HC Deb 16 September 2004 vol 424 cc1452-4
22. Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab)

What steps she is taking to tackle pension inequality for women.␣[189165]

The Deputy Minister for Women and Equality (Jacqui Smith)

We have introduced a raft of measures to help women in retirement and women of working age to build better pensions. Almost all the 2.5 million carers who have benefited from the state second pension are women, two thirds of those receiving pension credit are women, and the introduction of, and increase to, the national minimum wage disproportionately benefits women. We have also launched a publication on informed choices for working and savings, which will help to improve women's awareness of their financial position.

Ms Keeble

I very much welcome the measures that my hon. Friend outlines. Does she agree, however, that the real way to crack the pensions problem for women is to ensure that they have their own independent pension entitlement? Will she look, therefore, at ensuring that women who work all their working lives—perhaps only part time or with a career break to bring up a family—have better rights than they do now to their own independent state pension?

Jacqui Smith

My hon. Friend makes an important point about the position of women who have, perhaps, taken career breaks and have had caring responsibilities. That is, of course, why the state second pension, which provides benefits to women who are carers and not in paid employment, is so important. It is also why the extension of home responsibility protection, which the Government have already put in place, is crucial. As we make clear in the pensions Green Paper, the particular position of women with respect to pensions both deserves and is getting attention from the Government, as my hon. Friend says.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con)

I appreciate what the Minister says and that she is taking action for the future, but my concern is for the many thousands of women of pensionable age who did not have the opportunities during their working lives that our generation have had, with the effect that one in four women pensioners are living in poverty now. The measures in place are not helping. Only 12 per cent. of women, as opposed to 90 per cent. of men, are eligible for the full basic state pension now. It is a really sad situation for hundreds of thousands of women over 60 right now. What is the Minister going to do about it—now?

Jacqui Smith

I certainly share the hon. Lady's concern about those pensioners, very many of them women, who are living in poverty. I am slightly surprised at the emphasis that she places on it, however, not least because the action that this Government have taken to focus support on the poorest pensioners—whether or not it is through the minimum income guarantee, other improvements to pension provision, such as the introduction of the pension credit, free TV licences or a whole range of other provisions that the Government have made—has almost invariably been opposed by Opposition Members. We have made real our commitment to ensuring that those pensioners in poverty are our priority. I hope that the hon. Lady makes real her commitment in future and does not institute the sort of cuts that have been her party's policy up until now.