Women's soccer player on training.

Gavin Zaprzala-Banks, Principal, Punter Southall Aspire discusses gender imbalance in workplace pensions

This was the question that my ten-year-old daughter asked ahead of this summer’s competition. In truth, she openly admits to not being interested in many sports and actively avoids football whenever possible – why ever would she want to engage in something that her older brother enjoys?

But women’s football has had to fight tooth and nail for its position and there is still lots more to be done.

Time and time again during this World Cup tournament, the viewing figures for England’s matches have been breaking records, more than doubling the impact of Canada’s 2015 World Cup.

At the time of writing, the Lionesses have just been defeated by the USA in the semi-finals, equalling their achievement of four years ago. The sense of growth in the game both in terms of quality and widespread impact is undeniable. And one great outcome is that the Lionesses’ progress this year has secured Team GB a spot in the women’s football competition at next year’s Olympics, so we won’t have long to wait to get behind the team once more.

My daughter has a strong sense of injustice and equality and recognised the absence of a World Cup sweepstake as a perfect opportunity to demonstrate yet another example.

Unfortunately, it is clear though that my daughter will likely have a great many more battles ahead of her in her quest for parity and that although we are at last seeing progress in a variety of ways, gender imbalance is not only ever-present in our society, it remains a massive issue. Pensions and workplace culture are no exception.

Balancing a desire to return to work after maternity leave with the crippling cost of childcare is difficult enough and more needs to be done to provide effective, meaningful support so that we truly embrace flexible working and benefit from the known positives achieved through creating a diverse workforce.

For many years the UK pension system has suffered from a sticking-plaster mentality as we have patched up a hopelessly complex and outdated system that all too often has suffered when the Treasury has needed to balance the books.

Statistically, a typical woman aged between 65 and 69 will have pension fund that is just a fifth of that of a similarly aged man.1

And while auto-enrolment has been an unquestionable success in shifting savings behaviour in the right direction there are still anomalies that need to be addressed, many of which affect women far more than men.

The benefit of auto-enrolment is less readily seen by people earning less than the current trigger (£10,000, 2019/20). The Trades Union Congress’ research estimates that 4.6m workers earn less than this amount and three-quarters of those are women.2

A study from the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE)3 shows that more than 320,500 self-employed people in the UK are working two or more jobs. Sometimes referred to as portfolio careers, the now widely accepted terms for this is ‘slashie’ (e.g. author/photographer/barista/tutor).

Our pension rules need to adapt to ensure that they are relevant for today’s society.

Part-time workers, slashies and the self-employed are key groups who risk falling through the cracks and missing out on building essential pension savings, particularly as they may not be receiving contributions from an employer.

The gender pensions gap will not be closed without some major legislative reforms but unfortunately, the latest of those reforms has only served to worsen the problem for a significant number of women.

Following the equalisation of male and female State Pension ages to 65 at the end of 2018 we are now in a period that will see the State Pension age, for everyone, increase to 66 and then eventually to 67. While this change has been known about for many years, it is fair to say that the communication to those who are going to be affected has been almost non-existent.

Many thousands of women will have planned their future based on being able to receive their state pension from age 60. Now that the goalposts have been moved, the ability to review and redress any savings shortfall becomes very difficult, especially when the impact of being invested in cautious lifestyle funds ‘too early’ is factored in. Industry estimates indicate that this may reduce a woman’s pension pot by several thousand pounds.

It will be some years before my children and their families are directly troubled by these issues but, whether addressing climate change, pension reform or the performance of the Lionesses, the work to improve the future must start now rather than when it’s too late.