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Over the past two and a half years I have met many constituents who have been directly affected by the various changes to the state pension age. Listening to them, it is impossible not to feel every sympathy, given the circumstances in which many find themselves. If I suddenly found out that I would not be able to retire at the age I had expected, I am not sure that I could say how I felt—actually, I probably could, but I fear my language would not be parliamentary.
As a teenage boy in the early 1990s, I probably did not pay as much attention to women’s pensions as many other people did, but I do remember the announcement in 1993 that the state pension age would have to be equalised upwards. There was widespread publicity at the time, through the media and the leaflets that have been referred to. None the less, it is clear that many women, for one reason or another, were genuinely unaware of that. As late as 2012, 6% of the women affected still expected to retire at 60, despite the Department for Work and Pensions having sent out 11 million leaflets and letters. However, that was significant progress since 2004, when just 73% of the women affected were aware of the 1995 reforms.
Clearly there are solid reasons why successive Governments here and in many other developed economies have been increasing and equalising the state pension age. The fact that even a relatively small proportion of people affected were unaware of changes that will have such a large impact on their retirement raises broader issues about how public authorities communicate pension matters, and Government at all levels need to consider that.
The truth is that the state pension age will not be reduced to 60—arguably, that would be illegal under anti-discrimination legislation—so we must look at what can be done not only to help those women born in the 1950s back into work, but to help all those who will find themselves working later in life. I hope that the Government can come up with further suggestions on what support can be provided.