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Rachel Reeves: I absolutely agree. The reality is that the 300,000 women who are suffering the maximum 18-month delay have lost out on £12,000 of pension. Official statistics show that only six in 10 women aged 55 to 64 have any private pension at all. For those who do, the average size of their pension pot is only 57% of that of a man of the same age. Women such as Barbara, Margaret and others whom my hon. Friends have mentioned—women earning little more than the minimum wage who are often struggling to work full time because of their caring responsibilities, and who are desperately trying to conserve what savings they have to ensure at least a minimal standard of living during their retirement—are very worried. For those women, moving the goalposts for the second time, as the Government have done, can have a devastating impact on their finances, families and life plans. That is why I propose that, at the very least, the Government should offer some specific protection for those women.

My proposal would mean restoring the qualifying age for pension credit to the 2011 timetable for women’s state pension age, thus providing at least some buffer for those who are least able to cope financially with this unfair move. Previous Government costings suggest that that would be affordable, with the money being well targeted at those who have been hardest hit. Let me be clear that I would like the Government to go further, but at the very least they should provide that support to those who have the least. Given the wrong done to those women by the Government, that is the least we should ask for and the least we should expect.

I agree that the state pension age needs to be increased to keep it affordable, and I agree that men’s and women’s state pension ages must be equalised, but I also agree with the part of the 2010 coalition agreement that stated that women’s state pension age should not rise to 66 before 2020. I agree with the former Minister for Pensions—the former Member for Thornbury and Yate—who admitted last month that reneging on that commitment was a “bad decision”. That is an understatement, but at least he came late to the party. I also agree with the current Minister for Pensions who has said:

“Unfortunately, the Government has not given women enough time to change their plans. These women have already accepted an increase in their state pension age, but they were given time to adjust. Suddenly, these same women are being targeted again, but this time they are not being given enough notice as the changes start in just five years’ time. I believe the Government’s decision is unfair and disproportionately hits women who are now around 56 years old.”

How right she was, and I hope that she will now stand by those for whom she spoke up then, as I and other hon. Members will continue to do until we get justice.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr David Hanson (in the Chair): Order. We have three Members who wish to speak and 13 minutes, so it would be helpful if we did not have interventions or I will have to reduce the time limit for the last two Members.

6.47 pm

John Mc Nally (Falkirk) (SNP): Thank you for your advice, Mr Hanson.

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I am delighted to be able to take part in the debate today, especially as this is the day of my 65th birthday—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Thank you. I now qualify for state pension, unlike my wife, who will not qualify, and the other women who will suffer a penalty because of the Government’s decision.

I thank the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) for securing the debate. Before I became a Member of Parliament, I worked with and employed many women in my capacity as a small business owner in the hairdressing industry. Throughout the many years I worked with those women, I witnessed their struggles to get back to work after having children, and their subsequent efforts to juggle looking after their families with going out to work. The wholly necessary and desirable career breaks that working mothers take leave them with less pension provision than their male counterparts, assuming that the women are able to return to work. In many cases, for example, they may have, as has been mentioned, the added responsibility of an elderly relative who might be ill or otherwise require attention. Motherhood is only one aspect of gender inequality in the state pension system. The single-tier pension is not the focus of this debate, but the fact remains that the majority of people over 65 are women, yet only 22% of women who reach state pension age in 2016 will qualify for the full £155.65 rate. That cannot be acceptable. Even by 2054, women will be one and a half times more likely than men to receive less than the full amount of the single-tier pension due to a lack of sufficient qualifying years.

Women both disproportionately rely on the basic state pension and are proportionately more poorly served by it, as the women in question will know. Women’s financial independence throughout their working lives is critical, but married women have historically relied on derived pension rights from their husbands. Removing their entitlement to those rights with little notice or time to plan for the change will disadvantage many women who will not have had time to achieve the financial independence or the independent pension entitlement that they need.

During the past couple of months, like many other MPs, I have been contacted by a number of constituents and the campaign group Women Against State Pension Inequality, which has been instrumental in alerting everyone to this issue. One email that I got was from Fiona, who got straight to the point by saying that

“the legislation was rushed in too quickly without proper debate and undemocratically for my age group.”

