International Womens day – two women MPs two issues!

Women’s Parliamentary Radio
March 4th 2011

Www.wpradio talks to Rachel Reeves MP about those women who are having to wait two years longer for their pensions and Fiona Mactaggart MP on her International Women’s Day campaign

Rachel Reeves MP, the Shadow Minister for Pensions for the Labour Party, is calling on the coalition Conservative Liberal Democrat Government to reverse the changes it has announced to delay the pension age for women by two years, in some cases.

The MP for Leeds West, tells Women’s Parliamentary Radio, that it’s about time the Women’s Minister, Theresa May MP and the Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone MP, stood up for women and called on the Government to announce a “U” turn on this issue as it has done recently on selling off forest lands.

Ms Reeve told Boni Sones OBE, our Executive Producer that women are being hit by a double whammy as they come up to pensionable age and that 33,000 women will have to wait for two years longer before they can retire:

“These changes are being debated now in the Lords and in the Commons in May and June. The State Pension Age will be equalised for men and women in 2018 rather than 2020 and the State Pension Age will increase to 66 in 2020 rather than 2026.

“The impact of this will mean 4.9 million people will have to wait longer before they receive their state pension. But 500,000 women will have to wait for more than a year longer, of those, 300,000 will have to wait for more than 18 months longer, and 33,000 women will have to wait for two years longer before they receive their State pension, these are the women who will be turning 57 this Spring.

“They have had very little time to prepare for the changes, which start in five years times in 2016 and they will now be 65 or 66 before they can retire. I believe these changes are unfair because this group of women don’t have the savings to compensate for the changes.”

She said that to add “insult” to injury these women have been told that they can claim “unemployment” benefit instead by the Pensions Minister Steve Webb:

“I asked the Pensions Minister, Steve Webb, what these women were supposed to do and I got quite an insulting response. He said these women could claim unemployment benefit, but they have worked all their lives, many have brought up children, they don’t want a hand out they want the pension they have contributed to all of their lives and they want them at the age they thought they were going to get it. In 1995 they were told the State Pension age would increase from 60 to 65, and now to heap these changes on top of those with just a few weeks’ notice is unfair. The unemployment benefits are £40 a week less than the pension they would be entitled to.”

Ms Reeve MP, said women were “disproportionately” affected by the changes compared to men, and that this group of women, turning 57 next week, will lose up to £5,000 a year:

“No man will have to work for more than a year longer as a result of these changes whereas half a million women will have to work for more than a year longer, women are disproportionately affected. Steve Webb has done a gender audit, but the audit done looks at the lifetime income of a man compared to women, and he’s said because women live longer than men they don’t lose out. But for those two years women are not getting their State Pension, they will lose up to £5000 a year and if they don’t get a job there is very little compensation for them.”

She said that these women were part of that “Big Society” and had not only worked but had cared for others too. Only relatively recently have they been able to join a proper pension scheme because part-time workers used to be prohibited from joining:

“This group of women are not really in a financial position to absorb these changes. The average 56 years old has £9,100 worth of pension savings worth £11 a week, whereas a man has a pension savings of £52,800 – that is nearly six times higher than women, we are not starting from the same base.

“Many of these women have taken time to look after their family, sometimes bringing up grandchildren too or looking after elderly parents, these women are the Big Society in action.

“Until the 1990s firms didn’t have to offer occupational pensions to part-time workers, so many of these women were not allowed to contribute to pensions throughout their life. Many were not paying the full stamp duty because they were in lower paid part-time work, so there is a huge inequality with their pension savings. Then there is the difference in average pay too between men and women so they have had very little time to prepare for these changes, it is not fair.”

Ms Reeve MP also pointed out that these women would lose out on the other benefits pensioners got and the poorest would be hardest hit:

“The other big thing is about prescriptions, so those who are poorer who have ill health lose out most, and also the housing benefits associated with it, so all in all this is a very raw deal for women approaching retirement. If you are having your State Pension age delayed for two years you will be losing £10,000 and if you are also claiming pension credit you will be losing around £15,000. There is also the loss of housing benefit, prescriptions and travel as well.”

She called on Women’s Minister, Theresa May MP and Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone to join the cross party campaign to reverse the changes:

“We’ve tabled an EDM, Early Day Motion, which has 70 signatures, with Lid Dems and Conservatives too, and we also have support in the Lords. I want to build up cross-party support for this.

“Theresa May and Lynne Featherstone do need to say what their views are on these changes and what conversations they have had. As Minister for Women and as the Minister for Equalities and in the lead up to International Women’s Day they really should be championing the case for women. The women most affected will be turning 57 this coming Sunday, and what a great birthday present to say to them across party we will reverse these changes.

“We have united the Trade Unions, Saga, Age Uk and the Daily Mail saying the Government should reverse these changes and I hope the Government, like on forests, will think again because they changes are not fair or proportionate and they will pay the price at the ballot box for this one!”

Fiona Mactaggart MP calls on the Government to set up a “Women and Equalities Audit Committee” on International Women’s Day

Fiona Mactaggart the Labour MP for Slough and Shadow Spokeswoman on Women is campaigning to set up a “Women and Equalities Audit Committee” on International Women’s Day.

Fiona will use the International Women’s Day debate on March 10th in the Commons to call for the Government to be made accountable on all women’s issue through the mechanism of a new Committee that will audit Government Departments on how they are treating women across the board.

“The Foreign Affairs Committee has just published a report on Afghanistan which doesn’t sufficiently address the concerns of women in Afghanistan, so what is the future for women in that Country? In the Democratic Republic of Congo women are being raped and re-raped as a weapon of war, so we need to focus on women around the World.

“We need to tackle the issue of women’s voice, and representation of women and one of the things we don’t do well enough in Parliament is to make sure that the Government is held to account on the issues of women and equalities. I have tabled an amendment to make sure we do that, to suggest that we create a “Women and Equalities Audit Committee” so that we can quiz any government department about the impact of their policies on women.

“This year we haven’t announced what we are going to give to the UN Women Committee, when 30 or so Countries have. Our silence will mean that some Countries will hold back too, so we need to make sure every government department is accountable on women, whether it is DFID on UN women, or DWP where women are paying for the pension’s crisis, or the Home Office on violence against women. On all of these things we need to hold Government to account and an Equalities Select Committee could do that.

“Spain has already pledged 22 million dollars to UN women, Britain has not pledged anything it is time for us to step-up.”

Fiona said she felt the government had “deliberately damaged” Labour’s Equality Act passed at the end of the last Parliament. She said she was shocked by the Pensions Minister, Steve Webb’s suggestion to cut back women’s pensions by as much as £10,000 with so little notice in his attempt to equalise the pension age for men and women:

“There is a lack of understanding in this Government about women’s lives. The reason for gender auditing was to make sure Government’s couldn’t be gender blind. The fact they are avoiding gender audits, and looking at dropping a number of equalities duties is evidence of this. The gay marriage proposals are a “cover”, it’s important, but not a radical change -a crime that is no longer a crime should be wiped off somebody’s record – , it is being “bigged up” to provide a smoke screen for the fact that the legislation being put in front of us in reactionary.”

Fiona said in the UK the new Equalities Act would need to be monitored by the appropriate Commission in order to ensure it was implemented effectively:

“If the Equalities and Human Rights Commission acts as a regulator in holding the government to account there is still a prospect the Equality Bill will make a difference to women and children’s lives and that is what we need to work towards.”

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