The Government were defeated on a back benchers debate 158 votes to 0. The vote was over the introduction of changes to the state pension age for women, resulting from legislation introduced in 2011.
The Government’s response appears to be to drown the news in noise. Yesterday saw the FCA publish statistics on the use of Pension Freedoms,
It looks quite clearly that the DWP and Treasury spin machine is operating at full capacity looking to bury bad news.
Will WASPI go away?
The question is whether they will be able to silence the WASPI women. Even if they turn down the debate that the WASPI petition calls for, they will find it hard, I suspect that WASPI has gripped the popular imagination.
I was talking to a senior actuary yesterday who had spent the past few days promoting the (important) changes to the final salary scheme which he advised to the members who were going to be impacted. Apparently, his talk had been met with the dull resignation that people have when hearing bad news about pensions.
When it was time for questions, hands shot up, not to ask about the technical changes to the company arrangements, but to get a better understanding to the changes to the state retirement age. As my colleague pointed out, this was not in his brief!
Pensions Industry out to lunch!
The pensions industry is being caught on the hop as much as the Government and no doubt it will hope that news will focus on its “Business as Usual” agenda which is all about company and private pensions.
Nothing on this from the PLSA and precious little from any professional body!
I met with a financial journalist working in the IFA trade press on Tuesday, she did not know what WASPI was.
But the tale of yesterday was that the general public are indeed more interested in knowing about their state pensions than arguing over how pension freedoms are being exercised.
It’s the first time I can remember a UK pension issue trending on twitter and the noise was not coming from the “usual suspects”, this was not “business as usual’. If you believe that there’s wisdom in crowds, then – there’s your crowd!
What are the Government up to?
It is too early to tell whether the Government can tough this one out. That not a single MP traipsed voted against the motion, suggests that there was a concerted attempt to make this debate a “non-event”, but reading Jo Cumbo’s excellent account of what was said, by who and how, the debate was passionate,well-argued and could have run as long again as the 150 minutes it was allotted.
As the picture shows, very few conservative backbenchers showed up.
If you want to read the full transcript of the debate from Hansard, here it is.
What is more, the opposition to the precipitative changes introduced in 2011 came not just from the opposition, it crossed benches.
The arguments from Conservative politicians were often specious
This statement is both speculative (the Government has made it clear it has not decided on what route the reforms will take) and disingenuous (George Osborne is clearly out to reduce tax relief not to raise the retirement standards of working women).
There appears to have been some showboating from financially literate Tories
But the passion and emotional intelligence came from elsewhere.
That is not to say that the arguments were all one way. I found Richard Graham’s comments intelligent and his arguments compelling.
Labour is in a weak position on this as the majority of the period of miscommunication, was under their watch.
Indeed – in the absence of any Liberals in the Chamber, it was the SNP who demonstrated the core opposition to Conservative apathy.
What does this come down to?
The key dynamics of this debate are moral (that women have been shafted) and economic (that there is no money to put this right). One voice not heard was Ros Altmann (who cannot attend Backbencher debates) sitting as she does in the Lords. The other voice not heard was George Osborne (who was very vocal elsewhere warning us to get ready for another bout of austerity).
The next few days will tell whether the monstrous regiment have been silenced, or whether they will continue to make their voices heard. I don’t think that they will read the vote (158-0) as anything for a vindication for their position.
For me the Government still has it but…
My position remains with the Government, the debate itself is hugely important but the moral and financial arguments are ultimately with the position Webb adopted in 2011.
However, I am not happy to see the Conservative party, attempting to drown the debate by publishing consultation responses and key statistics to drown it out. There is no doubt that the Government have not done all it should have in public education on this matter and no doubt that the electorate are not happy.
A little more humility from Government, an acceptance from the DWP that they failed consistently to do what it is paid to do and a formal apology would be the very least that the WASPI women should expect.
But it may be too late for that, the water is swelling at the flood gates and the next few days will tell whether WASPI wash through.