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.”


BERHAMPUR: The State government continues to provide Rs. 200 per month to widows, physically challenged and the aged as pension in this era of inflation when a cup of tea costs more than Rs. 2 at roadside kiosks.

The State government has named the pension scheme as ‘Madhu Babu Pension Yojana’. It is an irony that the beneficiaries do not get this amount every month. They are provided this allowance in bulk in four or six months. Both beneficiaries and social activists feel the pension amount is too meagre and it needs enhancement. “We feel it should be hiked so that the beneficiaries should feel they are getting a respectable assistance from the State government rather than alms,” said farmer leader Kailash Sadangi. In several other States amount provided through similar pension schemes is more. According to State secretariat member of CPI(M), in West Bengal beneficiaries of similar pension scheme get Rs.1,000, in Andhra Pradesh it is Rs. 500, in Kerala it is Rs. 750 and in Tripura the beneficiaries get Rs. 1,000 per month. “When the government could hike salary and perks of MLAs to around Rs. 60,000 per month in this poverty stricken State, no one in the government is thinking of providing a respectable succour to the poor beneficiaries of Madhu Babu Pension Yojana,” he said.

In the State the HIV positive persons are considered physically challenged and are also included under the Madhu Babu Pension Yojana. Some HIV positive beneficiaries say the amount they get under this pension scheme helps them travel to Berhampur for medical needs or to buy subsidised rice provided through the Public Distribution System (PDS). “The monthly pension is so low that the beneficiaries do not want to get it through cheque every month as they would lose more money for their encashmen,” said Soudamini Rath, social activist involved in rehabilitation of HIV positive persons.

Mr Sadangi also alleged that during disbursement of money to beneficiaries in rural areas, the local touts and panchayat members deduct a sum from the pension amount. “The money that these poor people get serves as pocket money for some and most prefer to buy their quota of subsidised PDS rice with it,” he said. According to him the meagre sum of Rs. 200 per month never helps in enhancing economic security of the beneficiaries as claimed by the scheme.

Lansing—Welfare benefits would be limited to 48 months and 124,000 children will no longer get an $80 clothing allowance under a joint House-Senate Department of Human Services budget approved by the Senate this afternoon.

The Senate earlier today approved by a 26-16 vote a joint House-Senate budget for higher education that trims 15 percent in funding from state universities that Snyder has proposed. Both budgets now head to the House, where they are expected to be approved by the Republican majority.

A $1.9 billion Department of Corrections budget passed out of committee and awaits action in the Senate. The plan would cut $70.8 million from the department’s budget, including $31.3 million to be saved by competitively bidding the housing of 1,750 prisoners.

The House and Senate are reconciling budget bills for various state departments. They must both concur and pass the final budgets before they can be sent to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature. Earlier, the Legislature passed a tax reform plan that awaits Snyder’s signature. The plan eliminates the Michigan Business Tax, imposes a 6 percent corporate tax on some businesses, eliminates many business and personal tax credits and imposes a phased-in tax on pensions.

The House will roll all of the state budgets into two “omnibus” bills, one for higher education, community colleges and universities, and the other for the rest of the budget.

The Legislature hopes to send the complete budget to Gov. Rick Snyder by May 31 to be signed into law.

The 48-month lifetime limit on welfare is retroactive, and would begin immediately if the budget also passes in the House and is signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder. The Senate Fiscal Agency estimates 12,600 families, about 15 percent of state caseloads, would be immediately tossed off welfare rolls, saving more than $77 million from the state’s main checking account.

Democrats on the committee said the cuts will leave many families without help at a time when few jobs are available for laid off workers. People with a mental or physical disability, who are caring for a disabled family member, domestic violence victims and women in advance pregnancy or who recently have given birth would be exempt from the 48-month lifetime limit.

“Ninety percent of families on (welfare) are working, but not earning enough to leave assistance,” Sen. Vincent Gregory, D-Southfield, told the committee. “I would have preferred to see it phased out.”

Republicans said the cuts are necessary and noted they aren’t as harsh as either chamber had approved in their separate budgets. Children of working parents would no longer be able to receive an average $80 allowance for school clothes under the budget, but the bill would increase the amount their parents can earn while receiving benefits by about $4,000. Children in foster care aren’t affected.

“We actually gave more to those people and encouraged them to work, incentivized them to work,” said Rep. David Agema, R-Grandville.

AN estimated 5000 women in Edinburgh will have to work another year or more to qualify for their state pension under latest UK Government proposals – but many of them do not realise it.

Edinburgh Labour MPs today called for a rethink on the plans to speed up the raising of the pension age for women, warning the change would force many families to change their plans for the future.

