Simon Read: 'Can the new pensions minister Ros Altmann stay passionate in power?'

Altmann has replaced Steve Webb, who lost his seat in the general election

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The Independent Online

The new pensions minister is facing a massive challenge. Ros Altmann was appointed this week to replace Steve Webb, who lost his seat in the general election. I wrote welcoming the appointment earlier this week, because Ms Altmann had a good record championing the underdog as a campaigner outside the government. I hope that doesn't change now she has a position at the heart of power.

Yesterday she promised: "I'll be looking at making pensions better for people. Having worked for so long as an independent expert on the outside, I'm really excited to have the opportunity to try and make a difference from the inside."

I hope that includes making pensions fairer. I've already challenged her to look at two clear areas where there are anomalies that leave hundreds of thousands of people worse off. First are the 700,000 women born between 1951 and 1953, who from next April face getting a smaller state pension than men when the single-tier system is introduced.

Cathe Rikby has long campaigned about the injustice and contacted me this week to point out what Ms Altmann, when a consumer champion, said to the Pensions Select Committee in June 2013 about the issue. "I would be comfortable looking at trying to include as many women as possible in the better state pension arrangements," she said. "I know it is complicated but the more women we can bring into this better system, in my view, the better."

Will she maintain that view on "the inside"? Let's hope so. Reader Ruth Kirkup says: "My pension has already been deferred twice and a third hit will be the last straw. I would like to write to Ros Altmann about this." Meanwhile Sarah Holden asks: "Should we petition the new minister about this unfairness?" Why not? So far Ms Altmann certainly seems keen to listen to people.

Then there's the frozen pension anomaly that I've written about on several occasions. Around 560,000 retired Brits have had their state pension made impervious to the effects of inflation because they moved to the "wrong" country. Meanwhile, another half a million retired Brits get annual state pension increases because they moved abroad to the "right" country. Does that sound fair?

A campaigner on the issue, Clive Walford from Indonesia, hopes that Ms Altmann's appointment will be good news. "Her past work and financial knowledge and history of common sense has raised our hopes," he says.

Anne Puckridge, who's 90, got in touch from Canada with an appeal to Ms Altmann: "We hope we can look to her to at last make a difference in our lives, perhaps with the persistence of another Emmeline Pankhurst or William Wilberforce!"

But that's not the only injustice you want the new pensions minister to sort out. David Brooks, a corporate benefits consultant, got in touch through Twitter to point out the inequality that same-sex couples are often not entitled to the same pension benefits as a married man and woman.

"Pension benefits on death have not been equalised, which leaves a lottery where the benefits payable differ from pension scheme to pension scheme. Some rely on the statutory minimum, while other trustees, employers and managers may elect to equalise benefits to mirror spousal benefits.

"It affects a smaller number of people than the frozen pensioners, but it's still unfair and needs addressing," Mr Brooks points out.

Next, Alan Newton writes in about the changes to the state pension taking effect from next year, warning that 3 to 4 million pensioners may be affected. "Anyone who retires before April 2016, and has assets such as a house preventing them from getting pensions credit, will probably be worse off than someone who retires in 2016 and gets the proposed new weekly payment of around £145 – even though you may have paid more years of national insurance.

"I'll probably be about £10 a week worse off, while my wife will probably be £30 a week worse off."

He calls the situation a time-bomb. It also angers Lilian McKittrick, who says: "What about those of us who worked and will not be getting the new minimum pension? I worked 40 years and people who only worked 30 years will be entitled to the new higher pension while I will not."

It certainly sounds unfair as there are obviously also winners who will keep their existing pension credit entitlement and so be better off than new retirees. Should all be equalised at the new rate?

Finally, Bill Fox writes in with a reminder for Ms Altmann of another injustice: "As one of the 920,000 members of Equitable Life still owed £2.8bn by the Government, I am also pleased at Ros Altmann's appointment as pensions minister, as I believe she is not unsympathetic to our longstanding case."

There is clearly a lot of anger and frustration about all these pension injustices, but now we have a former consumer champion in power, there's some home. Is that enough to be getting on with, Ros?

s.read@independent.co.uk

twitter: @simonnread

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