I'm not currently an MP, as Parliament has been dissolved until after the General Election.
Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI)
When I was elected to the Work & Pensions Select Committee as an MP, I had been working to fully understand the issues facing WASPI women and whether workable solutions could be found to manage transition better. Due to changes in the State Pension age arising from the 1995 and 2011 Pensions Acts, the pension age for women is being increased to 66, equalised to that of men, by 2020. That said, the rate of change and evidence of a lack of notification by the Department for Work & Pensions is understandably at the heart of many complaints as retirement planning, in the latter years of work, could not be made. Any change to a new system will unfortunately mean that those within the transition years of change from old to new will suffer the force of the change.
Few can realistically argue the case for ongoing inequality between the sexes, and hugely increased life expectancies meaning that a retirement age, set 70 years ago, could be sustainable in the long term. There was a cross-party agreement that things had to change, leading to the first moves towards age equalisation stemming from the 1995 Pension Act. I also fully understand that many women affected often had poorly paid and irregular work, such was more common in the 1970s and 1980s, while juggling family demands. Uniquely, the WASPI generation also face the new, previously unusual situation of being called upon to take a caring role for both grandchildren and ageing parents at the same time.
What I have done
Southwood Football Stadium ―22nd May 2016
I held a public forum in May last year at Ramsgate FC's stadium for those affected by the changes to the state pension. More than 100 local women came to give me personal details on how the changes have affected their lives.
Parliament Square ― 30th June 2016
In June last year around 2,500 people took part in a WASPI campaign outside Parliament to highlight the issues facing women born in the 1950’s. I joined in the demonstration and spoke with many campaigners about their concerns.
House of Commons ― 11th October 2016
I presented a petition on behalf of 316 of South Thanet’s WASPI women to Parliament, calling for fair transitional arrangements to be given to all women affected by changes in the state pension age. This was a big step forward for WASPI getting their voices heard.
House of Commons ― 30th November 2016
During a debate in the Commons on the State Pension Age, I pursued an idea of ‘light touch Job Seekers’ Allowance’ with the Secretary of State. I proposed that the assessment for JSA should not require regular visits to a JobCentre in order to explain the situation, proving attempts to find work by continuously sending out CVs, and attending job coaching sessions. It is clear, despite changes to the law, that many employers do not have as enlightened a view of the value of older workers as they should. It is realistically hard to find employment once over 60.
Work & Pensions Select Committee
In my role as a member of the Work and Pensions Select Committee before the election period, we examined at length, after taking evidence, the whole situation with WASPI and came up with a recommendation, which I pushed for, for a solution of ‘less for longer’. This has been implemented in the US, Canada and some European countries. This found favour with some WASPI campaigners, but not universally so, as many have voiced that they simply wanted a return to retirement at 60.
Another aspect that is poorly understood is the effect of the new Single State Pension, which all WASPI women affected, having sufficient years of NI contributions will be entitled to, once they reach the revised State Pension Age. It is currently £155.65 per week, rising to £159.55 after April 2017 under the guaranteed triple lock annual rise system. Compare this with the ‘old’ state pension rates for those reaching retirement age prior to April 2016 of £119.30 and the comparison is quite stark. I am sorry to say that few WASPI campaigners have taken the effect of this fully on board.
As a brief calculation, comparing ‘old system’ retirement at 60, at old rates and compare with‘new system’ retirement at, say, 65, and the amounts involved are enlightening:-
Current figures – average age of death, UK females – 83 years. Ignores pension rates inflation, which enhances the ‘new system’ rates over time still further.
‘Old system’ – 23 years retirement (i.e. at age 60) x £119.30 pw x 52 = £142,682 of pension over retirement years
‘New system’ – 18 years retirement (i.e. at age 65) x £155.65 pm x 52 = £145,688 of pension over retirement years
As you can see, in what is a fairly broad calculation, pension received under the new system is marginally more. This does rather put into question statements made by many campaigners that ‘I have lost £40,000’.
Obviously this does not help current cash flows arising to WASPI women as the new system is one of ‘more but later’ but I’m sure the point can be understood.
I am not ‘the government’; I am trying to represent local WASPI women, but also to have regard for the wider picture of creating a sustainable Britain for all. I can only commit to you to do my best once the General Election is over. One thing I will say is, that despite their activism, no other political party that could form a government will realistically change anything, this I will guarantee.