After spending decades of their working lives earning less than men, women also now face a yawning and growing income gap in retirement, a new study has shown.
Women retiring this year expect to be on average more than £5,000 a year worse off than men finishing work the same year, according to an annual Prudential survey published this week.
Women can expect on average to retire on £14,500 each year if they retire this year, while men expect to have on an average £19,850 a year to live on.
Although women’s expected yearly retirement income reached a peak in the latest 2016 survey, the gender pensions gap has grown by £600 over the last year.
The difference in confidence levels between men and women about their retirement income is also significant. Six in 10 men retiring this year said they believed they had saved enough to enjoy a comfortable retirement, while only four in 10 women finishing work this year felt they had sufficient income to live comfortably.
A different survey of men and women of all ages paints an even starker picture. The Aegon survey published last month found a shocking nine in 10 women believed they weren’t on track to save enough to retire comfortably. The survey also revealed on average women had saved £20,000 for retirement – less than half the amount men had saved.
The disparity between men’s and women’s expected retirement income can be seen as an extension of the many inequalities that plague women throughout their working years.
“Women are working in a world where we have long working hours of unpaid overtime, two or three part time jobs, insecure work and zero hours contracts, and opaque and unfair pay systems which mean we get paid less for doing equal work to men working next to us,” explained Unite national officer for equalities Siobhan Endean.
“When we get pregnant we are likely to be sacked or side-lined and if we return to work we juggle child care,” she added. “If we are diagnosed with cancer or become disabled then our employers find a way of managing us out of the door.”
But women now in their 50s who will be retiring in the coming years will not only be the victims of a lifetime of gender inequality – they’ll be doubly hit by a miscarriage of justice in government policy.
For years, the age at which women could claim their state pension was 60. This was changed to 65 under the Pensions Act 1995 and was to be slowly phased in between 2010 and 2020.
But the coalition government decided to speed up the time frame over which the new age will be introduced. Now, the state pension age has been raised to 65 from April 2016 to November 2018, and then will go up to 66 by October 2020.
Shockingly, the government never notified many of the women who might be affected by the change in the state pension age. These women had planned for years to retire at 60 but now suddenly discover they have to wait years longer – with some women finding themselves as much as £40,000 out of pocket.
Labour MP Frank Field, who chairs the Commons work and pensions select committee, has examined the issue and has slammed the way the government has handled the transition to the new state pension age.
Field told the Guardian he had received many letters from older women who were never notified by the government about the changes until recently.
One of these women, who was born in 1955 and is single, did not receive a DWP letter until 2013 advising her that she would now be retiring at 66.
“This gave me only two years’ notice of a six-year rise,” she noted. “At present I am forced to rely on my 80-year-old retired mum to help with the purchase of meals or clothes as I am utilising dwindling savings to pay bills. This is an intolerable burden placed on older women, and I fear I will not be able to carry on should anything happen to my mum.”
Another woman, who says she has not yet been officially informed of the change in state pension age to 66 for her age cohort, notes that she has “nothing to look forward to after working all these years but poverty.”
“I have applied for more than 60 jobs since being made redundant, but who wants to employ a 61-year-old nurse who has arthritis in her knees and is unable to lift patients?” she said.
Endean condemned the way the government introduced the state pension age changes.
“This move adds insult onto injury – so many women are already approaching retirement with dread after a lifetime of unequal pay. Now, just as hundreds of thousands of these women in their 50s have planned and saved for retirement at 60, they’ve suddenly discovered that they’ll have to wait years longer, with devastating consequences.
“Unite calls on immediate action from the government to reverse this glaring injustice – transitional arrangements can be made so that no woman has to suffer as the new state pension age is phased in. All that’s needed is the political will.”
Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) have tirelessly campaigned since May of last year on this specific issue. Their latest national day of action will be held on September 16. Find out how you can get involved here.