Women’s State Pension Age - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 7:45 pm ar 26 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Sherlock Baroness Sherlock Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 7:45, 26 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, I am sure the House will join me in thanking the ombudsman and his staff for all their hard work on this report over a number of years. The product 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. As my honourable friend Liz Kendall said in the other place on this debate, we on these Benches will study the report and its findings carefully and will continue to take seriously the representations of those affected by these issues.

It was good that the Secretary of State made a Statement soon after the report was published, and it is good that the Minister is here today. The Government have said that they will provide a further update to Parliament on this matter. Can the Minister give the House some sense of the timescale? Should we expect that to happen soon after the House returns from the upcoming Easter Recess? After all, this matter has been under consideration for many years now.

The ombudsman began investigating how changes to the state pension age were communicated back 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 DWP found that around 40% of the women affected knew about the changes to the state pension age. Does that remain the DWP assessment? What is the Government’s assessment of the total number of women who could receive compensation based on the ombudsman’s different options? How many of those are the poorest pensioners, in receipt of pension credit? How many of them have already retired or, sadly, died?

The Statement rightly says that issues around the changes to the state pension age have spanned multiple Parliaments, and it is important that lessons are learned from the events described in the report. The equalisation of the state pension age was legislated for in 1995, giving 15 years’ notice to those affected. In 2011, the then Chancellor, George Osborne, decided to accelerate the state pension age rises, giving much less than 10 years’ notice to many of those affected. His comment that this change

“probably saved more money than anything else we’ve done” understandably angered many people and will not have made this debate any easier.

At that time, Labour tabled amendments that would have ensured that more notice was given so that women could plan for their retirement, which would have gone some way towards dealing with this problem. Given that the department already knew that there were problems with communicating changes to the state pension age, does the Minister think that it was wise for the Government to press ahead with the changes in the 2011 Act in the way that they did?

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

Finally, the ombudsman took the rare decision to ask Parliament to intervene on this issue, clearly because he strongly doubted that the department would provide a remedy. In the light of these concerns, and to aid Parliament in its work, will the Minister now commit to laying all relevant information about this issue, including all impact assessments and relevant correspondence, in the Library, so that lessons can be learned and all Members from both Houses can do their jobs on this matter? Given the lack of confidence that the ombudsman has displayed in the likelihood of the DWP engaging to provide redress or a remedy, can the Minister say more about how his department will deal with future ombudsmen’s reports? I look forward to his reply.