HC Deb 04 July 1995 vol 263 cc283-6

'For any person attaining pensionable age on or after 6th April 1999, for the purposes of Schedule 3 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 (contribution conditions for entitlement to benefit) and for the purpose only of calculation of retirement pensions, a person prevented from regular employment by responsibilities at home shall be treated as having paid primary Class I contributions during any period during which they were so prevented.'.—[Mr. Kirkwood.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

12.45 am
Mr. Kirkwood

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss also the following: New clause 20—SERPS disregard'Subsection (4)(b) of section 45 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 shall be amended to insert after the words "5th April 1978" the words "after disregarding any tax year from 2011 onwards where —

  1. (i) there is no surplus in the pensioner's earnings factor and
  2. (ii) the person was aged 60 or over".'.

Amendment No. 21, in clause 133, page 90, line 40, at end insert— '( ) In paragraph 5(5) of Schedule 3 to that Act, for the table there is substituted—

"Duration of Working Life Requisite Number of Years
10 years or less The number of years of the working life, minus 2,
20 years or less (but more than 10) The number of years of the working life, minus 4,
30 years or less (but more than 20) The number of years of the working life, minus 6,
40 years or less (but more than 30) The number of years of the working life, minus 8,
More than 40 years The number of years of the working life, minus 10".'.

Amendment No. 23, in schedule 4, page 147, line 33, leave out '2000' and insert '2010'.

Amendment No. 24, in schedule 4, page 147, line 34, at end insert — `( ) In the case of a pensioner whose spouse died on or after 5th April 2000, and on or before 5th April 2010, sections 48A(4)(b) and 48B(2)(b) shall have effect with the omission of the words "half of and after the words "additional pension" the insertion of the words "reducing by 5 per cent. for each complete year after 5th April 2000 and before death".'.

Amendment No. 25, in schedule 4, page 148, line 19, at end insert — '( ) In section 44(3)(b) of that Act (as amended by this paragraph) following the words "for the relevant years" there is inserted "or, if there are more than 39 such surpluses, of those 39 which are the largest".'.

Mr. Kirkwood

I shall deal with the amendments relatively quickly and I certainly have no intention of pushing them to a Division—if that helps any hon. Members who may wish to make dispositions in advance of the end of the debate.

There has been very interesting and useful debate on the Report stage of the Bill so far this evening in addressing the situation of war widows and the position of divorcees. They are very important subjects and it is correct that we should examine the effect of the legislation on those groups. However, the changes will affect a relatively small number of women as a proportion of the general population.

The Equal Opportunities Commission report estimates that, by 2023, two thirds of all retired women will have an income on the margins of poverty. This small clutch of amendments and new clauses seeks to reinforce in the Government's mind the importance of trying to deal with the situation that some women will face when they retire. Women are still disadvantaged in the workplace. They are disadvantaged in the expectations placed upon them for child care, in having to care for elderly and dependent relatives, and in the availability of non-state pensions for part-time, low-paid work—in which many are engaged—and of pensions for those whose working lives have been interrupted.

I do not think that the Bill as it stands addresses adequately the fundamental disadvantages that women will face upon retirement. Before the Bill was drafted, the Government consulted about the equalisation of state pension age. We supported that consultation process and we concluded that we favoured a decade of retirement with a common retirement age of 65 years. The Social Security Advisory Committee and the Equal Opportunities Commission recommended that any money clawed back by the Exchequer from the equalisation of state pension age at 65 should be targeted at vulnerable groups.

We have placed the amendments before the House in order to draw attention to the fact that women who are engaged in part-time, low-paid work have poor prospects for a decent income in retirement. Some 88 per cent. of those who earn less than the lower earnings limit—which is currently £59 per week—are women; 73 per cent. of all those who claim income support in retirement are single women; and, on average, women are employed for 57 per cent. of their working lives compared with 97 per cent. for men. Therefore, we can state unequivocally that the vulnerable group comprises primarily women.

I recently tabled a number of questions which the Minister was kind enough to answer. Although that was a very useful exchange and I understand that it would take a lot of money to address the ideas in the amendments adequately and fully, the purpose of the amendments is not to ask that that money be paid forthwith; their purpose is simply to probe the Government's intentions. If the Government do not intend to address the matter in the Bill, how will they make adequate provision in the near future for women such as those who work intermittently throughout their careers in part-time, relatively low-paid jobs in the textile industry in my constituency? Many women will retire and fall into inadequate financial circumstances which will affect them and their families in an unconscionable manner. The matter must be addressed urgently.

Mr. Arbuthnot

All the amendments seek to reduce the effects of our state pension reforms, which have been designed to achieve equality of treatment between men and women and to ensure the continued affordability of SERPS. We have taken care to ensure that women's ability to secure a basic state pension will not be affected by those changes and that the position of people in vulnerable groups is protected by our proposals. We have protected the position of older women and ensured that those who are affected have been given plenty of time to change their pension plans. The amendments would make inroads into the steps that we have taken to put long-term state pension provision on to a more sustainable basis. They would increase expenditure in a poorly targeted way that cannot be supported. I urge hon. Members to reject them.

Question, That the clause be read a Second time, put and negatived.

Further consideration of the Bill adjourned.—[Mr. Burns.]

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), to be further considered tomorrow.