Women’s State Pension Age

– in the House of Commons am 4:45 pm ar 25 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 4:45, 25 Mawrth 2024

With permission, I would like to make a statement to provide an interim update on the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s investigation into the way that changes to the state pension age were communicated to women born in the 1950s. I am grateful to the ombudsman for conducting this investigation.

I recognise the strength of feeling on this issue, and it is important to set out the wider context and our initial understanding of the report itself. The fact that it has taken over five years for the ombudsman to produce the final report reflects the complexity of this matter. The period that the investigation considers spans around 30 years, dating back to the decision that Parliament took in 1995 to equalise the state pension age for men and women gradually from 2010. Since then, changes have been made through a series of Acts of Parliament introduced by successive Governments, which resulted in the state pension age for women rising to 65 by November 2018, and then to 66 by October 2020.

The announcement in 1993 about equalising the state pension age addressed a long-standing inequality between men and women. The changes were about maintaining the right balance between the sustainability of the state pension, fairness between generations and ensuring a dignified retirement in later life. Women retiring today can still expect to receive the state pension for more than 21 years on average—over two years longer than for men. Had the Government not equalised the state pension age, women would have been retiring today at 60, and they could have spent, on average, over 40% of their adult lives in receipt of the state pension. That would have been unfair, because, by the 1990s, life expectancy had significantly increased compared with 1948, when the state pension age for women was set at 60.

Turning to the investigation itself, it is important to be clear about what the ombudsman has not said, particularly following some of the inaccurate and misleading commentary since the report was published. The ombudsman has looked not at the decision to equalise the state pension age, but at how that decision was communicated by the Department for Work and Pensions. The report hinges on the Department’s decisions over a narrow period between 2005 and 2007, and on the effect of those decisions on individual notifications. The ombudsman has not found that women have directly lost out financially as a result of DWP’s actions. The report states:

“We do not find that it”— meaning DWP’s communication—resulted in the complainants

“suffering direct financial loss”.

The final report has not said that all women born in the 1950s will have been adversely impacted, as many women were aware that the state pension age had changed.

In his stage 1 report, the ombudsman found that

“between 1995 and 2004, DWP’s communication of changes to State Pension age reflected the standards we would expect it to meet.”

The report also confirms that accurate information about changes to the state pension age was publicly available in leaflets, through DWP’s pension education campaigns, through DWP’s agencies, and on its website. However, when considering the DWP’s actions between August 2005 and December 2007, the ombudsman came to the view that those actions resulted in 1950s-born women receiving individual notice later than they might, had different decisions been made.

It is important to remember that during the course of the ombudsman’s investigation, the state pension age changes were considered by the courts. In 2019 and 2020, the High Court and the Court of Appeal respectively found no fault with the actions of the DWP. The courts made it clear that under successive Governments dating back to 1995, the action taken was entirely lawful and did not discriminate on any grounds. During these proceedings, the Court of Appeal held that the High Court was entitled to conclude as a fact that there had been

“adequate and reasonable notification given by the publicity campaigns implemented by the Department over a number of years.”

The ombudsman has taken five years to produce his final report. As the chief executive of the ombudsman herself has set out, the DWP has fully co-operated with the ombudsman’s investigation throughout this time and provided thousands of pages of detailed evidence. We continue to take the work of the ombudsman very seriously, and it is only right that we now fully and properly consider the findings and details of what is a substantial document. The ombudsman has noted in his report the challenges and complexities of this issue. In laying the report before Parliament, the ombudsman has brought matters to the attention of the House, and we will provide a further update to the House once we have considered the report’s findings.

This Government have a strong track record of supporting all pensioners. In 2023-24, we will spend over £151 billion on support for pensioners. That is 5.5% of GDP, and includes around £124 billion for the state pension. We are committed to ensuring that the state pension remains the foundation of income in retirement now and for future generations. That is why we are honouring the triple lock by increasing the basic and new state pensions by 8.5% from next month. This sees the full rate of the new state pension rise by £900 a year and it follows last year’s rise of 10.1%.

We now have 200,000 fewer pensioners in absolute poverty after housing costs than there were in 2010. Our sustained commitment to the triple lock demonstrates our determination to continue to combat pensioner poverty in the future. That is why we have reformed the state pension as well as workplace pensions, improving the retirement outcomes for many women. Our commitment to pensioners is why we introduced automatic enrolment, which has seen millions more women saving into a workplace pension.

This Government are committed to supporting pensioners in a sustainable way, providing them with a dignified retirement while also being fair to them and to taxpayers. I have set out our strong track record of backing our pensioners. I have also set out our commitment to the full and proper consideration of the ombudsman’s report. I note that the ombudsman has laid his final report on this issue before Parliament, and of course I can assure the House that the Government will continue to engage fully and constructively with Parliament, as we have done with the ombudsman.

Photo of Liz Kendall Liz Kendall Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 4:53, 25 Mawrth 2024

I thank the Secretary of State for giving me advance sight of his statement, and thank the ombudsman and his staff for all their hard work. This is a serious report that requires serious consideration. The ombudsman has rightly said that it is for the Government to respond but that Parliament should also consider its findings. Labour Members will look carefully at the report too, and continue to listen respectfully to those involved, as we have done from the start.

The Secretary of State says that he will provide a further update to the House on this matter. When will he do so after the House returns from its Easter recess? This has been going on for years. He rightly says that issues around the changes to the state pension age have spanned multiple Parliaments, but those of us who have been around a little while will remember that the turning point that sparked the Women Against State Pension Inequality campaign was the Pensions Act 2011, in which the then Chancellor, George Osborne decided to accelerate the state pension age increases with very little notice. His comment that this

“probably saved more money than anything else we’ve done” understandably angered many women. At the time, Labour tabled amendments that would have ensured proper notice was given so that women could plan for their retirement, which would have gone some way towards dealing with this problem.

The ombudsman began investigating how changes to the state pension age were communicated in 2019. In the same year, the High Court ruled that the ombudsman could not recommend changes to the state pension age itself or the reimbursement of lost pensions, because that had been decided by Parliament.

The ombudsman’s final report, published last week, says that, in 2004, internal research from the Department for Work and Pensions found that around 40% of the women affected knew about the changes to the state pension age. Does that remain the Government’s assessment? What is their assessment of the total number of women who would receive compensation based on the ombudsman’s different options? How many of them are the poorest pensioners on pension credit? How many are already retired or have, sadly, passed away? Given the Department already knew there were problems with communicating changes to the state pension age, why did the Government press ahead with the changes in the 2011 Act in the way they did, and in the way that sparked the WASPI campaign?

