Dr Julian Lewis: An 84-year-old widow in my constituency writes as follows:
“In the year 2000 our pension was £11,120, it is now £3,187. When my husband died in 2015 it was reduced by one third, so this accounts for some of the loss. It continues to go down annually. With inflation, of course, my loss is even greater than this. The state pension increases because of inflation, yet the Government give no consideration to EL annuitants who invested savings to ensure a decent standard of living in retirement.
When we heard that EL were having problems we were not that worried as we assumed the Government would step in. Why was not the same concern given to EL victims as to those now suffering financially because of the covid pandemic? The effect on us is just as great, and probably more long term. It is twenty years since this debacle began.
My life is very different to that we planned when we put our savings with EL: no holidays, no treats.”
This is the sort of issue that gets politics and politicians a bad name, although 280 Members of this House have been trying through the good auspices of the all-party group on Equitable Life policyholders to put matters right.
In his able introduction to the motion, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) referred to the miscalculation for one pensioner who, it was said, was due £17 when the actual figure was over £8,500. He could also have referred to another miscalculation discovered by the Equitable Members Action Group: £58 was awarded, instead of over £7,000.
When mistakes are being made on this scale and of this magnitude, it stands to reason that the Treasury should not be sheltering behind any sort of argument or excuse as to how these sums are calculated. The methodology should be out there, and it should be capable of objective independent verification; it should not be necessary for appeals of this sort to go forward. [Interruption.]
My hon. Friend the Minister [The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (John Glen)], chuntering from a sedentary position, anticipates that I was about to come to him next, and despite his obvious dissatisfaction with the point I have just made, I would like to say that he is a very sincere and fair-minded fellow, but he is the latest in a long line of Ministers who have had to defend the indefensible.
On interrogating my own website, I find that the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury in June 2010 was Mr David Gauke, and he said then:
“The coalition Government have pledged to make fair and transparent payment to Equitable Life policyholders, through an independently designed payment scheme, for their relative loss as a result of regulatory failure.” – [Official Report, 8 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 167.]
I said to him at the time how glad I was that that was going to happen. A little later, however, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Mark Hoban, had to defend the fact that it appeared that only a fraction of the losses were to be paid. I know that the ombudsman said that it would not be a matter of the entire sum being paid, but who can honestly believe that paying just 22% of a loss is a fair outcome? Both parties are to blame. Like me, the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen), was elected in 2010 on a manifesto pledge to settle this matter. It needs to be settled, and that has not yet happened.