Opinion  

Time to act on equal pension rights for women

Tony Hazell

Tony Hazell

When I joined Money Mail in 1990 the editor at the time, Margaret Stone, was embarking on a campaign of crucial importance: pension splitting on divorce.

At that time pensions were often missed or undervalued in divorce settlements. Lawyers opted for the simple split of the woman gets the house, at least until the children had grown up, and the man got the pension.

As a result many divorced women who had given up good careers to raise families faced an impoverished retirement.

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Ms Stone won that campaign through extensive lobbying and running a series of case studies exposing the iniquity of the situation.

Yet here we are almost a quarter of a century later and women are still very much the poor relations when it comes to pensions – and it is getting worse, not better.

Scottish Widows’ Pensions Report stated that just 40 per cent of women were preparing adequately for retirement today, compared with 50 per cent in 2011.

More worrying 37 per cent of women have no pension compared with 27 per cent of men.

It is now 95 years since women got the right to vote in the UK, half a century since women’s lib, 38 years since equal pay was enshrined in law and 23 years since independent taxation – yet women can still expect to enter retirement less well off than men or reliant on them.

It is not enough to glibly argue that women are more likely to take career breaks or work part-time while caring either for their children or parents.

The financial industry must consider its role in perpetuating this situation. It is dominated by men and has an inbuilt bias towards protecting the financial security of men.

Not surprisingly the pension problems were highlighted by a company where the head of business development for corporate pensions is a woman: Lynn Graves. Would a male executive have raised the issue?

There are all sorts of reasons why advisers may prioritise a man’s pension over a woman’s. Personal contact is the chief one. Perhaps the man benefits from higher-rate tax relief.

But the tax benefits of saving for a non-working or low-earning partner can be considerable too.

The bias continues through to retirement where single life annuities remain too popular.

Even with a 10-year guarantee these still risk leaving the woman – who on average has a greater life expectancy – high and dry in her twilight years.

This is an issue the financial industry can no longer duck. You advise on pensions either personally or in the workplace, so much of the responsibility for these dismal findings lies at your doors.

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Wipe out unfair charges

Reports indicate that Chase de Vere will remove commission from its pre-RDR group pension schemes following the Office of Fair Trading’s report into the defined contribution market. Excellent.