The Government are currently committed to providing 10 years’ notice of future changes to the state pension age, but Labour’s 2005 pension commission called for 15 years’ notice. Have the Government considered the merits of a longer timeframe, and how they would improve communications in future? Labour is fully committed to guaranteeing that information about any future changes to the state pension age is provided in a timely and targeted way that is, wherever possible, tailored to individual needs. Will the Government now do the same?

Crucially, the Secretary of State omitted to say that the ombudsman took the rare decision to ask Parliament to intervene on this issue because the ombudsman strongly doubts that the Department will provide a remedy. In the light of these concerns, and in order to aid Parliament in its work, will the Secretary of State now commit to laying all the relevant information about this issue, including all impact assessments and related correspondence, in the House of Commons Library so that lessons can be learned and so that Members across the House can properly do their job? Our current and future pensioners deserve nothing less.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I thank the hon. Lady for her response, not least on the apparent points of agreement between us. We accept that there are strong feelings about these complex issues, and she is right to say that they must be given serious consideration and that we should listen respectfully to all those affected. She asks when the Government will return to the House with a further update, and I can assure her that there will be no undue delay.

The hon. Lady made a slightly political point about the 2011 Act, and I gently remind her that the ombudsman’s report focuses on the period between 2005 and 2007, when her party was in government.

The hon. Lady asked a series of questions about various assessments based on the findings in the report. Of course, that goes to the heart of my response, which is—and I think she agrees with this—that we should look closely at the report in order to make those assessments.

On the hon. Lady’s specific point about notice of changes to state pension age, it has always been the position that that should be adequate. Indeed, in the last review that I undertook of it, there was a delay in the decision to increase the state pension age to 68 into the next Parliament. Among other reasons, that was to allow for just that point to be addressed.

What is particularly important now is that we will fully engage with Parliament, as we did with the ombudsman. On the hon. Lady’s point about the ombudsman, its chief executive stated on Sky News on Thursday, the day the report was published:

“The Government, the DWP, completely co-operated with our report, with our investigation, and over the period of time we have been working they have provided us with the evidence that we asked for.”

That is our record in this particular matter, but may I once again assure the House that the Government will continue to engage fully and constructively with Parliament, as we have done with the ombudsman?

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee

I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments and his emphasis that this is a complex matter—of course it is. However, the WASPI women have been waiting five years for the outcome of the ombudsman’s report. In his report and subsequent to it, when he wrote to various Select Committee Chairs from across the House, he gently encouraged us to keep a weather eye on how quickly the Government come forward with a solution. I recognise that this is an interim update, but I gently press my right hon. Friend: the WASPI women have been waiting five years for the ombudsman and they will not want to wait for a Select Committee inquiry into this report in order to see action from the Government.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s question. Let me reassure her, as I have just reassured the House, that there will be no undue delay in our approach to this matter. We engaged fully with the ombudsman— that included more than 1,000 pages of evidence and a full commentary in respect of the previous interim report that it published. This report is more than 100 pages in length and it is very detailed, so it is only right that we do, in an appropriate manner, give it the due attention that it deserves.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Farming, Agriculture and Rural Affairs)

The timid response from the Labour party is truly shocking. Regardless of what we have just heard, WASPI women have at long last been vindicated, after five long years, by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman report. Some 3.8 million women were impacted, of whom 270,000 have died without ever receiving their rightful pension.

Despite what the Secretary of State says, the verdict of the ombudsman’s report on the Department for Work and Pensions is damning and unequivocal, and weasel words will not change that. Women born in the 1950s had their pension age raised with little or no notice, and there have been failings at every turn by successive UK Governments. The report states that these women are owed compensation; that the DWP has refused to comply and must be held accountable for doing so; and that there was a failure to adequately inform women of the state pension age change. Those failures have had a devastating impact on lives, retirements and the financial and emotional wellbeing of WASPI women. Many have been reduced to poverty after being robbed of tens of thousands of pounds of pension, and that suffering has been caused by and is the responsibility of this broken Westminster system and this cosy Westminster consensus.

Financial redress is vital for these women and is in the interests of justice. Clearly Labour is not interested in that, but what we need from the Government is a commitment to prompt compensation for these women—with no barriers erected to prevent access to it—that recognises their financial loss and distress. We cannot have a situation where WASPI women have their campaign for justice vindicated and yet continue to be ignored. Any attempt to do that will rightfully result in a backlash.

We in the SNP stand shoulder to shoulder with these women, who have been abandoned and betrayed by the UK Government and the future Labour Government. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what it will take to compensate these women? Do we need another TV drama to embarrass and shame the Government into doing the right thing? These women are not going away but the longer this injustice is left unresolved, the greater the number of WASPI women who will die without seeing their pension—shame on this place.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The hon. Lady refers to “doing the right thing”. Doing the right thing by the people the hon. Lady describes is to look very closely, carefully and diligently at the report. It has been five years in gestation. It is detailed, runs to 100 pages and draws upon a vast reservoir of evidence. It is only right and proper, given that the report was published on Thursday and today is Monday, for all of us to have time to properly consider its findings. [Interruption.]

The hon. Lady refers to the general situation of pensioners. All I can say is that I am pleased and reassured that pensions generally are a reserved matter. We have been able to increase the state pension, last year by 10.1% and this coming year by 8.5%. We have pressed hard on promoting pension credit for poorer pensioners. We had a cost of living payment. Because it is a reserved matter, this Government were able to provide £300 to pensioners last November, alongside their winter fuel payments. As a consequence of that—[Interruption.]

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I was merely pointing out the fact that we stand four-square behind pensioners across the United Kingdom to support them. That is why under this Government there are 200,000 fewer pensioners in poverty, after housing costs, than there were in 2010.

