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Gender inequality in pensions – a roadmap to nowhere?

Gender inequality in pensions – a roadmap to nowhere?

Prospect has been very vocal about the problem of the gender pension gap.

We have been particularly concerned at the lack of government action on, or even acknowledgement of, the issue (a recent report from the EHRC on the state of women’s rights in the UK did not even refer to it).

These concerns led Prospect to ask the EHRC to investigate whether the government was complying with its statutory duty to promote equality in relation to pensions.

So we very much welcome the announcement last week about a new government roadmap for gender equality, particularly for what it has to say about gender equality in retirement.

The government’s roadmap for change, case for change and gender equality monitor are all available from the Government Equalities Office website.  

The key question is – will this roadmap lead us to gender equality in pensions?

Unfortunately, while it is very welcome that the government has tried to set off on the journey, the roadmap is unlikely to get us to where we need to be.

The roadmap sets out some of the key drivers of the gender pension gap:

  • Women take more time out of the labour market to care for children.
  • Women provide more informal care and unpaid work for others.
  • Other causes of the gender pay gap (including women being more likely to work in lower paid sectors and occupations).

But this is hardly a comprehensive analysis of the causes of the gender pension gap. It is quite telling that the report fails to acknowledge the gender inequality in state pension income. Other structural failings of the pension system that the government is responsible for, are also ignored.

Worst of all, government has not produced an estimate of the current gender pension gap. It is not possible to for a roadmap to take us where we need to go, if it cannot tell us where we currently are.

Even more disappointing is the lack of ambition of the proposed actions in the roadmap.

Many of the actions in the roadmap are about additional support for caring for children. A key issue here is access to affordable childcare (as set out in a recent report by the People’s Pension) – the roadmap contains no new policies on this or funding to deliver it. Instead there are commitments to think about policies to nudge people and employers into actions:

  • An evaluation of shared parental leave and pay.
  • A shared parental leave digital tool to help parents understand options.
  • A consultation on increasing the transparency of organisations’ parental leave and pay policies.
  • Pilots to deliver more flexible working in SMEs and low paid sectors.

There is nothing wrong with these actions but they will not deliver affordable childcare.

Other actions in the roadmap include:

  • An engagement exercise to explore what works to improve women’s financial outcomes to inform the National Financial Capability Strategy.
  • Update the online divorce process to include a nudge and improved guidance to ensure that couples are aware of and consider the benefits of pensions sharing.
  • Work with providers and others to use better communications to support women to save for retirement.

Again, there is nothing wrong with these proposed actions, but they are completely underwhelming and have no chance of delivering equal pensions any time soon.

This roadmap:

  • Fails to show what the scale of the problem is.
  • Fails to adequately explain how it arose.
  • Fails to propose any meaningful action to deal with it.

We will know the government is taking the gender pension gap seriously when:

  • It produces an estimate of its size and a full analysis of its causes.
  • It agrees to report to Parliament on the steps it is taking to tackle it.
  • It gives better recognition of caring responsibilities in the pension system.
  • It commits to real actions to make childcare more affordable.
  • It removes the indirect discrimination against women in the pension system.
Neil Walsh

Neil Walsh


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