LONDON (AFP) – Plans to raise the state pension age for women have passed their stage on the way to becoming law, despite cross-party calls for a rethink.
Women can currently claim a state pension from the age of 60, while men must wait until they are 65.
But under the government’s Pensions Bill, the entitlement age for women would rise to 65 by 2018, and then to 66 for both sexes by 2020.
Critics from all parties say the changes would be unfair on up to 500,000 women in their late fifties, who have been given as little as five years’ notice that they will have to work longer than planned.
Shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne branded the timetable for the changes as “a proposal to single out a group of 500,000 of our fellow citizens — all of them women — and say to them, ‘You know your plans for the future? Well you can put those in the bin’.”
But MPs voted to give the Pensions Bill a second reading in the House of Commons, by 302 votes to 232.
Opening the debate, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith warned MPs that delaying the move to 66 until 2022 would cost £10 billion.
“Responsible government is not always easy government,” he said, insisting that the plans would go ahead.
“It involves commitment, tough decisions and a willingness to stay the course.
“We will not change from that, we will stay the course. We will secure our children’s future.
“I recognise we need to implement this fairly and manage the transition smoothly.”
He said a “relatively small number of women” would be particularly affected and said he was “willing to work to get this transition right”.
More than 170 MPs, including both Conservative and Liberal Democrat backbenchers, have signed a Commons motion calling for a rethink.
Ros Altmann, the director general of over-50s organisation Saga, has warned that ministers could face a costly legal challenge if they do not moderate the proposals.
“Ministers must listen to reason on this issue,” she said.
“The current plans are unfair and may, indeed, be illegal in public law terms, since they clearly do not give women adequate notice.”