Photo of Siobhan Baillie Siobhan Baillie Ceidwadwyr, Stroud

WASPI women across my Stroud constituency have campaigned consistently and constructively. I have grown very fond of them as we have discussed the subject over the years. As the Secretary of State knows, at the heart of the issue are women saying that they were left unable to plan or that their plans for the future were scuppered, so the focus should be on laying out a timetable as soon as possible. The issue of compensation is key to many of these women, who will have read the report. It is right that the Secretary of State and his Department look through the report in detail, but will he lay out a timetable, tell these women what is and is not possible, and manage their expectations as soon as possible, because they have waited?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My hon. Friend is a member of the Work and Pensions Committee and I welcome her question. I reassure her that there will be no undue delay. I thank her for recognising that we need to look at these matters with great care. That does not mean coming forward with some of the things that the Scottish National party may wish us to do on a Monday, given that the report landed with us only last Thursday.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Chair, Work and Pensions Committee, Chair, Work and Pensions Committee

Does the Secretary of State agree with the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, as I do, that those affected should not have to wait for the outcome of a Select Committee inquiry before learning the Government’s response? The equalisation of the state pension age was legislated for in 1995, giving 15 years’ notice to those affected. The 2011 changes, which accelerated the process, gave much less than 10 years’ notice to those affected. Is one of the lessons about what has gone wrong that we must ensure major changes of this kind provide at least 10 years’ notice, or preferably 15 years’ notice, before those changes take effect?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The right hon. Gentleman raises the potential role of Select Committees in these matters. As the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, he would have the authority to implement such ideas, if he were minded to do so. However, it is important that I and my Department seriously consider the findings in the report before we come to our conclusions, and that we then come to the House to present those conclusions. That is the most important point.

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Ceidwadwyr, Amber Valley

Having seen the report, I think this issue has gone on long enough and we now need to choose a compensation scheme and get it finished. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government will have made their mind up before the autumn fiscal event, so that we can see it set out by that date and know how much the costs will be?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Whether there will be an autumn statement at all, and the date thereof, is not within my remit—indeed, I am not certain whether an autumn statement is pencilled in for any particular date, or otherwise. The most important thing is that we recognise—this message should go out loud and clear from the Dispatch Box today—that there should be no undue delay in coming to the appropriate conclusions on this matter.

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Llafur, Battersea

The WASPI scandal has been a huge injustice for millions of women, including women in my constituency. The Secretary of State has said that he wants to continue to look in detail at the findings of the report, but surely he should be able to make an unambiguous commitment to compensation for these women. The ombudsman had to take the rare step of laying this before Parliament, due to the Department for Work and Pensions refusing to comply. Will the Secretary of State today set out a timeline for when he will come back to this House and say how he intends to ensure that these women are compensated fully?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The hon. Lady is attempting to draw me into coming to premature conclusions on some of the findings in the report, which I am afraid I not going to do for the reasons I have already given. Once again on the issue of timing, there will be no undue delay.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Ceidwadwyr, Waveney

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for his statement. The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman is itself WASPI, having been conceived in the 1950s. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a failure by Government to comply with its recommendations would be almost completely unprecedented over the past 70 years, and would in effect drive a coach and horses through an integral part of our system of democratic checks and balances? With that in mind, will he confirm that his Department will work in full haste with Parliament to agree a mechanism for remedy? Will he outline the work he is carrying out to address further concerns that have been raised over systematic failure by the DWP over several decades to properly communicate future pension changes?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

At the heart of this matter is the imperative to ensure that we fully and carefully examine the findings contained in the report. I will not be drawn today on where we may end up in respect of those findings, but I assure my hon. Friend that we will engage fully and constructively with Parliament on these matters.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Llafur, South Shields

Women born in the 1950s entered into a contract with the state, but the coalition Government reneged on that, denying them their pensions. In their fight for justice, thousands have died. Since the ombudsman’s report, over 100 have passed away, and many continue to live in poverty. Shamefully, the Government are now delaying action on the ombudsman’s findings, and today have remained silent about proper compensation. Will the Secretary of State apologise for their long wait for justice?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

On the Pensions Act 2011, as the hon. Lady will know from the report, the window that has been particularly examined and on which these considerations turn is 2005 to 2007—a time when the Labour party was in office. But on a general and non-partisan point, my view is that we owe it to all women who were born in the 1950s to properly look at the report in detail, as I have described, and at the same time to engage with Parliament in an appropriate way.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Ceidwadwyr, Kenilworth and Southam

My right hon. Friend is correct to refer to the complexity of this situation. One aspect of that complexity is that these women have suffered the loss of an opportunity to plan appropriately for their futures. That is the consequence of the maladministration that the ombudsman has identified, and it will, of course, be different for each individual. Can he say anything about the work that his Department will now do to think about the appropriate remedy in such diverse circumstances? Will he also say, in supporting what my hon. Friend Peter Aldous put to him, that maladministration must have consequences and therefore it is important for the Government to recognise, on behalf of previous Governments, that that maladministration must lead to some form of remedy?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My right hon. and learned Friend is right to refer, as I have done, to the complexities around this issue. He is understandably attempting to draw me into past comments on some of the findings in the report, which, for the reasons I have given, I will not be doing this afternoon. I reassure him that, whatever the conclusions or findings in the report, as I said in my statement, when these matters went to the Court of Appeal, the conclusion was that the High Court could treat as a matter of fact that

“there has been adequate and reasonable notification given by the…Department over a number of years.”

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (COP26), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Commons Business)

Returning to maladministration, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s stage 1 report found clear maladministration in 2021 in the way that the DWP communicated those changes and that it did not pay attention to its own research showing that 1950s-born women did not know about the changes. Almost three years on, the DWP has not publicly accepted those findings. Will the Minister finally admit to the DWP’s failings that short-changed hundreds of thousands of 1950s WASPI women?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Without being drawn into too much detail around the report, there is clearly an important distinction between those matters that have been found to be maladministration and those that have found to be maladministration and led to injustice. Setting that apart, as I have said previously, I do not think it is right for me today to start dissecting elements of the report and some of the conclusions that have been arrived at. We will go away and look very carefully at these matters and then engage with Parliament appropriately.

