Women’s Pension Age

As a WASPI woman born in 1956 I understand the situation and have sympathy for the position those affected find themselves in. The Government’s position is that it is not now possible to reverse the changes that were made. The cost to the tax payer of reducing the current state pension age is according to the Government is billions of pounds.

The Government have said that the decisions to increase the state pension age are based on an assessment of life expectancy, the challenges faced by those who rely most on the State Pension and the long-term financial sustainability of the system amongst other factors.

I am currently working with my The Independent Group for Change colleagues on the process of forming evidence based policy and this is an issue we will be looking closely at in the coming weeks.

Like many other MPs, I choose not to sign EDMs as unfortunately they have fallen into disrepute in recent years. This is due to the fact they cost around £400,000 a year to administer and have little legislative effect. Therefore I will not be able to sign EDM 2296.

Legal Rights of Assistance Dog Owners

I share your belief that everyone deserves the right to access services freely and with dignity. That is why I am proud that there are already strict laws against the discrimination of those who rely on guide dogs, giving people with disabilities the freedom and confidence to work and visit friends independently.

The Equality Act 2010 makes clear the duties of all people to permit guide dogs without any hindrance. As I am sure you are aware, taxi and PHV drivers convicted of illegally refusing the carriage of assistance dogs already face fines of up to £1,000 in addition to costs, and may also have their licence suspended or revoked by the respective local licensing authority. This is absolutely right, as the independence that a guide dog gives people with disabilities is an important part of their lives.

With regard to ensuring that all taxi and minicab drivers carry out disability equality training, I understand that as of March 2018, only 38% of licensing authorities required drivers to complete disability awareness and equality training. I would urge the remainder to use their existing licensing powers to ensure that all taxi and PHV drivers have the knowledge and skills necessary to provide every passenger with the assistance they require. I am pleased that Broxtowe Borough Council are currently looking to introduce disability awareness and equality training as part of a countywide project and have already been in discussion with Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Furthermore, I understand that Ministers are considering the recommendations made in the report of the Chair of the Task and Finish Group on Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle Licensing, including those intended to improve accessibility. A Government response will be issued shortly.

I also welcome the work that the Access All Areas Campaign is undertaking to raise awareness of the rights of guide dog owners and of the confidence-damaging discrimination that many of them so often face.

Opposite-Sex Civil Partnerships

I welcome the announcement that the law will be changed to allow opposite-sex couples in England and Wales to enter into a civil partnership. This will address the imbalance that allows same-sex couple to choose between a marriage and a civil partnership, but not mixed-sex couples. There are a range of reasons for people not wanting to get married and I am pleased that civil partnerships will provide an alternative option that brings legal certainty and stability to their families. This will ensure that more children have the best start in life. 

Same-sex couples in England and Wales can either get married or enter a civil partnership, whereas opposite-sex couples can currently only get married. Same-sex civil partnerships became law in 2005, and I am incredibly proud that legislation creating equal same-sex marriage was introduced in 2014. In June 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that the 2004 Act was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. There are over 3.3 million cohabiting couple families in the UK, living together with shared financial responsibilities and 1.2 million of these have children. Currently, if an unmarried parent dies there is no legal entitlement for assets to be shared with a cohabiting partner and nor does the exemption to inheritance tax apply. Providing the option for opposite-sex civil partnerships will protect families in such a difficult time and ensure children have the stability they need to thrive. 

I understand that there a number of legal issues to consider, especially across pension and family law, but I am encouraged that a consultation will run on the technical details.