She was born in 1955 and took partial retirement from the civil service in 2010. At the time, her decision was based on the understanding that her state pension would be payable and due at 60, but that is not now the case. The anxieties expressed by Fiona do not affect just that age group; they also affect younger people in their 40s who are extremely concerned that their pension age, which is nearly 70, will be extended once again.

These inequalities affect women born in the 1950s. Taxes are the price that we pay for a civilised society, and we willingly pay taxes in that civilised society for benefits. This Government should honour that commitment and contract.

Mr David Hanson (in the Chair): Order.

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6.51 pm

Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson, particularly as you appear to be saving the best till last on this occasion.

I would like to start, as many other hon. Members have done, by paying tribute to the members of the WASPI campaign. Like others who have spoken, I have been contacted by many constituents who are deeply concerned about the profound implications of these changes, which they say that they were not informed about. Many have told me how they have been individually affected, so I would like to draw the Minister’s attention to a couple of examples, as they illustrate far more eloquently than I can the injustice that has been created.

One constituent tells me:

“By the time I reach 66, my savings will have run out and the comfortable retired life I had planned and saved for, over 40 years, will have disappeared”.

Another says:

“I am struggling daily with trying to work three days a week as I am now disabled. I suffer from anxiety and depression and every day is really hard for me. I cannot impress on you strongly enough how hard life is for me.”

I would also like to take a little time to talk about Jane, a constituent whose experience encapsulates very well the injustice that many people feel. She says:

“I left school at 15 and worked in a variety of jobs, taking time out to raise a family of three children. My last job was as a Healthcare Assistant”.

She explains that she became too ill to carry on working, so she took ill-health retirement. She continues:

“The final calculations were made, and my pension was worked out”

based on

“retirement at 60 (I was 53 at the time). I received a lump sum and a small monthly pension of just over £250. It wasn’t a lot but I was also entitled to Incapacity Benefit and I knew I would have my State Pension which would be a big help.

Things began to change a couple of years later when I was…placed on work related ESA. It didn’t take long before that became means tested…It’s now a heat or eat situation for many. Some women are suicidal and some have had to sell their homes. Can you imagine how it feels for a 60 year old woman, frightened and in ill health, to be made to sign on and go on workfare? This isn’t equality, it’s injustice.”

Both Jane and her employer made the irreversible decision that she would take ill-health retirement, with the expectation that she would receive the state pension at 60. It is worth emphasising that Jane’s employer was the national health service—part of the state—but it did not seem to know about the changes to the state pension age either. It is hardly surprising that if parts of government did not know about the changes, many women did not either. The indignity that Jane has suffered as a result of welfare reform says an awful lot about how our society treats older women. She has already been granted ill-health retirement, but is now consistently challenged about her condition. Her years of service seem to count for nothing.

Women who have planned and saved for their retirement are living on dwindling, limited savings until they reach their new state pension age, when the only income that they will have will be their state pension. Do the Government really want to send people the message, “Yes, we want you to save for your retirement and to

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take responsibility for your old age, but beware—we might just move the goalposts and we probably will not even tell you about it”?

We have heard plenty of quotes from Baroness Altmann today. Unfortunately, I do not have time to add my personal favourite, but I will comment that we have seen a remarkable transformation in just a few months from her defending the rights of women to defending the indefensible. There can be no doubt now that the Government are aware of the issues, as this is the third debate that we have had in Parliament in just a couple of months, so will this be third time lucky? Are the Government finally prepared to listen? Will there be an acknowledgement that what has happened is an injustice that is indefensible? Nobody buys it when Ministers say time and again that nothing can be done. The Government’s U-turn on tax credits has shown that when they get it wrong, they can change course. I do not accept that nothing can be done, and the women who have talked to us in this campaign do not accept that nothing can be done—be in no doubt, they will not give up until something is done.

6.54 pm

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. I commend the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) for introducing the debate so strongly on behalf of the Petitions Committee. I join other hon. Members in praising WASPI for the great effort it has put into this petition. I know that the campaign will continue well beyond today, which has to be encouraged. Despite some of what WASPI has heard today, it can take great encouragement from many of the points raised on both sides of this room.