Photo of Holly Mumby-Croft Holly Mumby-Croft Ceidwadwyr, Scunthorpe

I thank my right hon. Friend for the clarity with which he has set out the history of this issue. He will understand that my constituents who were affected wish, quite reasonably, to have a similar degree of clarity on the next steps and the timescale, and it is my job to communicate to him today their strength of feeling on that. I understand that he will not be able to set out that timescale today, but can he reassure the House that he has in his mind a timescale for these next steps?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

As I have said, there should be no undue delay, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right that clarity is what is required. That is why I am stressing the point that clarity comes with careful consideration.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Llafur, Wirral West

I pay tribute to all WASPI campaigners and stand in solidarity with them. I need also to declare that I am somebody who was born in the 1950s. The treatment of the 1950s-born women in relation to changes in women’s state pension has led to great hardship for many. One woman in my constituency struggled to feed herself and had to sell her home as a result. The impact has been devastating. It is estimated that some 270,000 WASPI women have died since the start of the campaign in 2015 and that another dies every 13 minutes. I note the Minister’s comments that there will be no undue delay. Will he return to this House immediately after recess with a firm commitment to fast and fair compensation?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I think we owe it to all of those to whom the hon. Lady refers to act without undue delay—that is a commitment that I have made—and to look at these matters extremely carefully and make sure that we allow time to do that effectively.

Photo of James Sunderland James Sunderland Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill

I welcome today’s statement, and am very grateful for it. I know that the Secretary of State is under pressure this afternoon, but having received a lot of correspondence from my Bracknell constituents, as other Members have from theirs, let me ask a very objective question: does he have a personal message for those seeking a definitive outcome?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I think my statement is the message. We recognise that these are complicated issues. We have collaborated fully with the inquiry, to the satisfaction of the chief executive officer of the ombudsman. We will study the report’s findings very carefully, and engage with Parliament constructively, as we have done with the ombudsman.

Photo of Marion Fellows Marion Fellows Scottish National Party, Motherwell and Wishaw

The Royal Society for the Relief of Indigent Gentlewomen of Scotland sounds entirely otherworldly and quite funny, but that was not the case for the WASPI woman who came to my surgery in 2016. She retired expecting to get her state pension at 60, and had to apply to the society for relief. She had to sell her home because she could not afford her retirement, as she did not receive her pension. What remedies for compensation do the Government consider suitable for that constituent, and others of mine, and when will they receive them? The DWP has known about the issue for years and years.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The example that the hon. Lady gives once again underlines in my mind the importance of proceeding with great diligence and looking at the findings of the report in great detail. As we all know, we received that report on Thursday; it is now Monday. Given its length, and the complexity of the issues under consideration, it is not unreasonable for us to take the time to look closely at its conclusions.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Ceidwadwyr, Weston-Super-Mare

I add my voice to those calling for an urgent announcement of a redress scheme in response to the report. The Secretary of State rightly pointed out that the actions between 2005 and 2007 did not happen on his watch, or under any Conservative Government, but if he delays, he will stop being part of the solution and start to become part of the problem. When he introduces his redress scheme, he will need all the understanding and good will on both sides of the House that he can muster to deal with the undoubted complexities of distinguishing between the different kinds and levels of indirect loss in the report, so speed is vital.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

As my hon. Friend points out, the timing is important. I have made the commitment that we will proceed without undue delay.

Photo of Beth Winter Beth Winter Llafur, Cwm Cynon

Millions of women have suffered an injustice, including more than 200,000 in Wales and 4,000 in my constituency of Cynon Valley. While much of the ombudsman’s report is welcome, the compensation remedy is insufficient—indeed, it is insulting. In 2019, the Labour party pledged an average payment of £15,500. It is affordable, and the Government have saved in the region of £200 billion since the equalisation of the state pension age, yet they still have not pledged anything at all. Will the Minister please set a specific timeline so that we can have an urgent parliamentary process for MPs to set a compensation scheme that will give fair, appropriate and fast compensation to these women?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

On the timing, I have now given this reply from the Dispatch Box on several occasions: there will be no undue delay. On the specific matter that the hon. Lady raises relating to remedy, that is one of the findings within the report that, along with all the others, we will of course consider very carefully.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Ceidwadwyr, Isle of Wight

The Secretary of State is right to highlight the commitment to the triple lock, that the state pension will raise by some £900 this year, that there are fewer people in pensioner poverty than ever before, and that, predictably, the failures here happened under a previous Government. Nevertheless, does he accept that hardship in principle has been caused, both to WASPI women on the Isle of Wight and nationally, and that a solution, while it clearly needs to be affordable, is needed to right a wrong that has taken place?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Reaching the clarity that my hon. Friend would like requires us to have a close and careful look at the report, as I have been setting out. We will do that as quickly as we can—we will not introduce any undue delays—and consult Parliament in an appropriate manner, as we did with the ombudsman.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development Team Member)

It is not that difficult. The WASPI women have been screwed over by the state and made to wait for years. I understand that the ombudsman process had to be undertaken because the Government made that happen, but they could have faced up to the reality much sooner. Can the Secretary of State guarantee the 6,500 WASPI women in my constituency and those across the UK that he will not kick the can down the road past the next election and pass the buck to the Labour party, which cannot make a promise about this matter either? It is not good enough to stand in solidarity but take no action.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

On the question of time, I have made the position extremely clear. On the question of the report having had to gestate for five years, there was a delay of around two years because of the judicial review that went on in the middle of that process, so to suggest that the Government have in any way been holding things up is not fair or accurate. Indeed, as I have said the ombudsman chief executive has highlighted the good level of co-operation that there has been with my Department.

Photo of Caroline Ansell Caroline Ansell Ceidwadwyr, Eastbourne

I thank my right hon. Friend for coming so swiftly to the House in the wake of the ombudsman’s important report, which, as other hon. Members have said, requires a response. I pay tribute to the 4,000 WASPI women in my constituency who have been affected by the change. Although I welcome the important pension reforms that outlined, of which we can be proud, it is worth remembering that 68% of women born in the 1950s have relied on the state pension, as opposed to 44% of their male counterparts, because of baked-in inequalities that they experienced in much younger years: they started work before equalities legislation; they were not able to join pension schemes back in the day; and they made very definite choices about their caring responsibilities. For all those reasons, I see real injustice in this case. When he talks us through how this will be dealt with in Parliament, I hope to hear that there will be a role for individual MPs who have worked closely with their WASPI women to make representations on their behalf.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I can assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to engage closely with Parliament, as we have done to date and with the ombudsman. She quite reasonably raises gender pension gaps. This Government have brought in and encouraged automatic enrolment—we have consulted on further changes that we are considering —which has led to a narrowing of that gap as it relates to private pensions. There is always more to do, but we are definitely serious about making further progress.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Exports)

The WASPI women in Slough and across our country have been campaigning courageously and consistently for their rights for years. It is the Government’s duty to set out exactly how they will help those women and deliver justice. Given that someone’s entitlement to the state pension depends on how many years they have paid national insurance contributions, what will happen, under the Chancellor’s plans to abolish NICs, to those who are yet to retire? Will they still receive the state pension to which they have been contributing, or will their entitlements change?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The hon. Gentleman is a very assiduous and sensible person, and will know that party politics are at play in this issue. The Chancellor has been extremely clear that it is an aspiration to further bring down the level of national insurance across time—across several years, maybe even going beyond the next Parliament. He is quite right to say that, because we are a party that fundamentally believes in low tax.

