Government policies an assault on women, Labour claim

Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper accused the government of making it harder for women to manage work and family

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Labour has accused the government of carrying out an "assault" on women by cutting benefits and speeding up the rise in female state pension age.

Shadow equalities minister Yvette Cooper said those in their late 50s were worst hit and were "seeing their retirement plans ripped up".

Equalities Minister Theresa May said she faced "some difficult decisions" on the pension age.

But she accused Labour of not providing any "constructive" alternatives.

Last year, Chancellor George Osborne announced plans to accelerate the rate at which women's pension age - currently 60 - will rise to equal that of men, currently 65.

The previous government had agreed to achieve equalisation by April 2020, but the coalition's plans will see it achieved by November 2018.

Labour said the change was "profoundly and arbitrarily unfair" and left many women with just a few years to plan.

During an opposition debate in the Commons on Wednesday, Ms Cooper said: "Women currently in their late 50s are getting a very bad deal.

"No men will see their state pension age increase by more than a year but half a million women will."

'Rolled back'

Ms Cooper also said cuts in child tax credits and SureStart Children's centres were making it harder for women to work and were reducing their independence.

"The government is taking more money from support for children than it is taking from the banks as part of their deficit reduction plan and it is mothers across the country who are taking the strain.

Start Quote

We're giving women the opportunities they need to be successful”

End Quote Theresa May Home Secretary and Equalities Minister

"Time and again the government is hitting women and families hardest and for the first time in many generations I fear that equality and progress for women is being rolled back."

Unions have warned that with women twice as likely to work in the public sector as men, job losses in areas like health and education will hit them harder.

But female Conservative MPs rubbished Labour's criticisms.

Claire Perry, MP for Devizes, accused Ms Cooper of "trying to create some fictional narrative about this government targeting women", while Louise Mensch, representing Corby, insisted ministers were "relentlessly pro-women".

Mrs May said that given rising life expectancy, accelerating the increase in women's state pension age was "a decision we couldn't duck".

But she told MPs: "We're protecting the most vulnerable, even as we deal with Labour's deficit, and we're giving women the opportunities they need to be successful.

"Flexible parental leave, more women on boards, careers advice for all, flexible working extended, NHS spending protected, resources for violence against women defended [and] international development spending centred on women."

And she added: "If there is one thing that the previous government taught us, more and more state spending may help us deal with the symptoms of inequality but it does not address the causes."

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