All hon. Members have said that this issue represents a breach of trust, or a breach of contract, and we need to address it in those terms. Parliament, in particular, needs to understand that we cannot see this just as a DWP issue, or just as an issue for Ministers; it is a test of this Parliament. We cannot say that the previous Parliament passed this and that there is nothing we can do about it, as some Members seemed to imply—they seemed to suggest, “Well, this legislation was passed in 2011, and we can’t really pass new legislation.”

In the main Chamber today other hon. Members are considering the Second Reading of a Bill that will change two pieces of legislation that went through in 2012 and 2013 and will significantly change the governance furniture on financial services and the Bank of England. If those key pieces of Government legislation from the previous Parliament have to be overhauled and changed now, there is absolutely no reason why the same cannot be done for the Pensions Act 2011, particularly on this glaring issue, when even the Minister who steered the legislation through the House says that he did not understand it and was not well advised. An hon. Member talked about the fog created around this petition, but it seems that the fog was actually in the DWP in 2011. Parliament was lured into that fog on the basis that there was nothing we could do about it and that the one transitional adjustment that could be made was being made—that was the adjustment that cost £1.1 billion a year. The Government rejected the other proposals.

When people talk about the new state pension costing £30 billion, that was the total quantum identified as, in effect, the saving from the change. We need to remember

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how the argument about that £30 billion has been reversed and misargued today. Let us remember that, when we had those debates and discussions back then, we did not have the pension freedoms on the horizon. I take the point raised by the right hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) that it should not be used as an answer to the problem faced by these women born in the 1950s, but—let us face it—the Government now have a tax windfall from the pension freedoms. Money is coming in to the Government well ahead of time, and that was not available back in 2011.

Similarly, the Government have moved to introduce a number of other benefit savings, and the welfare cap has produced even more savings. In the autumn statement, of course, £17 billion was suddenly found down the back of the Treasury and Office for Budget Responsibility sofa. Clearly, money that people thought was not there when this issue was debated in 2011 might now be there, and it is our duty to raise that issue.

This Parliament will see a lot of centenary landmarks of the struggle for votes for women. Will the message from this Parliament to this group of women be that they have to take the hit for equality, and for deficit reduction, by having their pension rights absolutely scrambled? If we tolerate that, it will be an intentional injustice. They will not just be passing, accidental casualties; it will be deliberate and targeted, and not just by Ministers. This Parliament will have conspired and connived in it, which is why we have to change it and why the campaign must continue.

Mr David Hanson (in the Chair): Order. I intend to call the Minister at 7.18 pm.

6.59 pm

Ian Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (SNP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. I thank the Petitions Committee, of which I am delighted to be a member, for allowing this debate on the back of the petition from the WASPI women. They have been a credit to themselves in the way they have campaigned on this issue, and I hope that they will continue to campaign in the days, weeks and months to come. We must win this debate, and there has to be action.

I thank the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) for introducing this debate on behalf of the Petitions Committee. I am unable to go through everyone’s speeches because of time, but I thank all Members who have spoken passionately about the injustices faced by millions of women in this country because of the speed of the changes.

Peter Grant: Some pejorative and patronising comments have been made about the degree of emotion that the debate has aroused. Does my hon. Friend agree that men can get emotional about social injustice as well and that we should see that as a sign not of weakness, but of common humanity?

Ian Blackford: There should be emotion in this debate. Why? Because women are losing tens of thousands of pounds that they are entitled to. Of course people

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should be emotional. There are facts that the Government have to address and they should do so in a measured and controlled manner.

The hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) said that the point about communications had been noted. Nobody is asking the Government to note the failures in communication; we are asking the Government to act on the basis of the failure of communication and to right the wrong that has been done.

I was grateful to hear the words of the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann). He spoke honestly about not being aware of the issue. Is that not exactly the point? A Member of Parliament has not been aware of these issues, so how can we expect the women affected by the changes to be aware of them? That is yet another reason why we must act.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh) spoke about the goalposts being moved. She is exactly right. There is a contract between the state and the women. This is not, as my hon. Friend said, about benefits they should be entitled to. It is about an entitlement based on the fact that these women have paid national insurance in some cases for 30, 40 or even more years. It is a breach of trust, as the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) said. The Government should reflect on what has been said and on the tone of the debate.