Photo of Duncan Baker Duncan Baker Ceidwadwyr, North Norfolk

Given the demographics in North Norfolk, I probably have one of the most impacted constituencies in the country: over 5,000 WASPI women have been impacted there. We need to be sensible. We all recognise the financial climate that we are dealing with in this country, but the Secretary of State is a very decent man, and this weekend, the Prime Minister intimated that we have always tried to right injustices in this country. WASPI women will be watching this debate; can the Secretary of State at least throw them a lifeline from the Dispatch Box, and give some sort of commitment that we in this country will do everything we possibly can to support as many WASPI women who have been impacted as we can?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The important point is that we must carefully consider the report in its entirety—not just one aspect of it, but all aspects. I have undertaken to the House to do that without undue delay.

Photo of Lloyd Russell-Moyle Lloyd Russell-Moyle Labour/Co-operative, Brighton, Kemptown

The ombudsperson was established to decide when things were not necessarily illegal, but had been done in a way that involved malpractice and was wrong, and to decide when a person in the middle needed to come forward and say, “You need to sort this out.” That is exactly what the ombudsperson has now said: their judgment is clear that maladministration happened. There was a question as to whether what was done was illegal or not; in the event, it was not. Rather than hiding behind court judgments, will the Minister apologise on behalf of the Department for the maladministration? Also, will he at least commit to a remedy? I am not saying what that remedy has to be, but will he give reassurance that a remedy will be found? Those are two easy things that he should be able to do now.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The hon. Gentleman suggests that we are hiding behind the court cases. I have explained the relevance of those cases and the conclusions to which both the High Court and the Court of Appeal came in 2019 and 2020. We are not hiding behind anything; in fact, as the hon. Gentleman knows, because I read out the quote earlier, on Thursday 21 March—last Thursday—the chief executive of the ombudsman said on Sky News:

“The Government, the DWP, completely co-operated with our report, with our investigation, and over the period of time we have been working they have provided us with the evidence that we asked for.”

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

WASPI women in my constituency have campaigned relentlessly for many years, and I pay tribute to all of them, particularly Rosie Dickson, who has done so much at various events around Glasgow, and who came down to London to put her case directly in Parliament. WASPI women are watching this debate, and when the Minister says that the Government will carefully consider things, they hear, “More delay.” What they hear is that they will not get the money to which they are entitled, and that too many more women will die before they see a penny from this Government. When will they receive their money?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Given that the report was published as recently as last Thursday, it is a bit of a stretch to suggest that I should have come to this Dispatch Box with a fully formed set of proposals of the sort that the hon. Lady may wish for. I think that what her constituents and others want is a Government who look at the report very carefully, give great consideration to the complex issues involved and the report’s findings, and engage closely with Parliament, exactly as we did with the ombudsman.

Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Llafur, Leeds East

The Government had to be dragged kicking and screaming to even acknowledge the injustice done to thousands of innocent postmasters. This, too, is an incredible injustice. Millions of women born in the 1950s have been betrayed. Some 3.5 million women have been affected; one dies every 13 minutes, and we have been in this Chamber for an hour. Some 28,000 people have signed the letter from the WASPI campaign to the Leader of the House asking for an urgent debate and series of votes on compensation options, including that proposed by the all-party parliamentary group on this issue. This injustice cannot carry on any longer.

The Secretary of State has sought to avoid answering the question of when a decision will be made. “In due course” is not good enough, and neither is “without undue delay”. When will it happen? When will we get a debate on the issue, and a vote on proper compensation packages?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know that he should not ask me questions at the Dispatch Box about when debates may or may not occur; those matters are typically handled by the usual channels, including those in his party and mine. It is quite extraordinary that he should try to get me to set out a timetable for debates. Many of these things will be a matter for Parliament, rather than the Government. However, he is right to raise Horizon, and I am very proud of the fact that this Government have acted at speed on that, and brought forward legislation to make sure that people get the moneys and reparations that they deserve.

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

At the beginning of the Secretary of State’s statement, he said something that is clearly wrong. He said that women clearly had not “lost out”. They have. Thousands in my constituency have lost out financially, through no fault of their own. They planned for their retirement on the basis of out-of-date information. They were then in effect penalised for taking on caring responsibilities—for providing the best kind of childcare for their grandchildren, and allowing their children to work and pay taxes. All that was disrupted by the collective failure of the state. As has been said, many have died before justice was delivered.

For years, those of us who sought justice for the WASPI women have met the same response, which was that we had to wait for the ombudsman’s report. We now have the report, so will the Secretary of State now comply, apologise to the women, and pay compensation to them, as recommended in the report?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The hon. Gentleman refers to my mention of there having been no direct loss; that was a conclusion drawn by the ombudsman in his report. As to how quickly we can proceed, I simply remind him that the report was published on Thursday, and it is Monday afternoon. These are complex matters, and it is right and proper that they be considered in detail very carefully, and that there be appropriate engagement with Parliament, exactly as there was with the ombudsman.

