Backbench revolt looms over UK pension reform
Published 21/06/2011 | 05:00
A BACKBENCH revolt could be triggered over radical reform plans in the UK which raise the state pension age for women.
Despite mounting anger, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith refused to back down over the hugely controversial proposals.
Mr Duncan Smith insisted the coalition stood by the move to equalise the retirement age for men and women at 65 in 2018.
Ministers have been warned that it discriminates unfairly against women in their late 50s, who will now have to wait longer than they had expected to receive their pensions.
But Mr Duncan Smith insisted it would only affect a "relatively small number of women" and that a delay would cost the taxpayer £10bn (€11.3bn).
He offered to hold discussions with MPs over the "transitional arrangements", but maintained: "We stand by the need for men and women's state pension ages to equalise in 2018.
"And both will rise together so the state pension age reaches 66 in 2020. This bill will go forward on that basis.
"If we delayed the move to 66 until 2022, it would cost the taxpayer £10bn -- an unfair financial burden borne disproportionately by the next generation."
He was opening a debate on the legislation in the Commons ahead of a vote tonight when David Cameron and Nick Clegg are braced for a rebellion involving both Tory and Liberal Democrat backbenchers.
The Pensions Bill clears the way for the state pension age for women to go up from 60 to 65 in 2018 -- two years earlier than planned under Labour -- and rising to 66 in 2020.
Backbenchers, including Lib Dem Jo Swinson and Tory James Gray, urged the government to think again.
Ahead of the debate, Ros Altmann, the director general of Saga and a former government adviser on pensions, warned that ministers could face a costly legal challenge if they did not change course.
"Ministers must listen to reason on this issue. The current plans are unfair and may, indeed, be illegal in public law terms, since they clearly do not give women adequate notice of the large changes in pension age that they face," she said.
Labour leader Ed Miliband said the move "punishes the daughters, mums and grans who took time out to look after families".
Prime minister David Cameron has defended the move to equalise the retirement age, insisting that there was no prospect of a climbdown over changes to public sector pensions.
Asked whether there could be concessions for public sector workers whose unions are threatening a wave of strike action, the premier said: "There is no question of climbing down."
He added: "Obviously we have got to have a system that is long-term affordable for the taxpayer, but also I want a system where people in the public sector feel they are getting a good pension."
Mr Cameron said conversations with unions had been "constructive".
"Of course there is negotiation over the details," he said. "No one wants to have a confrontation, no one wants to see strikes.
"But the unions, and indeed the taxpayers, need to know that we will be very firm and very resolute in our approach because we absolutely have to have a long-term pension system that is affordable, that taxpayers can have confidence in."
MPs of all parties have urged ministers to rethink plans to speed up the equalisation of the pension age for women and men amid warnings that hundreds of thousands of women have not had time to plan properly for their retirement.