Women in their 60s hit by changes to their pension should get a job or embrace “apprenticeship opportunities”, a minister has said.
Guy Opperman’s suggestion was met with cries of “shame” during a debate in Parliament aimed at helping the so-called WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) women.
A generation of women born in the 1950s are being left out of pocket because the state pension age is being raised from 60 to 66 by 2020.
Some are struggling to pay the bills and others are working through ill health.
The WASPI campaign is demanding a transitional arrangements because women say they were given barely any warning of the massive shift.
It comes as DUP and Tory MPs join opposition to the move.
Pensions Minister Opperman said the Government would not budge, and added: “There is a massive amount that this government has done on a progressive basis to get people back into employment in their pre-pension years.
“We have created and extended a network of older people’s champions into all 34 Jobcentre Plus districts in the country.
“We have committed to lifelong learning – over 200,000 over 60 have entered further education.
“Thirdly, we have also extended apprenticeship opportunities as one of the best routes to skilled employment for people of all ages and gender. Such apprenticeships in England for example in 2014/15 are 12% of the starting apprenticeships are for those over 45.”
Mhairi Black, the SNP’s pensions spokesperson, said it was “laughable” ministers were claiming the Government could not afford to plug the pensions gap when Theresa May had struck a £1bn deal with the DUP.
“For the government to say they can’t afford to pay these women what they are owed is laughable,” she said.
“These women have had the misfortune of being female and being born in the 1950s and live under this UK government, which refuses to do the right thing.
“This is an issue of equality. The UK government must take responsibility and do the right thing for these women who are missing out on their pension,” she said.
Labour MP Caroline Harris said the Government “has betrayed these women – they’ve stolen their security and they’ve shattered their dreams without time to prepare and make the necessary alternative arrangements”.
Conservative MP Keith Simpson said his own wife was affected by the changes. “She feels incandescent with rage. She had no correspondence whatsoever,” he said.
Another Conservative, former children’s minister Tim Loughton, described the changes as an “injustice” and “unfair burden” made worse by “poor communications” from the government.
Sammy Wilson, a DUP MP, said his party would use its “influence, however minimal or maximum”, to push the government into changing the policy.