Photo of Tahir Ali Tahir Ali Llafur, Birmingham, Hall Green

In my constituency of Birmingham, Hall Green, I have 4,760 WASPI women, who have been campaigning tirelessly for pension justice. Given that the report has now been published, will the Secretary of State commit to a timeline that will make sure that they are adequately and swiftly compensated for the harms that they have suffered?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

As the hon. Gentleman will know, that is a question that in various forms has now been asked a dozen or more times. The answer will always be consistent: there is no desire to delay matters, and there will be no undue delays in our deliberations.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Annibynnol, Islington North

There cannot be a Member of this House who has not met women affected by the issue or WASPI campaigners, and who has not been moved by their awful stories, and the pain that they have been through as a result of the maladministration by successive Governments. Anyone watching this lengthy, convoluted statement from the Secretary of State will be left confused about what will happen now. Could he tell us, in words of one syllable, when women who are victims of this maladministration can receive the compensation that they deserve?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

With great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, that is just another version of the same question about timing, and I have given a very clear answer on that.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

I have heard many Ministers say from the Dispatch Box that they are working at pace, or that there will be no undue delay in dealing with scandals. This is a real opportunity for Parliament. The ombudsman laid this report before Parliament for a very good reason: he did not think that the Department for Work and Pensions would accept the recommendations on maladministration. If a Back Bencher tabled an amendment to a Government Bill that sought to implement the ombudsman’s recommendations, the Government would support it, wouldn’t they?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

It would be a little bit of a stretch to comment on, let alone support, an unknown amendment to an unknown Bill.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee)

The WASPI campaign has asked me to emphasise its annoyance about how often Government Ministers, when talking about these issues, attempt to muddy the waters by referring back to the unsuccessful litigation to reverse the increase to the state pension age, or to claim direct discrimination. That was not litigation by the official WASPI campaign, and I am sure that its members were annoyed to hear a senior Labour Front Bencher doing the same thing on the radio last night. Will the Minister take this chance to assure the WASPI campaigners from the Dispatch Box that going forward, Government Ministers will not attempt to muddy the waters by referring back to now irrelevant litigation, and will instead focus on how to implement the ombudsman’s recommendations?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The hon. and learned Lady will know about legal matters. I do not think that I can accept that the litigation, particularly in the High Court and the Court of Appeal, is just not relevant, especially as it pertained to the matters under debate.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Employment Rights and Protections)

As the Secretary of State rightly pointed out, this report has been five years in the offing. His Department has known that it was coming for an awful long time. It must also have known that it was possible that compensation would be recommended. I am sure that he runs his Department in a prudent fashion, and will have set aside contingency funding for that eventuality. Can he tell us how much?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Once again, the hon. Gentleman is trying to draw me into forming conclusions prematurely about a complex report that needs a great deal of study and consideration. That is what we will give it.

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities)

These 1950s women have been shockingly let down by Westminster. They have fought on this issue for years and years. Instead of the Secretary of State properly acknowledging the failings that the ombudsman highlighted and doing “the right thing”, as the ombudsman’s chief executive officer says, it feels as though he has come here today with precisely nothing to say. It feels as though he is trying to gaslight the WASPI women. It is a disgrace, and shame on the Labour party for going along with this charade. This terrible, protracted injustice has devastated the lives of so many women. It is time to give them the justice that they deserve. Give them their compensation now, before many more of them die waiting.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I can reassure the hon. Lady that we have taken this entire situation extremely seriously. The House will have heard the remarks by the ombudsman’s CEO about the quality of my Department’s engagement with the ombudsman. I have also said that we provided more than 1,000 pages of evidence to the investigation. I have reassured the House that we will carefully consider the findings of the report, will not unduly delay our response, and will engage appropriately with Parliament, exactly as we have done with the ombudsman.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (International Trade), Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I must first declare my interest as a 1950s woman. The Secretary of State absolutely knows that real hardship was caused for some women in this age group in 2011 when the former Chancellor, George Osborne—backed by Conservative and Lib Dem Members—fast-forwarded the changes. As the ombudsman said, maladministration in the communication of the state pension age resulted in claimants losing opportunities to prepare. Women affected will be very disappointed by the Secretary of State’s statement, especially as the first stage of the ombudsman’s report in 2021 highlighted DWP failings. Can he please be more precise than saying “no undue delay”? In which month can we expect a proper Government response?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

That is once again a question about the timing, and I have given a clear response on that. I have given an assurance to the House that there will be no undue delay in our approach to these matters. That is the answer to the hon. Lady’s question.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Scottish National Party, Ross, Skye and Lochaber

May I say to the Secretary of State that he needs to read the room? Let us remember that the ombudsman has said there has been maladministration. There is consensus across the Chamber that compensation should be paid. This is about women who paid national insurance in anticipation of receiving a pension, who were hit with the bombshell that their pension was being deferred—in some cases, by up to six years—with only 15 months’ written notice. Can we imagine what would happen in this place if it was announced that private sector pensions were being put back by six years? Rightly, there would be outrage, and there should be outrage about what happened to the WASPI women.

This was an entitlement taken away from women, who had a reasonable expectation of retiring denied to them. The Government should have recognised the failings and should have compensated those 3.8 million women years ago. Now that we have the determination of maladministration, let us ensure that this is not another Horizon or contaminated blood story and that the Government come back at pace with firm proposals that the House can discuss after the Easter recess.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, I am fully aware of the reports’ findings. As he will know, they raise many questions, which we need to look at carefully. We will not delay in so doing, but that is why I have come to assure the House that we will do exactly that and engage with Parliament in an appropriate way.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

This interim statement felt like a non-statement. It spoke about clarity but offered none at all to WASPI women or Members of the House. I repeat what many across the Chamber have said: on what day and in what month can we expect a full statement? WASPI women up and down the country expect that full statement.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The hon. Gentleman raised the question to which by now I have probably responded two dozen times. The answer remains the same: we will look at these matters extremely carefully and diligently, which is what everybody who has an interest in them would expect us to do. The report was published as recently as Thursday, and it is now Monday. We will look at these issues very carefully indeed, and there will be no undue delay. We will ensure that we interact with Parliament in an appropriate fashion, as we did with the ombudsman.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

The Secretary of State talks about time, but it is nearly a decade since the start of the WASPI campaign, which has included rallies, protests, court cases, thousands of meetings to lobby MPs, and 273,000 women dying. Those who remain can perhaps see some light at the end of the tunnel. I say “some light”, because the ombudsman should have gone further both on the impact that DWP malpractice has had and on the recommended compensation. However, it looks like that light is actually a train, with the Chancellor and the shadow Chancellor in control. After all that those women—that includes my constituent, who was one of the test cases in the report and at times has treated the campaign like a full-time job—have gone through, is the Secretary of State really going to ask them to wait just a little longer and then break convention and ignore the ombudsman’s findings?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Given that we have not yet responded to the findings of the ombudsman, for the reasons that I gave—this needs to be done in a diligent and careful manner—I am not sure that the hon. Member’s assertion holds water. The report was five years in the making. It covers highly complex matters, and many questions are raised as a consequence. We will look at those questions and those findings extremely carefully and come to the House without undue delay while engaging with the House in an appropriate way, which is what we did with the ombudsman.

