Gender pension gap still needs ‘urgent measures’ – Ros Altmann

Sophie King reports...

The state pension age for women and men may have equalised from today but the gender pension gap remains wide and requires ‘urgent measures’ to fix, according to Baroness Ros Altmann.

Today (6 November) marks the day the state pension age – at 65 -becomes equal for both men and women and it will rise in tandem from now on.

Women’s pension age has been rising since 2010, under legislation passed in 1995, but new measures in 2011 accelerated the increases and the pension age for both men and women is currently set to rise to 66 by 2020.

Former pensions minister turned campaigner Baroness Ros Altmann argued, however, that the equalisation of the state pension age did not spell equality among men and women.

According to Altmann, women are at greater risk of poverty later in life because they have always had lower pension ages than men. Additionally, an increasing proportion of women are single and so cannot rely on a partner’s pension for retirement income. They also tend to live longer than men.

Altmann pointed out women in their 50s and older – the group championed by the ‘WASPI’ (Women Against State Pension Inequality) campaign – had lost out the most but younger generations of women also face penalties as all pensions, including state, workplace and private, discriminate against women too.

“Even the new state pension system and recent policy changes are introducing new unfairness that predominantly affect women, rather than men,” she added.

Altmann suggested there were a number of reasons why women continue to lose out in pensions, including: women’s state pension age increasing by more than men’s at shorter notice; the state pension triple lock not covering pension credit, which means the poorest female pensioners are not protected; and the very lowest earners – mostly women – being disadvantaged in relation to national insurance and the state pension.

‘Glass ceilings’

Altmann made a number of suggestions on how to close the pension gap between the sexes, arguing pension credit should be protected in the same way as the state pensions, and that “the government should reduce the lower earnings threshold, or abolish it, and allow all workers with multiple jobs to claim credit for state pension regardless of their earnings in each job.”

Another options, said Altmann, included to “remove the £10,000 earnings limit for auto-enrolment” as well as “encourage pension trustees to allow women’s pension rights to be preserved during caring responsilities”.

She added: “Although women have made enormous strides pushing through glass ceilings in the workplace, the gender pension gap remains wide and new barriers have been introduced. Urgent measures are needed to reduce women’s pension disadvantages.”