During the Second Reading of the Public Service Pensions Bill, Margot welcomes provisions to protect low-paid public sector workers. She also highlights the problems created by increasing longevity, particularly in the police where the average policewoman now spends more of her life drawing her pension than she did earning it.
Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): Does the hon. Lady not accept that the Government have made great strides in protecting low-paid public sector workers in response to Lord Hutton’s report, so that anyone earning £15,000 or less will not have to make any increased contribution at all, and for those earning less than £21,000 the increase will be capped at 1.5%? Surely that is the evidence she requires?
Margot James: My hon. Friend speaks with considerable authority on the firefighters’ situation, but is he as surprised as I was to hear that increases in longevity have meant that the average policewoman now spends more of her life drawing her pension than she did earning it, which is surely unsustainable? That situation will pertain to male police officers in a few years’ time if nothing is done about the retirement age.
Robert Neill: I take on board my hon. Friend’s point, and we must be realistic in all areas of this discussion. Longevity creates a pressure on the scheme, as well as providing greater life opportunities for people who have retired. It is, in part, a result of greater fitness and better health among the population, which can—among other things—enable people to work for longer. That applies in pretty much every other kind of activity, and we cannot regard any scheme as exempt. I accept, however, that there are particular pressures on firefighters, although I suggest to the House that the Government’s proposals recognise that and provide a sensible and evidence-based mechanism for dealing with it.