When I’m not being a councillor, I work for an MP – Bolton West’s excellent* Julie Hilling, who was elected a year ago and has barely drawn breath since. (If you’re another MP and you’re reading this, do tell her I said that. Also that she’s going to ruin my reputation as a social media guru if she doesn’t start using Twitter again.)
My actual job in Julie’s office (I’m not really a social media guru) varies widely, but one of the tasks I enjoy most is dealing with the letters and emails from constituents requesting that Julie signs an Early Day Motion. Julie is, amongst many other things, a Parliamentary Private Secretary to Yvette Cooper, so by parliamentary convention she doesn’t sign EDMs. Many readers will know that a lot of other MPs, Labour and otherwise, won’t sign them as a matter of principle, since they have literally no effect in parliament. But that doesn’t mean that a letter requesting that Julie signs an EDM is going to be ignored: instead, Julie will usually write to the relevant minister to pass on the constituents’ concerns.
For me, just getting a look at this correspondence is invaluable. I like to think I’ve usually got a good idea of what the big issues are in any given week, but a lot of that is defined by what I hear in my own ward and, of course, on Twitter. Simply because of the demographics of many – not all – social media users, some issues are just less likely to become big online. I’ve been thinking of creating a page on Julie’s website to reveal what issues have come up in her postbag over the past week, and I’d be interested in some feedback on the idea, so do drop me an email or a tweet.
Anyway, last week – and for quite a few weeks before that – we’ve been getting loads of post about EDM 1402, which is about the state pension age for women.
It makes perfect sense to equalise the state pension age. Having a lower pension age for women is a discriminatory hangover from the days when women were not expected to have a career, and is clearly wrong-headed when women, generally speaking, live longer.
And Labour were addressing this. Under our plans, women’s state pension age was gradually rising to 65, to equalise with men, in 2020, and everyone’s state pension age was set to rise to 66 between 2024 and 2026.
However, the government is now proposing to tear up that plan and bring in much faster changes, with everyone retiring at 66 by April 2020. This is – surprise surprise – a departure from the Coalition Agreement, which promised that the pension age for women would not begin to rise beyond 65 before 2020.
300,000 women born between December 6th 1953 and October 5th 1954 will have to wait an extra 18 months, and 33,000 born between March 6th 1954 and April 5th 1954 will have to wait an extra 2 years, before being entitled to their state pension. This means just 5 years notice before the changes kick in.
The 33,000 born between March 6th 1954 and April 6th 1954 are set to lose around £10,000 in lost state pension or more than £15,000 if they get the full pension credit, with less than 7 years to attempt to accommodate the change, when the Turner Commission on Pension Reform recommended a notice period of 15 years. Over-50s organisation Saga point out:
“Women were told, some years ago, that their pension age would increase from 60 to around 63 or 64. They accepted this change without fuss and set about planning their finances in anticipation of receiving their state pensions later than previously expected. But the government has suddenly moved the goalposts on them.
By suddenly making them wait so much longer, they face a shortfall of more than £10,000 and they simply will not have time to make appropriate financial arrangements to offset those losses.
The Government announced these plans unexpectedly. Its paper explaining this decision concedes that women will not have time to plan, but still asserts that the change is not disproportionate.
These women have often already retired to look after older or younger relatives and most are not earning enough currently to be able to save the thousands of pounds necessary to replace the lost state pension. The decision is clearly discriminatory. Women accept the need to equalise pension ages, but the timetable proposed is unfair.”
“Across the country,” says Saga’s Dr Ros Altmann, “I’m hearing from women who are enduring that sudden sickening realisation that their destiny in retirement is not in their own hands – this is not about fairytale luxury retirement villas, this is about affording the basics.”
As Leeds West Labour MP Rachel Reeves pointed out on this blog a few months ago, this is only a part of the Tory-led government’s attack on pensioners. Rachel Reeves has backed an alternative proposal: no change before 2020, as the coalition agreement promised, followed by an increase in the state pension age for men and women to 66 between 2020 and 2022. This would affect 1.2 million fewer people than under the new plans, and would affect men and women equally. It would deliver £20bn of savings, but with no-one being put in the unacceptable position of having an increase in state pension age of more than a year, with such little time to prepare.
Want the government to rethink their state pension proposals? I do too. But don’t just harass your MP to sign an Early Day Motion – why not take it to the source and contact the Pensions Minister, Steve Webb, here.
*this choice of adjective is in no way related to the fact that I know she read my last couple of LabourList posts after the LGA Labour Group circulated them.