Unpicking why pensions prove a turn-off to women

Ruth Gillbe

New figures have thrown into question the worth of auto-enrolment for some women, who are less likely to be caught by the system since they are often lower earners or part time.

Women are already subject to lesser incomes than men in retirement - as well as in the workplace - and the current state of affairs could be exacerbated in the future as a result of their exclusion from the government’s attempts at universal pension saving.

According to Portal Financial, women are particularly affected since they comprise nearly three-quarters of people in part time work and 63 per cent of people earning £7 per hour or less.

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They are also more likely than men to be unpaid carers, balancing work around other responsibilities, with 76 per cent fearing they will not have enough money for a financially comfortable retirement.

The question of how to solve this issue seems to be an enduring one, however this is not simply applicable to pensions.

Maybe it is more useful to look at the issues that are arising surrounding auto-enrolment as a metaphor for the tough deal that women face more broadly with regard to finances.

Speaking at an event held by Scottish Widows last month on the new retirement regime, the provider’s chief executive Toby Strauss argued the case for the earnings threshold for auto-enrolment to be reduced to ensure more women would be caught.

“It is not that women should be treated differently, merely that the pension freedoms address a number of the concerns women have made clear to us over the years about why they don’t save more in their pensions today.”

He explained that having that freedom at 55, plus being able to use that money in the way they see fit, is a clear barrier to women saving more in pensions and as such must be removed.

“So if you combine the earnings trigger point with clear communications about the removal of that barrier we ought to be able to address that savings gap.”

Sue Lewis, chair at the Financial Services Consumer Panel, was also in attendance, suggesting that the reforms will give women more confidence. “I think younger women now are getting into pensions more than young men,” she added.

For Matthew Oakley, head of financial services policy at Which?, the question was part of a broader issue about savings and investments generally.

“Some broader research that Which? recently showed that just 40 per cent of people have the recommended level of short term savings - so three months spending as savings.

“I think what we’d like to see certainly is the government picking up on that hand in hand with the pensions debate and actually putting forward a comprehensive savings strategy which covers pensions, savings and investment - all consumers, not just females - just everybody trying to save more.”

Also speaking at the same event, the Financial Conduct Authority’s director of policy David Geale confessed he did not think there was any single answer to this problem.