Why we should all care about women’s pensions

Why we should all care about women’s pensions

Why we should all care about women’s pensions

Daniella Jenkins

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Few subjects get more yawns than pensions, yet they have a profound impact on our quality of life in old age. My passion for pensions was sparked by seeing my mother’s struggles in later life - it really seemed as if pensions were the last kick in the teeth from the patriarchy, a trend I became determined to do something about!

It won’t surprise you to learn that pensions are gendered; women are statistically likely to be worse off financially in retirement than men, regardless of educational and marital status or whether they have children. It’s no coincidence that more women rely on means tested benefits or family support when they get old. And the real sting is that women have longer life expectancies too - so we live longer lives on less money. 

The sad truth is that the root causes are not new. Women’s unpaid work is unrecognised in the pensions system while work based inequities such as pay discrimination transfer employment inequalities into retirement ones. I don’t claim to have all of the answers but here’s my thoughts on three changes that could really make a different to women’s pensions:

1. Stop seeing women as the problem

Terms such as “perils and pitfalls” and “maternity penalty” suggest that women’s lives are problematic. Options such as not getting divorced, having children or working in higher paid roles that they might not otherwise want simply to increase their pensions are not realistic for the majority of women. Moreover, these solutions ask individual women to mitigate the inequalities caused by the pensions system. Women shouldn’t have to change to suit pensions - pensions should change to better serve women.

2. Actively engage with women

The scandal of the WASPI women - 1950s-born women whose state pension age increase was accelerated, leaving many unexpectedly waiting for their pensions for longer than they had budgeted for - showed the devastating impact of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) failure to communicate pensions changes clearly. There is also a new scandal growing, as it was not made clear to many older women (who are relegated to lower state pension payments) that they needed to inform DWP when their husbands reached state pension age at 65. Nor are younger women immune from the communication gaps, with many missing out on carers’ credits towards their state pension because they do not claim Child benefit. Women rely on state pensions much more as they have less income from occupational or private pensions. Despite this, women are expected to navigate a complicated system alone and without guidance. It is incumbent on the DWP and the government to communicate clearly with women of all ages about pensions, so that everyone can feel confident in the amount of state pension they will get.

3. Think creatively

Our current pension system is based on a 1950s ideal and doesn’t reflect the complexities of many women’s lives, from job sharing and freelance working to the care work many women do to prop up our fragile social care system. Increasingly men too are affected by these issues. We should not kid ourselves that this is a zero-sum game - fairer pensions benefit everyone. My research reframes pensions along gender equal lines by thinking differently about how we age and work. I’m hoping to bring others along with me and would love to hear from the WE community - particularly younger women who still have some time before retirement - about your experiences and ideas on how we can change pensions for the better. We don’t need handouts, just recognition for what we do already. 

Daniella Jenkins is Executive Director of the WOW Foundation and a Policy Advisory Group member of the Women’s Budget Group. You can get involved or find out more about her pensions research at www.thefeministpensionproject.com 

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If you would like to contribute to Pass The Mic, please send a brief pitch and bio to press@womensequality.org.uk and we will be in touch!


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