WITH the Tory Government apparently in permanent paralysis over Brexit, the SNP have tried to move forward the issue of state pension inequality.

As many readers will be aware from a previous column I wrote in January this year, there is an ongoing campaign (WASPI – Women Against State Pension Inequality) regarding women born on or after April 6,1951, who are now facing having to work longer than expected before they will receive their state pension.

This issue arose as a consequence of various pension legislation that aimed to bring equality in terms of when men and women should receive their state pension.

Loading article content

Although no-one is against the principle of a single state pension age, the process of equalising this age penalised a significant number of women born in the 1950s. This affects about 3,800 women in my constituency of Paisley and Renfrewshire South and 8,100 women across Renfrewshire.

This issue was compounded by the failure of successive UK governments to actually inform these women that their state pension age was drifting ever further away. Instead of 60, as they had expected, some were finding their pension age was approaching 66.

The UK Government, which could easily find the women to take their pensions contributions, somehow didn’t have the ability to contact them individually to let them know that their pension age was increasing.

Many of the women affected discovered the changes with too little time to do anything about it. They had planned to retire at 60, some had already reduced their hours and moved to part-time work, some were physically exhausted and unable to continue in full-time employment. Now, instead of retiring at 60, they were forced into maintaining their jobs or signing on, knowing there was never any realistic expectation of getting a new job. There was no time to make alternative arrangements – even if such a thing was possible. Their retirement plans had been erased by legislation that no-one had bothered to tell them about.

Put yourself in their position. They were born, raised and worked in an era when there wasn’t the same level of equality as there is now (and even now we don’t have an equal society). They had to take whatever jobs they could to support themselves and their families, with no access to workplace pensions.

Yet they believed they had a contract with the UK Government. They believed if they paid their taxes and National Insurance they would receive a pension when it was time to retire. They didn’t believe that the government would take their money and then renege on its part of the deal and make excuses for not paying out. That’s exactly what has happened. They paid in and when it was time to take out the government referred them to the small print. They didn’t inform these women there had been changes and that they would now have to continue slaving away to get the UK government off the hook for the pension promises made in the past.

Every time this issue is raised – at parliament, in the papers or via campaigns like WASPI – the same response is given. Apparently the government has sympathy but nothing else for these women. Then to back their case they pull out some imaginary figure that sounds scary – say £30 billion.

However, we in the SNP were never convinced the UK Government had got that right. That was one of the reasons we commissioned an independent organisation to look at the options available to address this issue. This is work that the UK Government should have commissioned.

I’m not claiming this is the whole answer, but at least it’s a starting point to move the discussion forward. The report the SNP launched last week recommended one option – that of ignoring the changes from the 2011 Pension Act, which accelerated the increase in women’s pension age, and returning to the changes proposed in the 1995 Act. This would reduce the impact on many women and increase the timescale for the equalisation of the state pension age.

The cost of this option is estimated to be £8bn. It sounds a lot but that is over a five-year period. And let’s put it into context. Since 2001, the UK has spent in excess of £29bn on wars. Would you rather spend money killing people or protecting our pensioners? The refurbishment of the Palace of Westminster is initially estimated at £7bn – again, would you prefer spending this money on a dilapidated old building that’s not fit for purpose or would you prefer that money kept pensioners out of poverty? And finally, the UK Government – and its Labour supporters – plan to spend at least £167bn (a figure that is drastically rising) on renewing nuclear weapons of mass destruction – in contrast, a tiny fraction of that money could be used to right a wrong in the pension system.

The research report also highlighted where the £8bn could come from – the National Insurance Fund, which is running a surplus. By the end of this year it’s expected to reach £26.3bn and by the end of 2017/18 it will increase to £30.7bn. Instead of sitting in a bank account, that money could be used to sort out this pension problem.

Let’s also not forget all these women have paid into their state pensions. They aren’t asking for something for nothing; they’ve made their contributions over many years just to find the UK Government has turned around at the last minute and acted as a conman, taking away their pension. But this isn’t just about past pension payments – it also impacts on current payments. Why should anyone my age willingly contribute to their pension if this government is giving the green light for future governments to raid their pensions? If there is no confidence in the pension system, then don’t be surprised if people refuse to contribute or look at ways to avoid making pension contributions, and don’t be surprised if pensioner poverty becomes an even bigger issue in the future.

By publishing our research this week, the SNP have tried to keep this campaign going. We’ve shown that the figures used by the UK Government are mere fantasy. If the Prime Minister is to live up to her rhetoric of working “not for the privileged few”, it is time to end this inequality and deliver for the women of the 1950s. She has a copy of our report as myself and my colleague Ian Blackford delivered it in person to her front door. It’s time she read it and came up with a solution.