The Minister spoke about this matter in the Chamber this afternoon, saying:

“A whole lot of other benefits are available to the women who may be affected—for example, jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance, income support, carer’s allowance and personal independence payment.”

Does that not explain the problem that the Government do not get this? They want women to go to the jobcentre, rather than to do what they should be doing by collecting a pension to which they are entitled.

What is parliamentary democracy in this country? On 7 January we had an excellent, well informed debate in the Chamber. The House divided and voted 158 to zero that the Government should put in place mitigation efforts. Weeks have passed and nothing has happened. When will the Government respect the will of this House? It is a shame that there is no mechanism by which to put the issue to a vote today, as I am sure that hon. Members want to ensure that it is put to a vote so that the House can express its will.

Speaker after speaker has condemned the Government for not doing the right thing. The way of this place is archaic. It is little wonder that folksy Westminster is out of touch. I contrast the behaviour of this Government in this attack on women born in the 1950s, and in so many other ways, with what our Government in Scotland do. Last week the Government in London were defeated in the courts over the bedroom tax. Was there any recognition that what they were doing was wrong? In Scotland, we have mitigated the effects of the bedroom tax and we want powers to remove it. One thing is crystal clear: if we had powers over pensions in Scotland, we would do the right thing for our pensioners. This Government plough on regardless, ignoring the justified claims of the WASPI women. I state once again, as many of my colleagues have, that we are not against equalisation. We support the move to equalisation, but the pace of the move is unfair.

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Look at the reality of what is happening. We can take examples of women born across the early years of the 1950s, whose experiences will be sharply different. A woman born on 10 February 1950 would have retired aged 60 in 2010, whereas a woman born later would have to wait almost two years longer to retire on 6 January 2012. A woman born on 10 February 1952 would have reached state pension age a few weeks ago aged 61 years, 10 months and 27 days. Such a woman will have had to wait almost two additional years more than a woman born in 1950.

As if that were not bad enough, the increase for women born in 1953 and 1954 is worse. A woman born on 10 February in 1953 would have retired in January this year, aged nearly 63. A woman born on 10 February in 1954 will not reach pensionable age until 6 July 2019, when she will be aged 65 years, four months and 26 days. That is shameful—a woman born in 1954 will have to wait two and a half years longer for her pension than a woman born in 1953.

Just dwell on that: someone born on 10 February 1953 has now retired; someone born a year later must wait until July 2019. Where is the fairness in that? If the Minister wants to intervene, I will give him the opportunity to say now that the Government are listening and are going to change. Does any Conservative Back Bencher want to rise to their feet to recognise the unfairness of it? Do they want to punish women in the way they are doing, or will they accept that it is wrong? Here is the opportunity. They can rise to their feet.

Caroline Ansell (Eastbourne) (Con): I am happy to rise. I regret that the hon. Gentleman, in an impassioned speech in which he has done good justice to past inequalities suffered by women, has chosen to drag this issue into a political arena, because—[Hon. Members: “This is Parliament!”] A party political arena, I should say. There are Members from all parties who support the cause of the women fighting for greater equality, and women themselves, of all political persuasions and none, will be disadvantaged by the changes. He spoke just moments ago—

Mr David Hanson (in the Chair): Order. Interventions must be short. Time is very limited, and I have to give the Opposition Front-Bench spokesperson and the Minister time to finish before 7.30.

Ian Blackford: I say to the hon. Lady and her colleagues that they should join us in the Lobby and vote down the Government proposals. We need change. The Tory Back Benchers need to get some backbone and recognise the problems faced by women in their constituencies. I say to them, you hold your Government to account, and we will get on and do our job by holding them to account.

I ask Conservative Members: who will defend the proposals? Let the Minister say that he now recognises that they are wrong and must change. I have not even got to women born in 1955, who will not retire until February 2021, aged 66 years. It cannot be right. It is too steep an increase over so short a period. I ask Conservative Members to examine their consciences. Women from the WASPI campaign will be coming to their surgeries. Some of them will have been born in 1955 and were expecting to retire now or at least not long in the future. Are Conservative Members going to

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tell them that it is right that they must wait six years longer than someone born five years earlier, without mitigation? That is where we are at the moment.

