Partly as a result of representations from constituents, I attended as much of the debate on the state pension age equalisation as I could in early January. I listened carefully to the concerns raised, and answers given, and I have looked still further into the matter.
Equalising the State Pension age was necessary to meet the United Kingdom's obligations under European Union law to eliminate gender inequalities in social security provision, but in my view more importantly to reflect the drastic changes in gender roles in our society and economy that we have seen since the ages were first set in 1940. It is entirely wrong that women should be treated inequitably which has helped make it more difficult for women to reach the top jobs based on merit. The Pensions Act 1995 legislated for this to be done gradually after 2010 and this was widely publicised at the time. So although the exact dates for implementation were not known then, the point from which the changes might be implemented certainly was known. Following sharp increases in life expectancy projections, the Government had to accelerate this process slightly in the Pensions Act 2011 to secure the sustainability of the system. This was done within the window originally set in 1995.
Under the 1995 Act, women's State Pension age was scheduled to increase from 60 to 65 between 2010 and 2020. As a result of the 2011 reforms, it will now reach 65 in November 2018. The Government did listen to concerns raised at the time, and as a result the maximum increase in the State Pension age was capped at 18 months relative to the 1995 timetable.
The new State Pension will be fairer to women than the old system, with National Insurance credits for years taken out of work for caring or bringing up a family gaining them the same pension entitlement as National Insurance contributions through earnings. Around 650,000 women will receive an average of £8 more per week in the first ten years as a result.
With regard to communication of the changes; a Government leaflet on the changes was issued in July 1995, entitled Equality in State Pension Age: A Summary of Changes. Since 1995 State Pension estimates have been available on request from the DWP which make the 1995 changes clear. Since April 2000 more than 11.5 million personalised statements have been issued, and the Department continues to encourage people to request statements. I accept that, in a postal service, some letters may have failed to arrive or that generation of some letters might fail. But generally speaking I believe the DWP has done a reasonable job in communicating to the broad mass of people affected.
In 2004, a DWP report found the three quarters of people aged 45 to 54 were already aware of the 1995 reforms, and since then a round of letters has gone out as well as other communication initiatives. A further report in 2012 showed that only 6% of women who were within 10 years of pension age thought their State Pension age was still 60. The DWP also ran an information campaign in 2004 further informing people of the upcoming equalisation in State Pension age, and this campaign included advertising in the press and women's magazines, and developing an interactive online State Pension age calculator via the Pension Service website.
All those affected by the 1995 changes were also written to between April 2009 and March 2011. Further mailing to those due to reach State Pension age between 2016 and 2026 was completed between January 2012 and November 2013.
I do believe that with respect to women who are ill and may have a challenge working or making contributions the Government could be more helpful in amplifying the options available to them. And I will ask ministers to do this.
However, although I understand that some constituents are concerned by these changes, I do not feel that the original notice given of the changes, or the more detailed and personalised notices sent since 2011, have been unreasonable. Nor do I feel that the transitional arrangements put in place by the government following representations is deficient.