The government is coming under increasing pressure to offer financial help to 1950s women in the latest WASPI state pension age debate. But what was the Pension Minister’s response?
The latest WASPI state pension age debate
I’ve watched all the WASPI state pension age debates and, on the plus side, there seemed to be a broader range of MPs supporting the need for some transitional payments for WASPI women at today’s debate. As a result of the general election, there were some MPs I’ve not seen before. There’s also a new Pensions Minister, Guy Opperman and a government with no majority, so you might think they’d be in listening mode.
A lot of MPs restated the case for helping women born in the 1950s affected by the rise(s) in state pension age. Some included examples of WASPI women who’d contacted them with their own stories.
I’ve not included details of these because I think most SavvyWoman users are well aware of the issue and many are living with the consequences. What I’ll focus on instead is what was said about the need for a solution and any shift in appetite to do that.
The case for financial help for WASPI women
Grahame Morris MP, who called the debate, said that there was both a moral argument and a factual argument in favour of action. He said that if any other public body had failed in the way the DWP had (by not writing to women to tell them their state pension age was rising) it would be maladministration.
Grahame Morris MP said that Labour will extend pension credit for hundreds of thousands of women (this was included in the party’s manifesto).
He also said 20 Conservative and DUP MPs have signed the WASPI pledge and that the extent and scope of any arrangements depend on those 20 MPs.
He urged the government to provide all those affected with some compensation and those worst affected to get some support to bridge the gap from the age of 60 until they get their state pension.
Tim Loughton, a Conservative MP and longstanding supporter of WASPI commented that it was ‘another debate on WASPI’. He welcomed new ‘conscripts’ (i.e. new MPs) and longstanding MPs newly converted to the WASPI cause. After paying tribute to WASPI campaign again, he reminded those at the debate that the state pension system is founded on a contributory basis. It is not a state benefit for which no National Insurance contributions are required. He said that what has happened to women born in the 1950s is a breach of trust with millions of women.
He also said he’d warned WASPI campaigners that they were in danger of being led up the garden path by Labour and the SNP, but he did say his message to the new pensions minister is to focus on what support they can give to women who are in work for longer than they expected.
Sammy Wilson, DUP MP said he was speaking in favour of WASPI. He said that the DUP weren’t wedded to any particular outcome and they recognised that there were a number of financial constraints. But he believed that there are a number of solutions being put forward to help those who face a loss of income.
He added that the DUP will work with the government and use whatever influence they have to get a solution faced by people who bore no responsibility for the problems themselves
Laura Pidcock MP made the point that ‘the right thing to do is to compensate those who have already reached state pension age and offer a bridging pension for those who have to wait for longer’. She pointed out that we have seen that when there is a political will, money can be found very quickly.
Mhairi Black, MP, SNP has been a vocal and eloquent supporter of WASPI. She declared herself ‘scunnered’ (I had to look it up!) that we are having to have yet another WASPI debate and believes it says a lot about the government’s priorities that we are.
She said that an SNP proposal to give transitional relief to 1950s women would cost £8 billion over five years.
Mhairi Black added that the worst part of the WASPI issue is that these women are targeted and that the government doesn’t get to plead that this is all down to equality. In her words “because when only women suffer, you need to look at your definition of equality again”.
Alex Cunningham, the shadow pensions minster said that there are 37 MPs on the government benches who’ve supported WASPI either through work on all party groups or by signing the pledge. His point is that this should increase the pressure on the government to do something.
He asked the new Pensions Minister to assure the house – including the 37 members of his own party- that he takes this measures seriously.
The response from the Minister for Pensions – Guy Opperman
The minister started off quite promisingly, saying that he will be delighted to meet with the all party WASPI group when it’s reformed to discuss the issue. He then went on to say that if there are individual MPs who feel that individual constituents are suffering, where they’ve had to reduce the hours they work, he would make sure the DWP would look into these cases and help in terms of ‘understanding of the availability of Carer’s Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance.
He then listed things the government has already done to ‘help’ WASPI women:
- Created and extended our network of older claimant champions in jobcentres.
- Committed massively to lifelong learning. Over 200,00 people over 60 have entered further education
- Extended apprenticeships for all ages and both genders. He highlighted the number of apprentices aged over 45.
At this point, I stopped taking notes because I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard. Was he really suggesting that WASPI women sign up for apprenticeships when they thought they’d get a state pension? You get paid at least £3.50 an hour for the first year of your apprenticeship if you’re aged over 19 and the minimum wage after that (currently £7.50 an hour).
He summed up by saying that the government will not ameliorate or repeal the 1995 and 2011 acts, but it will provide help for women in terms of retraining.
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