McVey alters women’s SPA views since new role; previously supported a review

Newly-appointed Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey has changed her views on the need for the government to reconsider women’s state pension ages, Pensions Age can reveal.

According to the website They Work for You, McVey gave her support to a private members’ bill that calls for the establishment of a “review of pension arrangements for women affected by changes made by the Pensions Act 1995 and the Pensions Act 2011”.
The Pensions (Review of Women’s Arrangements) Bill, was proposed on 5 September 2017 by MP Peter Bone, with Esther McVey listed as one its supporters.

Private members’ bills are bills introduced by MPs or Lords who are not government ministers. Each year there is a ballot for MPs to get a slot to debate a proposed new law. The top eight are given a Friday to debate the Bill, and a remaining 12 are in a queue behind them. After this any other MP or Lord can propose as many bills as they like, which are then put in a queue behind the others.

As it is a private members’ bill, and is not due a second reading until 15 February 2019, it is unlikely that a review will be legislated for. However, the proposal of the bill can be seen as a gesture of support for the women affected by the changes to their state pension age.

The Work and Pensions Secretary’s support of the proposed review could have been welcome news for the Women Against State Pension Inequality (Waspi) campaign group, however, it appears she has now changed her mind. The Department for Work and Pensions has clarified to Pensions Age that the Secretary of State supports the government’s position on women’s state pension ages.

A spokesperson reiterated the government’s argument for its stance: “We have thoroughly reviewed the options for equalising the state pension age, and having listened to women’s concerns, made a £1.1bn concession in the 2011 Pensions Act, capping the increase in the state pension age at 18 months relative to the 1995 Act timetable.

“We are confident that we are doing the right thing to ensure the sustainability of the state pension for future generations.”

Despite this, the Waspi campaign group has kept an open mind and “look forward” to meeting with McVey. “We would welcome the opportunity to discuss with her the position 3.8 million British women find themselves in through no fault of their own,” a Waspi spokesperson said.

“We acknowledge the considerable cross-party support the campaign now receives and trust that this will encourage the Minister to endeavour to find a solution.”

Nonetheless, the issue of women’s state pension ages is unlikely to go away, with one former Pensions Minister, Ros Altmann, describing it as a “poisoned chalice”. Current Pensions Minister Guy Opperman regularly faces questions from opposing parties in parliament, and was previously blasted for suggesting the affected women “take up apprenticeships”.

The Waspi campaign has built up a momentum over the past few years, calling for “fair transitional arrangements” for the affected women. The group believes it is a reasonable request because it claims the government didn’t notify the affected women after initial changes were made in the Pensions Act 1995, and the government then accelerated the increase to their state pension age in the Pensions Act 2011.

This meant some women, who by this point were in their mid to late fifties, were told they would have to wait until the age of 66 for their pension (by this time the state pension age for men and women had increased to 66). This is despite the Turner Commission recommending a period of 15 years’ notice be given to pension changes.

Liberal Democrat spokesman for Work and Pensions, MP Stephen Lloyd has challenged the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to “strike a blow for fairness” in her new role. He advised McVey that the plight of Waspi women needs to be “top of the in-tray”.

“It’s clear that all the political parties in government comprehensively failed these women. A lamentable lack of communication right from the original Pensions Act in 1994 [sic] has left many of them – Waspi women - feeling let down, ignored and totally under-valued. This injustice must be urgently addressed.

“The most practical way of doing so would be for the DWP to make a sizeable transition payment to each of the affected women to the tune of £15,000 payable immediately, tax free. It won’t make up for all the loss but I believe it will be seen as a genuine attempt by the government to make amends for the shambolic roll-out of the increase in women’s pension age way back from the very beginning, in the mid 1990s.”

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