Under the new Pension Bill proposals, women’s pension age will increase to 65, in line with men’s, by 2018 and the increase, along with men’s, to 66 by 2020, six years earlier than originally planned.
The change mainly affects women currently aged 57-58, but the worst hit are at the younger end of that group.

According to charity Age UK, women born between April 6 and May 5, 1953, will have to carry on working until July 2016, two months longer than under the previous timetable for increasing the pension age.

Women born between March 6 and April 5, 1954, will not be able to claim their pension until March 2020, a full two years later than originally proposed.

Mark Lazarowicz, Labour MP for Edinburgh North and Leith, said the changes had been sprung on women without giving them fair notice.

He said: “Many people are unaware of what is going to happen because the Government has not properly publicised the changes.

“Across Edinburgh, about 5000 are likely to be hit. Most of these women are likely to rely on the state pension as a high proportion of women in this age group don’t have a private pension.

“Of course some people are happy to work on but it’s just not that simple for everyone to go on working – over a third of those affected are no longer in paid work because they are in ill-health or caring for others.”

Edinburgh East Labour MP Sheila Gilmore said: “Many of these are women who have juggled working lives with raising a family, and who, through no fault of their own, have very little retirement saving to fall back on. The lack of warning means they do not have enough time to adjust carefully-thought-out retirement plans, and leaves them feeling robbed of their pension.”

Trade unions and organisations such as Age UK and Saga say they accept the need for the pension age to rise but argue people must have time to prepare. Edinburgh South Labour MP Ian Murray said: “Despite the coalition agreement stating that they would not raise the state pension age for women before 2020, the Government has made another U-turn.

“I will be fighting these changes every step of the way to ensure fairness for those approaching retirement, not the feeling that the goalposts keep being moved.”

The Department of Work and Pensions said with forecasts that ten million people across the UK will live to 100, the country could not continue paying the state pension at an age which was set early last century.

Although women would experience the pension age rising more quickly than planned, they would still draw the state pension for an average of 23 years.

The number of women claiming out-of-work benefits has hit its highest level since 1996, with public sector job cuts starting to bite last month.

Attempts by the government to nudge single mothers into the workforce have also pushed up the number of women claiming jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), as they are stripped of income support once their children turn seven.

New figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that 474,000 women were receiving JSA in April. While the government took some comfort from the fact that total unemployment fell by 36,000 to 2.46 million in the three months to March, according to the broad International Labour Organisation measure, there was a rise of 12,400 in the more timely claimant count last month – with more than three-quarters of the increase among women.

It was the 10th consecutive month in which the number of women claiming out-of-work benefits had increased – although there are still more than twice as many men, 994,000, receiving JSA. The Department for Work and Pensions said part of the rise resulted from rule changes that have seen single mothers shifted on to employment benefits to encourage them to look for a job.

Since October, single mothers have joined the claimant count when their youngest child turns seven, down from the previous limit of 10. Single parents receiving JSA rose by 6,000 in March.

The DWP said the number of people receiving JSA was likely to go on increasing as incapacity benefit claimants were assessed for their readiness to work.

Since George Osborne announced the tightest fiscal squeeze in a generation last autumn, equality campaigners have been warning that the impact will be disproportionately felt by women, who make up much of the public sector workforce. Anna Bird, acting chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said women were acting as “shock absorbers” for the austerity measures.

“We are beginning to see the real impact of the government’s approach to cutting the deficit and, as we feared, women are bearing the brunt,” she said. “Combined with reduced benefits and increasing costs of childcare as state support dwindles, the lack of employment prospects risk rolling back women’s rights a generation.”

The figures also confirm that the pressure on household incomes is intensifying, as salaries fail to keep pace with rocketing inflation. While the inflation rate hit 4.5% last month, average pay rose by just 2.3% in the year to March.

The coalition may present itself, like all the main political parties, as pro-family, but it is mothers who have become the “shock absorbers” for the coalition’s cuts in welfare benefits and childcare provision, say critics.

From cuts to maternity grants and child benefits, to closures of Sure Start centres, childcare schemes and after-school clubs, it is women – particularly single mothers on low incomes – who bear the brunt of attempts to reduce the deficit.

The changes will affect women’s incomes and ability to enter the job market, critics say, and put many at risk of poverty. “The disproportionate impact of the cuts on women raises issues of fairness and calls into question the idea of society sharing the weight of national debt reduction,” said Abigail Davies, assistant director of policy and practice at the Chartered Institute of Housing. “Overall the public spending cuts are known to impact disproportionately on single parent families, most of which are headed by women. Cuts to benefits and public spending, coupled with stricter job-seeking expectations for lone parents claiming benefits, will trap some women in an impossible situation.”