Photo of Rebecca Long-Bailey Rebecca Long-Bailey Llafur, Salford and Eccles

The report’s central finding of fact is that women born in the 1950s could not make informed decisions about their finances and that their sense of “personal autonomy and financial control” was “diminished”, with tens of thousands plunged into poverty. The issue now is not whether those women faced injustice, because the report makes it clear that they did, that they are entitled to urgent compensation from the Government, and that Parliament must “identify a mechanism” for providing appropriate redress. Will the Secretary of State allay my concerns that he is not proposing to question the ombudsman’s findings and that, rather, after the Easter recess, he will return to set out appropriate mechanisms for redress that we can debate in the House?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

We are considering the findings, which need to be considered in their entirety in order to come to a view.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration)

I pay tribute to the WASPI campaigners in Glasgow whom I met on International Women’s Day at the Mary Barbour statue, including the great Kathy McDonald, a fantastic constituent. Surely, the Secretary of State accepts that it is unacceptable in 2024 that women continue to experience inequality in lifetime savings. Women would need to work an additional 19 years to have the same pension savings as men. Inequalities in lifetime savings, a gender pension gap and maladministration of state pension age changes: this is a triple whammy for 1950s-born women. When will they get justice and equal treatment?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The hon. Gentleman concludes by asking the same question that has been asked many times. There will be no undue delay. We will look at the issues, including some of the points that he has raised, in the round, looking at the entirety of the report and all its points and conclusions. He will know that we have taken many steps to help to increase the pension amounts received by the women involved, including the auto-enrolment reforms that we have brought forward. In the private pension space, the reforms have shown a dramatic improvement in the level of pension provision for women up and down the country.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Llafur, Hayes and Harlington

The report is absolutely clear that the DWP’s systemic failure is that it did not even draw upon and learn from its own research into the failure of communication with those women. In addition, it did not investigate properly and respond to the complaints. That is straightforward in the report. Perhaps as a warning, I say to the Secretary of State that the anger out there will be not that he has not come up with a scheme immediately, but that he has not even acknowledged the failings of his own Department. That is why the report recommends that Parliament deal with this matter. Members of this House share the same feelings as the ombudsman and the WASPI women: we have no confidence in the Department for Work and Pensions to resolve its basic failure of decades ago.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The right hon. Gentleman refers to one part of the report’s findings, where the ombudsman found maladministration but did not find injustice. The point that I have made to others in the House is that we need to look at this report properly. It is a report of 100 pages, to which my Department provided 1,000 pages of evidence, and which we received on Thursday. The only thing I can do responsibly is come to the House and make it clear that we will act without undue delay and interact with Parliament in an appropriate manner, exactly as we did with the ombudsman.

Photo of Allan Dorans Allan Dorans Scottish National Party, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

Incredibly sadly, Margaret Meikle and Morag Syne are just two of a significant number of women in my constituency and elsewhere who have died while enduring years of prevarication and inaction by successive Governments in relation to the maladministration of their pensions. It is estimated that 40,000 women have died each year who may have been eligible for compensation. Nationally, 270,000 women have died without ever receiving an apology, justice or compensation. Will the Secretary of State commit to giving due consideration to compensating not only eligible women still living, but the relatives of those who have died while awaiting justice, when this comes back to the House?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I listened to the hon. Gentleman extremely carefully, and I think we owe it to all those to whom he referred and those who may be in a similar situation to take this matter extremely seriously. We will look at it very carefully, and we will come to appropriate conclusions while ensuring that we interact with Parliament in an appropriate way, very much as we did in our interactions with the ombudsman.

Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Llafur, Bradford East

I am not sure why the Secretary of State has come to this House to tell us and WASPI women nothing apart from that he is considering the report. He keeps talking about its complexities, but one simple finding at its heart is that this Government and this Parliament must remedy the grave injustices against the thousands of WASPI women in my constituency, and up and down this country. Hon. Members from across this House have asked the Secretary of State quite reasonably for a timescale, but he refuses to commit and uses the words “undue delay.” Will he at least accept that every time a Minister stands up and says “undue delay” or “due process” they really mean that they have no intention of addressing the problem, and are saving face and kicking the can down the road?

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Minister for his statement. The ombudsman’s report has made recommendations based on maladministration. The 1950s women were misled and not notified of their rights. That is a serious issue. Many people have contacted me; one told me that nearly 300,000 women have passed away already. Women continue to pass away each day without seeing a single penny. Let us not forget those who suffer physical and mental disabilities after a lifetime of work and childrearing. Many grandmothers have gone on to care for elderly parents or provide unpaid support so that their daughters and sons can return to work in support of the UK economy. Time is not on the side of the WASPI women. They need restitution, apologies and compensation. Does the Secretary of State agree with my constituent’s suggestion that the Government agree urgently to pay a reasonable lump sum, followed by an increase in their pension payments until the deficit is recouped, thereby making it easier to balance the public purse?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I certainly accept that we need to proceed in a manner that does not delay matters, for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman has given. We owe it to the people to whom he referred to proceed without undue delay, by very carefully considering the report in its entirety, looking very closely at its findings. I am satisfied, as is the chief executive officer of the ombudsman, that the engagement between my Department and the ombudsman was full and complete. We will continue to proceed on that basis, working closely with Parliament in the same spirit that we worked with the ombudsman.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Llafur, Easington

To say the Secretary of State will have disappointed the 5,000 WASPI women in my constituency and the many tens of thousands across the north-east would be an understatement. Frankly, the Minister’s response is shameful. I take issue with what he said about the complexity of the report. He said that it has only been five days since the 100-page report was published. I am not a speed reader, but I reckon that is 20 pages a day. The issues raised are not bolts out of the blue; the WASPI women have been actively campaigning for more than 10 years, highlighting the issues and the potential remedies. The response we have had will not wash with the country. The Secretary of State says that there are 200,000 fewer pensioners in poverty, but 270,000 WASPI women have died waiting for justice. How many more will die before he finally comes along and implements those recommendations in full?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The answer on timing is the same one that I have given consistently throughout this statement. I have been asked that probably three dozen times, and the answer remains the same. This is a complex report—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member will allow me to continue, that is not, as far as I am aware, a matter of dispute, even between the Government and the Opposition. We both accept that it is a complex report and that we need to look very carefully at the findings in order to come to conclusions. That is exactly what we will do.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

