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Fear and concern abound as women talk to workingwise.co.uk about the gender pensions gap and how it affects them.
Today is gender pensions gap day and we wanted to highlight some of the voices from our recent survey on gender and age. The survey found that half of women believe they will not be able to afford to retire at state pension age and 53% say they do not think they will be financially independent in old age. Here several speak about their worries for the future.
Stacey* from Dorset is 65 and has been looking for work since she sustained a fracture in 2019. She would prefer remote work due to her leg injury. She has applied for many jobs but to no avail, even though she achieved a first in her degree at the age of 60. She feels her age is a big factor in her trouble finding a job.
She says: “I’m firmly convinced that my age is a big factor, the fact that I have a wealth of experience and knowledge, that I need to work way after retirement age, means nothing.”
She previously worked as a support worker and has not been able to pay towards a pension or National Insurance because she cannot find another job. She says she is very worried about the future and adds: “If I can find work, I will probably have to work till I drop.” She says there is no chance of her being financially independent. “I feel angry and frustrated, marginalised and useless; not a good feeling,” she adds.
Jean* aged 62 is a library manager from Dorset. She says she would like to retire now, but cannot afford to do so. She is predicted to get about £15,000 a year if she retires in 2026. She works full time and has done so since 1991. Before that she worked part time for three years when she had two small children. She is the main earner in her household. Her partner is self employed and his income is variable. He had to cash in most of his pensions to keep his self employment going.
Jean has a daughter with a disability who suffered a brain haemorrhage just over two year ago and has mobility issues. She requires care. She also has four grandchildren who she would like to see more of and another daughter who needs some financial support. She says: “We will all struggle when I retire, we have very little spare money now really, so it will be hard when my income is significantly reduced, but I am really tired and losing my passion for a job I loved.”
Sarah* who has just turned 60 says she has been working part time due to health constraints and lives with her partner in his home but pays half the bills. She is frightened that if her partner, who is 68, gets ill or dies she will have nowhere to live.
But it’s not just women in their 60s who are worried. Many of those who replied to our survey are in their mid-40s and early 50s and are already feeling worried about the future.
One 47-year-old woman from Kent who is working in employability says she can’t bear to think about her pension and is just hoping for a lucky break. She reckons she will have to “work around the clock til I drop”. She says she has no sustainable funds saved up. Having worked in corporate marketing, she went into temporary work as a single parent, working around her daughters’ needs, for instance, as a teaching assistant. She didn’t pay any pension contributions while she was out of work and only the minimum basic contribution when in work through employer auto-enrolment.
She doesn’t ever see herself retiring. She says simply: “There is no longer any plan for this.” How does she feel about that? She says: “I’m either wishing for a miracle and when in despair/out of work during lockdown I have a sense of looking forward to getting to the end of my life when I’ve done enough to secure my daughter, am not hopefully a burden and am able to have time to spend with possible grandchildren without too much financial pressure”.
A 49-year-old woman from the South East who took a career break and has reduced her hours around childcare is worried she will have to work beyond the state pension age and is terrified she will not be employable, will face age discrimination when it comes to getting jobs and is worried about having poor health in old age. An executive assistant now, she doesn’t think she will be financially independent and both stopped and reduced her pension contributions due to childcare responsibilities.
Rosie Gordon from the South East is 48 and works in publishing. She took a career break with implications for her pensions contributions and says she is scared about the prospects for the future, feeling she will have to work beyond the state pension age unless she can secure other income.
A 48-year-old woman from Bristol worked full time for a mortgage company until she had her children in 2007. Since then she has worked part time on and off and hasn’t paid any contributions to her pension. She also suffers from chronic pain which she knows will intensify as she gets older.
Childcare is not the only reason for career breaks. A 58-year-old woman who is working full time as an NHS administrator took a temporary reduction in hours to look after an elderly relative with cancer and reduced her pension contributions. She is worried how that will affect her pension and feels she will have to work beyond the state pension age. She feels “annoyed, frustrated, cheated” as a result.
The survey also showed that many women don’t understand what their pension will be because the system is so complicated and they often have an array of different pensions. Debbie Perry from East London is 62 and works as an Executive Assistant in a management consultancy firm. She feels she will have to work beyond the state pension age and will not be financially independent, but she is not sure. Asked if she understands hers, she says: “Absolutely not! The world of pensions is a minefield, even it would appear to the so-called experts who are meant to guide you through the extremely complex legislation.”
*Some names have been changed. Workingwise.co.uk has also published a free e-book, sponsored by Equinix, which details the background to the gender pension gap and draws attention to what some of the best employers are doing. You can download it free here.