It has been said that this is a breach of trust between the Government and women who have earned the right to a pension. In the limited time left to me, I will talk about proposals, because we were asked about them. Turner talked about taking 15 years to introduce the changes. The changes effectively started in 2010. The Government could look to moderate the increase from age 63 to age 66 over the next 10 years. That would mitigate the pressure that women are under. It is about doing the right thing.

7.8 pm

Angela Rayner (Ashton-under-Lyne) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson, during my first appearance on the Front Bench in this Chamber. I debated with the Minister in Committee last week, and I welcome him back to what is no doubt the first of many exchanges here. I reassure anyone tuning in late that the broken elbow and rib that I am sporting predate this debate, and that our discussions, although heated, have been civil, although I did fear at one point for the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham).

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) for opening this debate with a fantastic speech, and the Petitions Committee for ensuring that we could have it. Above all, I congratulate the women of the WASPI campaign, and all those who signed the petition, on their work to get us here. Their numbers are impressive, but we have revealed that the numbers affected by the issue are even greater, at more than 2.5 million nationally. Around 3,500 of those are in my constituency and, like many here, I have heard their concerns directly.

Hon. Members have made some excellent points and we can tell the level of concern from the number of contributions from both sides of the Chamber. In particular, I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) and for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) for their tireless campaigning, and all hon. Members who have contributed today. There are too many to mention in the time I have, but I will write to them all independently.

People listening to contributions made outside this Chamber may have heard the Minister for Pensions say this morning that the WASPI campaign wants to return the state pension age to 60. Let me put it on the record, as others have done, that that is not the case and it has never been advocated in my hearing. Opposition Members are not arguing for that or against equalisation of the state pension age. I hope that, instead of following such red herrings, the Government will listen to the women who are affected, and act. That is what we want to hear from them today.

Opposition Members have shared concerns about the impact of the acceleration under the Pensions Act 2011, the adequacy of the transitional protections and the communication of the changes to retirement ages generally. At one point, those concerns were shared by the Minister herself. She described the last Tory Government’s 2011 Act as a decision

“to renege on its Coalition Agreement, by increasing the State Pension Age for women from 2016, even though it assured these women that it would not start raising the pension age again before 2020.”

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That is still live on her website www.rosaltmann.com. After the passage of the Act including the concession that the Minister will no doubt repeat shortly, she said that the Government

“seems oblivious to the problems faced by those already in their late fifties, particularly women”.

Will the real Ros Altmann please stand up? Apparently, she now prefers to stand up for the Government than for those women. That is a pity because the issues at stake are real and the Government give every impression of simply refusing to engage with them. Instead, we have heard repeatedly—most recently a few hours ago at Question Time—that the 18-month cap is their start and end point.

Let me set out my start point. We must take into account that many of the women who are affected by the changes have also been victims of gender inequality for most of their working lives.

Gavin Robinson: Will the hon, Lady give way?

Angela Rayner: I will not give way because I do not have much time.

The Equal Pay Act was not introduced until 1970 so many of these women began working even before the first legislative steps to ensure gender equality at work. Before I was elected to this place, I was in a traditionally low-paid, largely female workforce in social care. As an active trade unionist I fought for many years to improve pay and conditions, but even now we are a long way from achieving decent, let alone equal, wages in much of that sector.

Some of the women we are discussing today will have entered work before the 1968 strike in Dagenham. They will have been paid less than men simply because they were women. Those who are likely to have entered work earliest—those born between 6 April 1951 and 5 April 1953 —will not be eligible for the new single tier pension.

Another cohort, those born later in 1953, will have found their retirement age change twice: in 1995 and 2011—

Mr David Hanson (in the Chair): Order. There is a Division in the House. We will reconvene in 15 minutes. If there is more than one Division, which is possible, we will reconvene 10 minutes after each subsequent Division.

7.14 pm

Sitting suspended forDivisions in the House.

7.39 pm

On resuming

Angela Rayner: Before we left, I was saying how women have been discriminated against, and continue to be discriminated against, year on year and decade upon decade.

Transitional protections were discussed and promised during the passage of the 2011 Act. We now know that the Minister’s predecessor in the coalition Government, Steve Webb, had hoped for around a tenth of the direct savings—£3 billion—to be put aside for these protections. The option that was eventually put forward as a concession

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—the 18-month cap—cost around a third of that amount. So we have a missing £2 billion, which has gone to the Treasury, along with the rest of the savings made from these women.