Benefit cuts that affect women include reductions in the childcare tax credit, the Sure Start maternity grant, and the health in pregnancy grant, and the freezing of child benefit rates for three years.

Katherine Rake, chief executive of the Family and Parenting Institute, said: “The targeting of family benefits for cutbacks in the last 12 months means women’s incomes have been disproportionately hit. For many women, child benefit was the only source of income they received directly, giving them independence and control over family spending. The coalition’s decision to end universal child benefit was therefore a particularly painful blow.”

There are concerns that single parents – most of whom are women – will also be unfairly affected by housing benefit reform. “This will require some families to move, which is expensive, unsettling, affects [children’s] educational performance, and puts families into less economically successful areas with reduced employment opportunities,” said Davies. “Cuts to tax credits, Sure Start, after-school clubs and so on, create further barriers to employment for single parents.

“The government wants to encourage social mobility and tackle poverty, but these cuts do not create an environment which supports women or enables them to help themselves.”

Despite the government’s commitment to guarantee 15 hours a week free childcare provision, childcare support has been badly hit by local authority spending cuts. These have led to widespread cuts in Sure Start children’s centres and after-school and holiday play schemes. Although many councils have committed themselves to keeping centres open, most have reduced services drastically.

A survey of mothers using Sure Start centres, carried out in February by the Daycare Trust charity, found that 35% felt that the removal or reduction of services would leave them more socially isolated, and 32% felt it would be harder to see their midwife or health visitor.

Rake said there had been some positive policy developments for mothers over the past 12 months, such as proposals for shared postnatal parental leave, and to extend rights to flexible working. She added: “The government must deliver on these proposals if it is to make strides towards a truly family-friendly society.”

There’s a lot wrong with Republican Paul Ryan’s 2012 federal budget proposal, but one of its most heinous ideas is turning the federal food stamp program over to cash-strapped states.

That just won’t do.

Today, when states receive federal dollars for nutritional assistance those dollars can only go to that service. Ditto for low-income housing, home heating assistance, job training and school lunch programs.

Under proposed block-grant programs, however, federal funds would flow to states with few, if any, strings attached. A state could take all the fed’s money and use it to offset tax cuts to the rich, or build a golf course. Or whatever.

If nutritional programs are left to the states it’s easy to predict who’ll win and that women, in particular, will lose out.

The children who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are roughly 50-50 boys and girls–not that there’s anything to celebrate in gender-equitable child hunger. Among adults, however, women dominate: 65 percent of SNAP participants are women.

There are 9.3 million non-elderly female adults helped by SNAP, compared to 5.3 million non-elderly male adults. Fully twice as many elderly women are in the program: 1.8 million compared to 0.9 million elderly men.

Households with children receive 76 percent of all benefits, and of these 33 percent are headed by a single parent. You can guess the sex of the vast majority of them. That’s right, women.

Food Assistance Up

The number of households receiving food assistance is up 45 percent over 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the program.

In March, nearly 15 percent of Americans participated in SNAP. A staggering 44 million people rely on this federally-funded program to feed themselves and their families.

The average monthly food stamps benefit is $284.73, down by $5 from last year. And food prices are rising. The Department of Agriculture projects food cost increases of between 3 and 4 percent during 2011. That’s over $9, or three gallons of milk a child won’t drink each month.

Another provision in the Ryan budget proposal eliminates the Workforce Investment Act, which funds 3,000 national job training centers serving over 8 million Americans a year.

This creates a Catch-22 for the millions out of work: You can only get food assistance if you are in a job training program, but whoops, there are no job training programs!

Ryan’s plan would convert monies currently dedicated to food assistance to block grants to the states, which could direct these funds to nutrition programs…or not.

Converting targeted grants to block grants–the fiscal policy backbone of President Ronald Reagan’s savaging of public programs–essentially wipes out the nation’s ability to target dollars to areas of critical need, such as food.

Disconnecting federal funds from specific state programs creates a host of expensive administrative problems as well.

Today, state programs follow rules and procedures established at the federal level. Changing over to block grants will require inventing 50 new wheels as once national programs devolve to the states.

Attacks on federal programs often invoke excess bureaucracy and red tape as a rationale for cutting. In this case, the cure is likely to be worse than the disease.

Proposed reductions in spending aimed specifically at nutrition assistance are part of social conservatives’ overall push to shrink government or “starve the beast.” But this plan actually starves real people and pushes the country backward, to a base and brutal have-and-have-not scenario.,1