Women and Pensions: Time for a Rethink, by Eileen Evason and Lynda Spence

Social Policy and Administration, vol. 37, no.3, June 2003, pp.253-270. Order this book

This paper contributes to the current debate on pensions by reporting research amongst women in Northern Ireland. After a concise history of pension provision in the UK since the Second World War, the authors organise the results of focus group discussions (along with appropriate quotations) around the issues: 1. Who should provide retirement income ? 2. How much thought is given to retirement ? 3. Women’s understanding of state provision; 4. The provision which women make; 5. Women’s views on pensions; and 6. How women see the future of pension provision. In relation to this last topic, the majority of groups opted for a ‘citizenship’ basis for state pensions policy rather than a national insurance or years of employment basis.

The researchers make the obvious point that because the majority of pensioners are women, women’s views on the direction of pensions policy ought to be taken seriously. The research shows that women’s labour market experience makes stakeholder pensions an unattractive option, and that women exhibit a strong preference for the state to have the lead role and for the basis of provision to be a basic state pension based on citizenship (p.268). The authors suggest that the current erosion of the basic state pension and the expansion of means-testing are placing financial advisers in a difficult position “as they try to advise those intending to make very modest private provision and explain the interaction between such provision and the Minimum Income Guarantee. The Pension Credit [which has now replaced the Minimum Income Guarantee] will make the calculations and explanations more complex and over all of this there is the uncertainty about exactly what means-tested benefits will actually be in place in 20 years’ time and the level of support they will provide” (p.269).

The Citizen’s Income Newsletter reported in its third issue for 2002 that the National Association of Pension Funds would like to see a strengthened basic state pension based on citizenship; and our last edition reported on the Pensions Policy Institute’s recent work on a Citizen’s Pension. The authors of this paper believe that the pensions industry in general, trades unions, and voluntary and other groups representing pensioners, would prefer a simple citizenship-based state pension rather than more and more complex means-tested provision. Evason and Spence suggest that “it is essential that the needs and circumstances of women are central” (p.279) as pensions policy is debated. It is difficult to disagree with this. Currently the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is a man, and so is the Minister of State for Pensions. It isn’t until we get to Under-Secretary level that we find women in the Department for Work and Pensions. In the absence of women in the two most important posts, the least the posts’ occupants could do would be to read this paper.