UK Politics

Minister sparks anger by suggesting 'Waspi women' start apprenticeships

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionMinister heckled over '64-year-old apprentices'

A minister has been heckled by MPs for suggesting women over 60 facing poverty could start an apprenticeship.

The government has been accused of failing to do more to help 2.6 million women born in the 1950s who have lost out because of changes to pension law.

The SNP's Mhairi Black said it was "laughable" the problem could not be fixed when the government had found £1bn to fund its deal with the DUP.

Minister Guy Opperman said he would look at cases of financial hardship.

But he faced shouts of "shame on you" when he said the government was "actually doing a significant amount" to address the individual difficulties of older workers trying to enter the labour market - including by offering them apprenticeships.

Mr Opperman, setting out the government's work on "lifelong learning" said: "The reality is over 200,000 people over 60 have entered further education since 2014/15.

"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... 12% of the starting apprenticeships were for those aged 45."

Mr Opperman was heckled by MPs as he outlined the details.

Image caption SNP MP Mhairi Black said it would cost £8bn over five years to fix the anomaly

Labour's Graham Jones, raising a point of order, said: "I'm struggling to hear the debate, did the minister just say that women aged 64 could go on an apprenticeship course?"

The debate centred on the plight of the so-called Waspi women - Women Against State Pension Inequality - whose aim is to achieve fair transitional arrangements for women born in the 1950s, for whom the state pension age is being raised from 60 to 66 by 2020.

Ms Black said she had been contacted by a woman who said her friend had committed suicide after the general election result "because she could not face what was going to happen to her".

"Citizens committing suicide over an issue that could be solved like that - an issue the government could do a U-turn on at any given moment," she said.

Ms Black said it was "an absolute disgrace" that a debate on the issue was having to be held again.

Turning to Mr Opperman, a pensions minister, she said it was "laughable" that the government "can find a billion pounds for a deal to cling on to power, but we cannot find the money to give women the pensions that they are due".

"The only other two things they are guilty of is being born in the 50s and the fact they are women."

Labour's Carolyn 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".

Related Topics

More on this story