Women's chance of a good pension: Letter

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The Independent Online
Sir: Helen Wilkinson ("The voter changes her mind", 10 October) lists pensions policy as one of the key issues concerning older women and likely to affect their voting behaviour. With twice as many women as men over pension age and women being four out of five of those dependent on income support, this is undoubtedly true. However, the question of pensions should concern young people, especially young women.

The DSS research on women and pensions published this summer showed how much ignorance, confusion and anxiety there is about pension provision. For example, 30 per cent of women aged 25-34 years expected to be worse off in retirement and a further 11 per cent did not know.

Only one in four of those belonging to an occupational scheme in this age group thought their pension would be enough to live on. Only 16 per cent had a personal pension plan (10 per cent had had one but had it no longer.) Some will benefit from their husbands' private pension (61 per cent of husbands belong to an occupational scheme and 35 per cent to a personal pension plan.)

As a result of the Pension Act 1995 and proposals for further pension- splitting, women may benefit even if the marriage ends in divorce. Not all young women are "busy carving out careers", and even if they are, what happens when they have children? Half of mothers with children under 10 years are not in paid employment, and many of those who are earn insufficient to contribute to a private pension. The state pension scheme will continue to be crucial to the welfare of the majority of women, bearing in mind also that women may spend a quarter of a lifetime on a pension. The private sector cannot provide adequate pensions for those with low or interrupted earnings.

One of the many virtues of Barbara Castle's scheme is that it values contributions to society in the form of caring within the family, as well as giving pensioners a share in rising prosperity. The party which can reward not only high achievers but also those who give priority to caring responsibilities should get the votes of women.


Professor of Family Policy and Child Welfare

University of Bristol