Women’s State Pension Age - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 7:29 pm ar 26 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Monday 25 March.

“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”.