BLOG: Altmann’s limited role

Written by Natalie Tuck
08/01/16

Yesterday there was a debate in the House of Commons on the rapid increase of women’s state pension age.

It’s a campaign that has been gaining momentum for months now, thanks to the sheer determination of the Waspi women, (Women Against State Pension Inequality) who despite being told nothing can be done to change the rules surrounding their state pension age, have continued their fight regardless.

At the heart of the matter, as SNP MP Mhairi Black put it, are two issues; 1) the poor communication following the Pensions Act 1995, which meant no women were informed by the government of the changes until much later: 2) the acceleration of the increase in the Pensions Act 2011, which dramatically affects the pensionable age of women born after 6 April 1951.

The debate was tabled by Black who also sits on the work and pensions select committee, along with Labour MP Barbara Keeley. On the government’s side however, there was very little representation from the Conservatives. All the more apparent was the lack of attendance of Pensions Minister Baroness Ros Altmann.

On this occasion, Altmann cannot be held responsible for her absence. As a member of the House of Lords, the Conservative peer is forbidden to take part in debates in the House of Commons. This seems ludicrous given that debates like these play a key role in the democracy of our country.

For example, this debate brought the issue of women’s state pension into the political spectrum, after months of media coverage and after campaigners gave evidence to the work and pensions select committee. Politicians from both sides were able to voice their opinions and suggestions, with even some (the very few in attendance) Conservative MPs in support of these women.

In the past, Altmann has fervently campaigned for these women and has openly voiced how unfair the changes are. More recently though, since being appointed as Pensions Minister she has said repeatedly that she has no power as it is already law and nothing can be done. Unfortunately, Altmann faces a daily battle on Twitter with Waspi women over this issue.

Because of Altmann’s previous life as a campaigner and now Conservative Minister it would have been brilliant to see her respond. How can a Pensions Minister not be allowed to attend an important debate on pensions? I’m sure Altmann is as frustrated about this as I am.

The Conservatives, after being pressured by Liberal Democrat Steve Webb for five years have in a way played an ace with his replacement. They’ve hired an industry expert, with knowledge and experience that cannot be doubted, but unfortunately for Altmann, and perhaps the rest of us, with what seems very little power. I cannot help but feel Altmann is being used as puppet, with those at the Treasury and the DWP pulling her strings.

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