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Monday, July 09, 2007

Britain's scandalously unfair and inadequate pensions provision for women

This scandalous inequity challenges Brown's compass - Guardian


"Here's a small moment in history: last week, Gordon Brown's government was defeated for the first time in parliament. You won't have read much about it. But this was a good defeat, a welcome defeat, led by experienced people with the best of motives. It affects tens of thousands of poorer people, and could help correct a great injustice. How Brown reacts to it in the Commons will be an important early test of whether he is really listening or not.

The reason you haven't read much about it is because it was about women's pensions; yet the unfairness is big enough to have gathered under a single banner some of the key voices from all the major parties in the Lords, and the best expert advice there too. This is not a small issue and leaves the Treasury and No 10 with a major dilemma.

The basic state pension, because it was based on contributions made while people are in paid employment, has always been unfair to women. If you were bringing up children, or caring for sick or elderly relatives, perhaps moving in and out of paid employment as you struggled to hold a household together, you were unable to pay the contributions you needed. Many, many people never knew or understood this. But it resulted in a situation today when 95% of men are entitled to a full basic state pension, but just 25% of women are.

A scandalous inequity, it meant millions of women facing humiliating poverty in their old age. The government is reforming the system, so that three-quarters of women will get the full pension in three years' time, though full equality won't be reached until 2025. Under the current system, men need 44 years of contributions and women 39, but this is being changed to 30 for both. The argument in the Lords is essentially about moving faster, and more effectively."