The new pensions minister, Guy Opperman has outraged women that have been caught out by rapid increases to the state pension age by suggesting that they take up apprenticeships in old age.
Speaking at his first debate since becoming the new minister for pensions and financial inclusion, the MP for Hexham said that while he and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) might be able to help some of the most severely impacted individuals, it would not make any fundamental change of legislation to help the so-called ‘WASPI’ (Women against state pension increases) women.
He said: “If individual Members of Parliament have specific cases where they feel their individual constituents are affected by state pension age changes and find themselves in financial hardship, whether they are people who have to reduce their hours because of sickness, disability or caring responsibility, I and the London DWP team will look into those individual cases.”
“It is not the government’s position that we will make further concessions by the 1995 and 2011 acts [acts which legislated for an increase to the state pension age for women],” he added.
Instead, Mr Opperman focused on action the government has taken to help those in their pre-retirement years to find employment or re-train. This includes specialist Job Centre ‘champions’ to help older claimants find work and an extension to apprenticeship opportunities for older workers. He described apprenticeships as being “one of the best routes into skilled employment for people of all ages and gender” and said that in 2014/15, 12% of apprentices were aged over 45.
The suggestion was met with jeers from MPs. Waspi campaigners meanwhile took to Twitter to vent their anger and question the logic of offering training opportunities to people at the end of their working lives.
While i'm becoming a 63yr apprentice who's caring for 85yr+ parents?Do I take them with me?Thought elderly care was another 'issue'?— HH (@rockinhelen) July 6, 2017
My employer wanted rid of my when I was 59. Now nearly 63. Who will give me an apprenticeship?— Sandie Saunders (@Sandrann55) July 5, 2017
Labour MP, Grahame Morris, called on Mr Opperman to apply “the principles of natural justice” to women that have been affected by the change. He said: “As a nation, we owe a debt of honour to the WASPI women, many of whom are now in ill health, who have paid their contributions and who are not looking for apprenticeships at age 64 but for some recognition of their contribution—sometimes over 44 or 45 years or more.”
‘The government needs to step up’
During the 90-minute debate, MPs from across the political spectrum talked about how women in their constituencies had been affected.
Anne Main, Conservative MP for St Albans said: “Not only do my constituents feel that they were not given adequate information about how to plan their future, but they feel cast on the heap, so to speak, now that they are having to look for jobs. Their experience in the jobcentre has been abysmal. People who have been in senior positions are being given advice on how to dress and present themselves at interview and update their CV… their chances of getting a job are pretty remote and they are finding it incredibly dispiriting to have to take part in that process.”
Graham Jones, Labour MP for Hyndburn spoke of specific individuals within his constituency. He said: “Jennifer Smith, aged 63, works as a nurse on night shifts and does not see why she should run around an extremely busy ward while her pension has been moved back. Kath Talbot, also in her 60s, has described the change as a six-year sentence and says it is heartbreaking to watch her plans go up in smoke because she has to use savings to get by. Elaine Walker, aged 62, has worked all her life, but is now disabled. On top of the changes to pensions, the Government has also cut her benefits. Joanie Fraser, aged 62, worries about an uncertain future for her and her friends, who simply cannot cope with further demoralisation after more than 45 years of hard work.
He added: “The government needs to step up now and implement clear transitional arrangements for the women that remedy the situation they face. Their financial situation is insecure and the Government need to recognise that.”
Thank you for all of your interesting comments. We've published a selection of them on the Letters page of the August Moneywise magazine.