Of course, it bears repeating that the former Minister has since admitted that that decision was a bad one, made as a consequence of his not being properly briefed. It would be interesting to know whether today’s Ministers have been better briefed and whether they will make a better decision.

The Minister has often put this question back on the Opposition but consistently refused to say whether the Department has properly investigated and modelled options for additional transitional protections. For example, as my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), stated earlier, during the passage of the 2011 Act we put forward the option to maintain the qualifying age for pension credit on the 1995 timetable rather than on the 2011 one. I hope the Minister will respond to the suggestions made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North and many other Members.

This debate is not the first time that I have asked what consideration the Government have made of these and other options. As the Minister will know, I have asked him in Committee, through written questions and, today, through oral questions. Despite the Government’s boast that they would be the most open and transparent Government in the world, so far we are none the wiser as to what options they have considered, let alone what the outcomes of those investigations were.

I ask the Minister again: what modelling and analysis has the Department carried out since 2011 on the potential transitional protections? Will he publish that work in full, so that we can assess it for ourselves? Will the Government then consider alternatives properly and in full, and come back with a proper response to those who have signed the petition that we are considering today and the many millions more who are similarly affected. In our view, that is the very least that they deserve.

7.41 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr Shailesh Vara): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson.

I start by thanking the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) for moving the motion today, and for doing so very passionately, convincingly and articulately. I also thank all other Members from across the political divide who have spoken today. Indeed, I commend all those who signed the petition that triggered this debate. As we have already heard, we have debated this issue extensively in recent weeks and months, and I am grateful to have another opportunity to put the Government’s position on record.

The debate has centred considerably on state pension age equalisation, and in particular its impact on the women who are affected by it. However, it is important that we do not look at this topic in isolation. We cannot look at the changes to women’s state pension age without also acknowledging the significant changes in life expectancy in recent years, the huge progress made in opening up employment opportunities for women and the wider package of reforms—

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Barbara Keeley: Will the Minister give way on that point?

Mr Vara: I will not give way; I wish to make progress.

As I was saying, we must also acknowledge the wider package of reforms that we have introduced to ensure a fair deal for pensioners.

On life expectancy, people now live longer and stay healthier for longer. I took on board what the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) said, but although she may have quoted a specific figure, other figures show that life expectancy is projected to increase for both men and women. In just a decade, the length of time that 65-year-olds—

Barbara Keeley: Will the Minister give way on that point?

Mr Vara: No, I will not give way. A number of points have been made. I have listened very carefully for just under three hours and I am keen to put the Government’s views on record.

Caroline Flint: The Minister is wasting time when he could have taken an intervention.

Mr Vara: The right hon. Lady is a former Pensions Minister, so—

Caroline Flint: No, I am not.

Mr David Hanson (in the Chair): Order. I call Mr Vara to continue.

Mr Vara: In only a decade, the time that 65-year-olds live in good health has gone up by just over a year. Of course, this is welcome news, but the reality is that it puts increasing pressure on the state pension scheme. Even when the state pension age changes are taken into account, women in this group will on average receive a higher state pension over their lifetime than any generation before them.

Ian Blackford: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Vara: I will not give way.

The Government have a duty to ensure the sustainability of the state pension scheme, and it would be irresponsible to ignore such developments.

Employment prospects for women have changed dramatically since the state pension age was first set in 1940. The most recent figures show a record female employment rate of 69.1%, with more than 1 million more women in work than in 2010. I am sure that Members welcome figures showing that the number of women aged between 50 and 64 in work is also at a record high, with more than 100,000 older women in work than at this time last year.

Lady Hermon: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Vara: I will not.

Turning to our broader reforms, we have introduced a package of measures to transform the pensions system. The triple lock is massively boosting the state pension,

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which will be £1,000 higher from April than would have been the case if we had uprated by earnings over the past six years. In addition, we have protected the winter fuel payment and permanently increased cold weather payments. We have created a new, simpler state pension, which will come in from April with a full rate of £155.65 a week. That means that 650,000 women will receive an average increase of £8 a week for the first 10 years. As that will be set above the basic means test for pensioners, people will have a clear platform to save on.

