch inequality throughout their lives. As Sandra White and Alison Johnstone pointed out, from next month, many of those women will be doubly disadvantaged due to the UK Government’s new rules around pension credit eligibility. Couples where one person is above the state pension age and the other is below it will now have to make a claim for universal credit rather than pension credit. Universal credit is, of course, significantly less generous than pension credit and comes with a host of other problems that we simply do not have time to go into today. However, that is yet another example of WASPI women being let down simply to save money.
Pauline McNeill and Neil Bibby rightly pointed out that many of the WASPI women grew up at a time when having a career and raising a family was even harder than it is now; the burden of domestic labour fell squarely on women’s shoulders, childcare was scarce and many worked part time—and still do. Of course, as is still the case for some, whether they were in full-time or part-time work, the vast majority of those women were not paid equally to their male colleagues.
Does the cabinet secretary recognise that, at the time, women were given the option of paying the full stamp or the lower stamp, and that a lot of them opted for the lower stamp because they were on lower wages?
Maureen Watt brings up another very important point about the catalogue of decisions that the women have made during their lives with the best of knowledge and intentions. That is why the UK Government needs to fulfil its part of the social contract that I spoke about at the start of my speech.
The equalisation of the state pension age was supposed to be about equality. However, it has been implemented in a way that has done nothing but compound the injustice that those women have faced all their lives.
I turn to the UK Government’s misrepresentation of the powers that are available to the Scottish Parliament through the Scotland Act 2016. The UK Government has, on numerous occasions, suggested that the Scottish Government has the ability to support WASPI women by providing the support that the UK Government has taken away. While that may be a convenient way for the UK Government to disengage from the mess that it created, it is simply not the case, and constantly repeating that misinformation does a disservice to those who have been affected.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that it is a bit like a judge saying that the Tories are guilty of theft and then charging the Scottish National Party, which has to pick up the tab?
That is certainly a fine way of putting it. I agree with the basis of Gil Paterson’s intervention. This is the UK Government’s mess, and it is the UK Government’s responsibility to tidy it up.
I move on to why the Scottish Government cannot intervene on the issue. Section 24 of the Scotland Act 2016 allows the Scottish Government to top up a reserved benefit. However, while some of the women affected may be receiving some form of benefit, depending on their individual circumstances, they will not, as a whole, be receiving a reserved benefit that could be topped up.
Section 26 of the 2016 act is limited to providing help for
“a short-term need that requires to be met to avoid a risk”
to a person’s wellbeing. It would require that every person be assessed individually, but would not allow for assistance for the majority of those who are in the WASPI group.
Finally, section 28 of the 2016 act gives the Scottish Government the power to create new benefits. However, it clearly states that we cannot provide
“assistance by way of pensions to or in respect of individuals who qualify by reason of old age.”
Yet the UK Government is suggesting that we can provide mitigation for those who are affected specifically because of their age and a lack of state pension.
I hope that the UK Government does not continue to try to deflect the issue on to the Scottish Government. The UK Government seems to want to ignore the issue and to simply shrug its shoulders, throw up its hands and hope that the women will get tired and the issue will go away. However, it will not go away, and it is not too late for the UK Government to take responsibility for the heartbreak and misery that it is causing and find ways and means to provide transitional protection for those women.
In her speech, Michelle Ballantyne talked about how much the alternatives may cost. Many members have quite rightly pointed out examples of when the UK Government found money when it was a priority for it to do so. However, the key point is that the money is not the UK Government’s money; it is the women’s money. They have paid for it over decades. That is why the Scottish Government will continue to fully support the WASPI campaign.
I congratulate all members who have supported Sandra White’s motion.Meeting closed at 18:20.
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