On Wednesday 24 February, the House of Commons held its third debate on the reform of state pensions for women born in the 1950s. The motion, tabled by the SNP’s Mhairi Black, was put forward to challenge the government’s acceleration of the proceedings.
As it stands, the reforms are set to discriminate heavily against women across the country, because they weren’t given enough notice by the government, and many are not in a position to make different arrangements in order to stay afloat.
The reform itself dates back to 1995, however the government did not get in touch with those affected until 2009, 14 years later. Initially the reform was supposed to be phased in slowly, but in 2011 George Osborne decided to accelerate the process of equalisation by several years.
Many women had been expecting for years to receive their pension at 60, and yet all of a sudden the reality was that they would not be receiving a single penny until they were 66. Entire life plans had to be remedied, with less than five years’ notice.
As in the first two debates, Mhairi Black stood up to represent the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) campaign. She sits on the Work and Pensions Select Committee, and over the months she has never shied away from challenging the DWP on its vicious implementation of austerity against the UK’s most vulnerable citizens.
‘Pensions are not a benefit, they are a right’
The core of the matter, as she explains, is not equalisation. There is nothing wrong with the idea that men and women should start receiving their pension at the same age.
The problem goes much deeper than that; the government pushed through these changes without any regard to the rights of these women to a fair pension, whilst claiming that any amendment to the current legislation would be unaffordable for a supposedly cash-strapped government.
If state pensions are to be changed, she argues, it is only fair that those affected by the changes are given fair and clear notice about what exactly is going to happen. As Black told the House:
One of my constituents described [pensions] as a contract. That’s exactly what they are.
So let me make this very simple:
Everyone in this House has a phone […] We have a contract. If O2, or Virgin, or whoever else, 3, were to change the terms and conditions of our contract, we would have something to say about it.
And if they waited 14 years to tell us that the terms and conditions had changed, I’m sure that everybody in here would have something to say about it.
And if they said, on top of that, “you’re also going to be forced to live off your life savings because of the changes of that contract”, you would be up in arms about it, and quite rightly so.
So why are pensions any different here?
Mhairi Black went on to attack the government for claiming that there is no money to change these sorts of reforms. “This is austerity of choice,” she said, adding:
I have yet to hear of a general or a defense minister say: “we can’t bomb that country because we’ve exceeded our budget, we can’t find the money”.
When we want to bomb Syria we can find it. When we want to refurbish Westminster we can find it, but when it comes to giving our pensioners their pension we cannot do it?
I just don’t accept that whatsoever.
— Mhairi Black MP (@MhairiBlack) February 24, 2016
Democracy in contempt
This is not the first time this issue has been raised. The first debate was on 7 January, and at the time the House voted overwhelmingly against the government, with 158 votes to 0.
Apparently that result wasn’t clear enough for the government.
An online petition then drew over 100.000 signatures, and a second debate was scheduled for 1 February. Again, the House voted against the government.
So why was there any need to schedule a third debate? It seems that this government has a very serious problem with the idea of democracy, never mind its practice.
We had a chance to see this during the tax credits affair in November; despite the fact that even the House of Lords had rejected George Osborne’s plans to cut tax credits, he ended up sneaking them in anyway in a shameful U-turn.
And now, the Conservatives are repeating the same strategy. Not only are they ignoring the 2.6 million women who have been affected by these changes, they are also ignoring the very principle of parliamentary democracy that is supposed to be the crown jewel of the United Kingdom.
But after three debates, they can no longer ignore that they have the country and Parliament against them. The WASPI campaign will continue to put pressure on the government, and so will principled Members such as Mhairi Black. The government backtracked on tax credits, they will backtrack on this issue as well.
-Follow WASPI on Facebook for more updates on their campaign.
–Write to your MP and tell them to support WASPI.
-Support The Canary so we can keep holding power to account.
Featured image via Facebook/Mhairi Black