Ian Blackford: On a point of order, Mr Hanson. May I ask for your guidance about what can be done? This is a specific debate about the WASPI campaign, but the points that the Minister is addressing have nothing to do with that debate—

Mr David Hanson (in the Chair): Order. With due respect to the hon. Gentleman, the content of the Minister’s speech is for the Minister to elucidate and defend accordingly. It is not for the hon. Gentleman to comment on in a point of order.

Mr Vara: We have also abolished the default retirement age so that people can work for as long as they wish without fear of age discrimination. We have introduced the most fundamental reform to how people can access their pension in almost a century through pension freedom, which has abolished the effective requirement to buy an annuity.

No one can say that the changes have not been fully considered. The parliamentary process was fully followed. We held a full, public call for evidence alongside extensive debate in both Houses. Between January 2012 and November 2013, the Department for Work and Pensions wrote to all those affected.

Rachel Reeves: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Vara: I will not.

More than 5 million letters were sent to addresses then recorded by HMRC. Crucially, the Government also listened during the process. On Second Reading of the Pensions Bill in 2011, the Government said:

“we will consider transitional arrangements.”—[Official Report, 20 June 2011; Vol. 530, c. 52.]

On Report, after considering the matter, Ministers made a concession worth £1.1 billion, and the time period was reduced from two years to 18 months. For 81% of those affected, the increase in the time period will be no more than 12 months.

To reverse the Pensions Act 2011 would cost more than £30 billion, which simply is not sustainable, and nor is it sustainable to reverse the 1995 changes, which some wish to do, as that would cost many billions more. It is noteworthy that if we went back to the 1995 position, it would mean that women would be campaigning for a state pension age of 60—[Interruption.]

Mr David Hanson (in the Chair): Order.

Mr Vara: Over the past decade, women have on average stopped working later than 60. In the first quarter of 2010, the average age of stopping work was 62.6 years, while in 2015 it was 63.1 years. In fact, the actual women’s state pension age is approaching 63 years.

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Rachel Reeves: Will the Minister have some courtesy and give way?

Mr Vara: I will give way to the hon. Member for Warrington North, who moved the motion, but I will not give way to others as I have limited time.

Helen Jones: Very well then. The Minister cites average ages, but that does not address the issue. The issue is the extra time that women have to wait for their pension and the fact that they have not been informed. The average means nothing to that.

Mr Vara: If the hon. Lady is a little patient, I will tell her about the issue concerning communications.

Rachel Reeves: Get on with it then.

Mr David Hanson (in the Chair): Order.

Mr Vara: If the hon. Lady will stop interrupting, I will get on.

I mentioned in the House earlier and I say it again now that when people need extra funds, other benefits are available. That is the case for those who are in work and those who are not. A 2004 Department for Work and Pensions report entitled “Public Awareness of State Pension Age Equalisation” found that 73% of those aged between 45 and 54 were aware of changes to women’s state pension. In 2012, further research by the DWP found that only 6% of women who were within 10 years of receiving their pension thought that their state pension age was still 60.

Several hon. Members have mentioned Steve Webb’s comments. If one reads the full transcript, one sees that

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he referred to £30 billion. He said that he sought a concession of £3 billion, but got £1 billion. He added that

“a billion quid is a serious amount of money”.

Reference has been made to other European countries. To put the balance right, I point out that there are countries that have already accelerated the process and equalised the pension age for men and women, such as Germany, Denmark, the Czech Republic and Greece.

The Government recognise the huge contribution that older workers make to the workforce and the country, and we are working with stakeholders to ensure that they recognise those benefits. The number of women aged 50 to 64 is at a record high, as I mentioned earlier. Hon. Members talked about carers. Under the new state pension, people who care for others will qualify for credits that will go towards their contributions to that pension.

Our collective responsibility now is to support the package of reforms. Rather than causing continuous confusion for those affected, we need to build further awareness of the measures I have set out. I again thank all those who have contributed.

7.52 pm

Helen Jones: This has been an excellent debate, but in view of the Minister’s totally inadequate reply and his failure to address the issues raised, I intend to do what I would not normally do in this Chamber and press the matter to a vote. I urge my colleagues to join me in voting no.

Question put and negatived.

7.53 pm

Sitting adjourned.