Despite how the Minister might wish to spin it, the ombudsman’s report was absolutely damning, totally vindicating the WASPI women and their campaign. Too many people thought—indeed, fervently hoped—that they would give up and go away, but they picked the wrong fight with the wrong women. I congratulate Ann Greer and the Argyll & Isles WASPI women on never giving up the fight. My hon. Friend Alan Brown has a private Member’s Bill that would require the Secretary of State to publish proposals for a compensation scheme for WASPI women. The vehicle is there, Minister. Will the Government now work with my hon. Friend and support his private Member’s Bill, so we can bring this matter to a conclusion as swiftly as possible?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I am not familiar with all the details of the private Member’s Bill to which the hon. Gentleman refers. Whether the Government decide to support a particular Bill is clearly a matter for the usual channels and Government business managers, not for me at the Dispatch Box at this time.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Llafur, Ealing Central and Acton

The WASPI website has a grim counter of affected women’s deaths and of money saved by the Treasury. The current figures are 273,000-plus women and well over £4 billion. They are rising by the minute. How far have the consequences of the Government’s 2022 disastrous mini-Budget affected their thinking on this matter? If the Secretary of State will not commit to full level 6 compensation, as the ombudsman recommends, what does he have to offer Linda Gregory, my constituent born in 1953? She “did the right thing,” as he said. She did her sums, got her forecasts and was repeatedly assured by the DWP and HMRC that she had contributions to retire at 60 in order to look after her ailing mum—before this surprise was sprung on her, which has so far cost her £40,000.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

With great respect to the hon. Lady, her question perfectly exemplifies why it is important to look at the detail of the report. She refers to the ombudsman recommending the full level 6 compensation, but it is actually level 4, the range between £1,000 and £2,950. I am afraid that that piece of information was simply inaccurate.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Alba, East Lothian

Sadly, we have had a reprise of known facts, not the resolution of a manifest wrong. Governments frequently have to address the faults and failings of their predecessors, of whatever political hue. That is called the responsibility of being in office and it is part of the privilege of governing. Equally, we have to remember that when there is an institutional failure that goes across political parties and Government institutions, we have independent bodies, such as an ombudsman, to address it. In those circumstances, will the Minister first of all accept that there has been a manifest wrong and injustice, and secondly, will he commit that he will not, under any circumstances, seek to undermine the decision of the ombudsman or the direction of travel he has embarked upon?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that there is a very specific purpose for an ombudsman, as indeed there is for this ombudsman. What I think is unreasonable is to take the step in logic from that to saying that one should just simply, within a matter of hours, stand up and accept everything the ombudsman has put forward. What we have quite rightly said, and what I am saying at the Dispatch Box today, is that we will consider these matters, the findings, the circumstances and so on in very great detail, in order to come to the appropriate decision.

Photo of Chris Law Chris Law Scottish National Party, Dundee West

WASPI women in my constituency simply cannot wait. In fact, as we have heard across the House, there is not a single constituency where WASPI women can wait. There is a simple reason for that: 40,000 of them are dying every year. Over a quarter of a million have died over the 10-year campaign. Not once have they had an apology or received any justice —and they have certainly received no compensation. When the PHSO report was published, both the UK Government and the Labour party deliberately failed to answer and fully guarantee that full justice and full compensation would be delivered to the WASPI women. The simple question, which the Secretary of State has failed to answer so far, is this: can he give us a timeframe by which he will deliver an apology, justice and compensation, and can it be before the next general election?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The hon. Gentleman has been in the Chamber, I think, since the beginning of the statement—I am sure he has; he heard the statement, hence he is asking a question—and he will know that the question he asked has been asked now probably a couple of dozen times. The answer is the same. [Interruption.] He chunters from a sedentary position, but the answer is just the same, which is that the responsible thing to do is to look at this highly complex matter. The report was published on Thursday. It is now Monday, early evening. It is not unreasonable to expect the Government—and indeed Parliament, because of the way the report has been laid before Parliament—to look at the detail of the report. As a Department, we gave around 1,000 pages of evidence that informed the report. There are some very important findings within it and to do it justice, we need to look at it carefully.

Photo of Martyn Day Martyn Day Scottish National Party, Linlithgow and East Falkirk

Some 6,900 WASPI women in my constituency, some of whom have lost out by as much as £60,000 and many of them in dire need of compensation, will have found little encouragement in the Minister’s statement. Is it this Government’s policy to dither, delay and deny justice until the 1950s-born women have died off?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I can give a very short answer to that: absolutely not.

Photo of Ronnie Cowan Ronnie Cowan Scottish National Party, Inverclyde

The WASPI campaign has been conducted with great dignity. They have lobbied and informed all of us. Will the outgoing Government and the incoming Government show these women the respect they are due and commit to paying compensation? I am not even asking for a timetable—just a commitment to paying compensation. Before the Minister says, “I only got the report last Thursday,” I point out that if he had listened to the PHSO evidence to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, he would have known that the writing was clearly on the wall and that compensation was going to be in the report.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

What I am not really clear about is why the hon. Gentleman is urging me and the Government to draw a premature conclusion on the basis of— [Interruption.] No, it would be premature. As he points out, the report arrived on Thursday. It is now Monday, very early evening. It is complicated, so it is absolutely right and proper that we look at it very carefully and in great detail. It is only right and proper that we do that for the people who are concerned with this matter. That is precisely what we will do. We will act without undue delay. We will make sure that we engage with this House in an appropriate fashion, as we did with the ombudsman himself.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Scottish National Party, Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East

The expression “Justice delayed is justice denied” has never seemed more appropriate, with so many thousands of WASPI women waiting for justice to be delivered and dying in the process. It is not just the five years waiting for the ombudsman’s report, but the years before that jumping through the hoops of the DWP complaints process and the independent case examiner. As well as delivering swift compensation, will the Secretary of State’s Government look at fixing the system that has delayed, for the best part of a decade, the delivery of justice for WASPI women?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

We will look closely at the report and we will, no doubt, draw many conclusions as a result of that process of careful examination of the findings and the points made within the report. My commitment to the House is that we will do that without undue delay and that we will also engage appropriately with Parliament as part of that approach.