Shailesh Vara highlights importance of sustainable pension system and outlines transitional arrangements for state pension age changes

30th November 2016
Shailesh Vara highlights the transitional arrangements already in place for the introduction of changes to the state pension age for women and condemns opposition parties for playing politics with the issue by claiming that there are no such arrangements and giving women false hope as further transitional arrangements are simply unaffordable if we are to maintain a sustainable pension system for the future.
 

I think we all recognise that in the world of politics, there are very few easy solutions, and solutions are certainly never cheap. As far as the matter that we are debating is concerned, the cheap version—to undo the Pensions Act 2011—would cost some £30 billion, and to undo the Pensions Act 1995 would cost many billions more. We must recognise that any pension scheme that we have must be sustainable, and the Government have a duty to keep it so. It would be irresponsible for the Government not to act with a view to keeping the pension scheme sustainable.

Much has been said about transitional arrangements. It is important that colleagues realise that there have already been transitional arrangements. Those who take the trouble to read Hansard will find that on Second Reading of the Pensions Bill of 2011, the Minister speaking for the Government said,

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

On Report, the Government delivered on their promise, because they made a concession worth £1.1 billion and reduced the time period from two years to 18 months. For 81% of the women affected, the increase in the time period will be no more than 12 months. It is fundamentally wrong to say, as the last line of the SNP motion does, that there should be transitional arrangements.

 

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

 

Forgive me; I am mindful of the time limit.

If people want to seek a change to what has already been done, they should have the courage to say so. They should say that they do not accept the transitional arrangements that have been made, and that they want further changes. To say that no changes were made is, frankly, disingenuous. As far as notification and the 1995 Act are concerned, let us not forget that the Labour party was in government for 13 years and it did very little—in fact, it did nothing—in the way of notification, even though some 10 Pensions Ministers could have done so. In 2012, research by the DWP found that only 6% of women who were within 10 years of reaching their pension age thought that their state pension age was still 60.

There are, of course, a number of other factors that need to be taken into account. It is wrong that debates such as this focus solely on state pension age equalisation and its impact on the women concerned. We have to take account of life expectancy, which is increasing. [Interruption.] It is good news, but nevertheless we have to take it into account. Employment prospects for women are far better than they have been at any time since the state pension was introduced in 1940. There is record female employment and record employment for older women. The Government have worked hard to engage with stakeholders and employers to make sure that they recognise and value all the contributions that older workers can make. There are also our broader reforms. We have protected the winter fuel payment, permanently increased cold weather payments, created a new and simpler state pension system, abolished the default retirement age and extended the right to request flexible working.

 

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

 

I will not give way, because I want to leave other hon. Members as much time as possible in which to speak.

We must also mention other countries. Nine EU countries, including Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands, introduced equalisation as far back as 2009. I conclude by simply saying one thing: we have had many debates on this issue and the Government have repeatedly made their position clear, which is that they do not intend to revisit this issue. The issue was not in the Labour or the SNP manifesto, and by continuing to debate it, Labour and SNP Members are doing a disservice to the good women affected by giving them false hope. They should understand that doing so is opportunism pure and simple and political irresponsibility of the highest order. They should not give these good women false hope, and they should recognise that the Government will not give way.

| Hansard

Interventions in the same debate

 

If the former Pensions Minister is to be referred to, it would be helpful to put the facts correctly. He said that the difference required was £30 billion. He went to the then Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister and asked for £3 billion. Then, when he was given a concession of £1.1 billion, he said, “That’s a hell of a lot of money.” So let us be clear: the difference was £30 billion but he only asked for £3 billion, which is a tenth of what the hon. Gentleman is arguing about.

 

We are not talking about concessions; we are talking about these women’s pension entitlement. How dare the Government talk about concessions, when people have paid into their pension and deserve to get it!

This is not a comedy but the reality of a Government letting women down.

| Hansard

 
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the luxuries for the Opposition is proposing to spend money that they do not have? Does he also agree that the comments from the Opposition parties ring hollow, given that these matters were not mentioned in their manifestos? They were not mentioned in the Labour manifesto or the Scottish National party manifesto.
 
My hon. Friend makes a pertinent point.