24 February 2016, House of Commons, Westminster, London, UK
When I heard that we were to debate this issue again, I thought, “What am I going to talk about?” Everything is already on the record. We have already discussed how the new single tier state pension is irrelevant to the women in question and will not solve the problem. We went to great lengths to explain how nobody disagrees with equalisation and nobody is calling for Acts to be repealed.
Then I came across a document that was sent by a Conservative MP to a woman affected. On the front page it says that the Government cannot do anything because WASPI is campaigning for all women born after April 1951 to be given their state pension from age 60. No, that is not what WASPI is asking for. The hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) talked about misleading people. That is misleading. Nobody is against equalisation.
On Monday I attended a media training course, where we were taught how to look at the camera, where to put our hands and so on. One of the guys taking the course said, “If you, as politicians, ever find ourselves n a difficult situation where you realise you’re in the wrong and you need to get through an interview, just start talking about what you want to talk about.” It struck me immediately that that is what this Government are doing; every single time we talk about this, they start talk about things that are completely irrelevant.
The second page of the document states: “The national insurance credits are available for many people to help them build entitlement towards state pension. National insurance payments also impact on entitlement to a range of other benefits.” Pensions are not a benefit; they are a right. One of my constituents described them as a contract, and that is exactly what they are. Let me make this very simple. Everybody here has a phone—in fact, some of us are sitting with our iPads right now—and we all have contracts for those. If O2, Virgin or Three were to change the terms and conditions of our contracts, we would have something to say about it. If they waited 14 years to tell us about those changes, we would definitely have something to say about it. If they said, on top of that, that we would be forced to live off our life savings as a result of those changes, we would be up in arms about it, and rightly so. So why are pensions any different?
We hear all the time, “Where is the money going to come from for that?” The truth is that this comes down to austerity, and it is austerity of choice. Those on the Government Front Bench can roll their eyes all they want, but this is a choice. I am yet to hear a general or a Defence Minister say, “We can’t bomb that country because we’ve exceeded our budget.” When we want to bomb Syria, we can find the money. When we want to refurbish Westminster, we can find the money. But when it comes to giving our pensioners their pensions, we cannot find the money? I just do not accept that.
This debate reminds me of the tax credits debate. We were making all these arguments about how unfair the situation was, and the Government responded with exactly the same argument: “We don’t have the money.” Then, when the heat was turned up and political pressure was put on them, all of a sudden they put their hand down the back of the couch and said, “Okay, we can afford it now, so let’s just do a U-turn,” and rightly so.
That brings me to my last point. How can we ignore the will of this House? We have debated this matter in this Chamber and voted by 158 to 0. How can we ignore that? We debated it in Westminster Hall, which was packed to the gunnels, and almost everybody who spoke was against the Government. They cannot continue to ignore the will of this House. I am no fan of Westminster—that will come as no surprise—because I think it is more about ego than it is about issue, but the truth is that even the most politically savvy minds must be able to see that this is not party political. We have a chance to come together and do something that will earn us respect. I think that the Government should take that chance and act.