A parliamentary motion calling for extra measures to protect hundreds of thousands of women aged 55-65 who will be hit by changes to the state pension was unanimously passed by MPs today. But the vote isn't binding on the Government, which can choose to ignore it.
Scottish National Party MP Mhairi Black, who organised the backbench debate, warned women were being "shafted and short-changed" by a decision to accelerate the rate at which the women's state pension age is to be made the same as men's.
The state pension age for women was due to rise from 60 to 65 between 2010 and 2020 but the Government decided to speed up the process in 2011. As a result the state pension age for women is due to go up to 65 in November 2018 and then to 66 by October 2020.
Ms Black's motion, which calls on the Government to introduce "transitional arrangements" to help protect women affected, was passed with 158 votes in favour and none against. This followed a debate lasting more than three hours, featuring contributions from 26 MPs. But as it was a backbench debate, the Government doesn't have to take action as a result of the vote.
Earlier this week, a petition about the issue, organised by action group Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) and backed by MoneySavingExpert, hit the 100,000 signatures it needed to be considered for a full parliamentary debate. The Petitions Committee, which decides which petitions are discussed in Parliament, said on Tuesday it'd consider if a second debate should be held after today's backbench debate.
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'Women not given enough time to make plans'
Ms Black, who applied to the Backbench Business Committee for a debate on the issue after being contacted by a constituent and then hundreds of others concerned about the shake-up, gave a passionate speech outlining the issues raised by the WASPI campaign and petition.
"The Government has said that the policy decision to increase women's state pension age is designed to remove the inequality between men and women," she said.
"That's a strange definition of equality if whereby I am being shafted and short-changed purely for the fact of when I am born and the fact that I am a woman. That's not my definition of equality."
Ms Black criticised how the pension changes had been communicated, claiming some women had not received letters informing them about the changes, and even those who had had sometimes been given conflicting information.
"The whole thing clearly became a mess," she said. "All I do know is women were not notified to make appropriate arrangements. The Government has not given women enough time to make plans."
Labour MPs raised the prospect of the Government losing a legal challenge on the issue. Former frontbencher Caroline Flint said a successful case had been brought in the Netherlands on similar grounds.
She added: "Given that there's been a successful legal action in the Dutch courts, isn't it better that we form some transitional arrangements rather than let anything happen in the law courts with the decision?"
Conservative MP Shailesh Vara, parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), wound up the debate for the Government but failed to say whether ministers would look at implementing transitional arrangements for women affected – something Ms Black referred to in her final remarks. "That point has not been answered," she said.
What happens next?
The Petitions Committee will now decide if a second debate should be held on the issue after today's.
Tom McPhail, head of pensions research at Hargreaves Lansdown, told MoneySavingExpert he believes today's unanimous vote "strengthens the likelihood of the petition securing another debate". We'll update this story when we know more.
Why will some women lose out under the state pension changes?
There are two separate increases of the state pension age currently underway.
- With the 1995 Pensions Act, the Government decided that men's and women's pension ages would be made the same by 2020. Previously, women retired at 60 and men at 65.
- In 2011 the state pension age for both men and women was raised to 66.
These changes mean women born after 5 April 1950 will receive their state pensions later than expected – in some cases six years later.
Many women who had been expecting to start drawing their state pensions between 2016 and 2020 only found out in 2011 – with the additional change in state pension ages – that they would face a delay.
Some women have argued they weren't informed of the rise in their state pension age at all. And WASPI claims women affected by the changes haven't been left with much time to make alternative plans, and that existing retirement plans have been "shattered with devastating consequences".
However, the DWP says it did take appropriate steps to notify women of the changes and insists "all women affected have been directly contacted".
Which age brackets are most affected?
The date on which you'll receive your state pension depends on exactly when you were born – the Government has published full state pension age timetables here. But in brief:
- Women born after 5 April 1950 are affected by the equalisation of the state pension age to 65 (following the changes in the 1995 Pensions Act).
- Women born between 6 April 1953 and 5 October 1954 are affected by both the equalisation of the state pension age to 65 and the rise of the state pension age to 66.
- Women born between 6 October 1954 and 5 April 1960 will see their state pension age rise to 66.
- The next rise in the state pension age, to 67, will apply to men and women born after 6 March 1961 (and be phased in for those born between 6 April 1960 and 5 March 1961).
In November last year Sarah Pennells, founder of SavvyWoman.co.uk, warned in a guest comment on MoneySavingExpert.com that many of those affected have been left with little time to try to plug their savings.
Additional reporting by the Press Association.