Here’s my speech from today’s backbench business debate on the Equitable Life scandal:
Thank you Mr Speaker, and I’m pleased to be able to speak in this debate today on behalf of the many constituents who have contacted me over the years having been victims of the Equitable Life scandal.
As other members have highlighted, almost a million pension savers have received back just 22% of the losses they suffered as a result of colossal maladministration. The Treasury has refused to disclose the full workings of the calculations behind the payments made to date – putting pay to the notion of a fair and transparent programme of compensation which was promised to Equitable Life victims back in 2010.
The human impact of this scandal cannot be understated, and many of those affected by the collapse of Equitable are still bearing the costs of this injustice everyday. As others have pointed out, Equitable Life victims are not individuals and families who can afford to write this scandal off as an unfortunate administrative error – they are typically retired nurses, teachers, civil servants, factory, shop workers and small business owners with much less than £20,000 in their pension pot. They put their hard-earned savings pension rights into what they understandably saw as an established, reputable and well-recognised provider – and they were badly let down.
My office has received harrowing accounts from constituents over recent years, including a recent example of a woman writing on behalf of her husband who is now 89 years old and living with dementia. He is one of many who lost thousands of pounds by putting the profits of his small business into an Equitable Life pension as he was advised.
Another constituent, one of the many who only received 22% of their losses as calculated by the Treasury, describes it in painfully frank terms: “The amount I have lost would have enabled me and my family to enjoy more things such as holidays before I die.” He adds “I was amazed by the revelations that the successive governments had failed to regulate the Society properly. In such circumstances I expected government to ensure the losses sustained by policyholders were made good. I feel particularly incensed by the successive government administrations’ failure to accept the report and advice of their Parliamentary Ombudsman that policy holders should be put back in the position they would have been if the maladministration had not occurred. I am even more incensed by the excuses they have made over many years about why they have adopted this position on the matter.”
And that point – many years – is worth emphasising. We’re now thirteen years on from the Parliamentary Ombudsman concluding that the victims’ loss was directly attributable to a decade of serious, serial regulatory maladministration. We’re eleven years on from Equitable Life victims being promised fair and transparent compensation. And we’re also eleven years on from the Coalition Government accepted that victims’ losses amounted to £4.3bn – before only allocating £1.5bn for compensation.
Many of those who were promised, deserved and indeed needed the full recompense are no longer with us. But the Government owes it to the 895,000 traced pension saver victims still with us to find a solution quickly. As one constituent put it to me, it can only a policy decision that is now delaying and preventing action. I urge the Prime Minister and Chancellor to look carefully at the recommendations put forward by The Equitable Members Action Group and APPG as soon as possible.
Every effort should be made to ensure those who are owed compensation are identified and that the process of compensation is accurate and transparent. It is important that the governemnt once and for all get to the bottom of what happened, and we will all look forward to the response of the Public Accounts Committee and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee to the proposal for a joint inquiry into the accuracy of the payments made.