Female pensioners are thousands of pounds worse off on average than their male counterparts, exclusive figures on the pension pay gap obtained by NationalWorld reveal.
The findings have prompted concerns that not enough has been done to address economic penalties faced by women who shoulder the lion’s share of unpaid care work – leaving them more vulnerable to poverty in old age.
The statistics count men and women aged 65 and three months as of 5 April 2019 to be at pension age.
The median income for women was £15,400 in the 2018-19 tax year, the most recent period covered by HMRC’s data collections. Only income from pensions, whether private or state, is included.
That was £2,600 less than men’s average income of £18,000. The median is a measure of the average that takes the middle point, to minimise the impact of very low or high incomes.
The gap in mean earnings is even bigger - men have an income of £22,300, 20.6% higher than the average income of £17,700 for women.
The figures only include people liable to pay tax, meaning the poorest pensioners may not be included if they have incomes lower than the tax-free personal allowance that year, which was £11,850.
Separate figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) suggest female pensioners are more likely to be on low incomes.
Women’s groups say the gap is down to women being more likely to do unpaid care and working part-time or low-paid jobs throughout their lives – particularly for the generations that are now pensioners.
‘A limetime of the gender pay gap’
"Women who are receiving their pensions now have experienced a lifetime of the gender pay gap, meaning that the earnings they have had available to build a pension have been lower than men,” said the Fawcett Society’s Andrew Bazeley.
The amount of state pension people receive depends on when they were born and how many years they have spent paying National Insurance (NI) contributions.
Prior to changes introduced in April 2016, between 30 and 44 years’ of contributions were needed to claim the full basic state pension of £137.60 per week – roughly £7,155 per year.
Fewer contributing years means less state pension awarded, while under the new system claimants must have contributed at least 10 years to get any state pension at all.
But the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for gender equality, says the Government should introduce a ‘carer’s credit’ to the pension auto enrolment, so that people continue to build up a pension when they take time off to do unpaid care.
The poorest pensioners in the UK, according to the HMRC data, were women in the West Midlands, who had median annual incomes of £14,800 – a gap of 13.5%.
‘A stark picture’
The biggest pension pay gap was in Guildford in Surrey, at a massive 45% – £27,800 for men versus £15,300 for women.
Scottish gender equality charity Engender said the figures “paint a stark picture” of women’s economic inequality, and that policymakers charged with supporting pensioners should pay close attention.
In Scotland, the gender pension gap is 12.3% – men get £17,900 compared to £15,700 for women. The gap was widest in East Lothian, at 21.2%.
“This will have a significant impact on [women’s] health and wellbeing, housing, lifestyle and ability to support others,” said Engender policy and parliamentary manager Eilidh Dickson.
“At the sharpest end of this, lack of income can directly contribute to chronic ill-health, homelessness, and experience of domestic abuse and men’s violence.”
Women aged 65 and over are far more likely to live alone than men in the UK, Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show. The ONS says one-person households spend far more of their income on housing costs.
Female pensioners are also far more likely to be on Pension Credit, a means-tested benefit for the poorest pensioners, such as those who do not qualify for a state pension.
‘Surest route into poverty’
Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, director of the Women’s Budget Group, said “successive governments have failed to take account of women’s needs when developing pension policy”.
“Being a woman and taking time out of paid work to care for others is still one of the surest routes to poverty in old age,” she said.
Ms Dickson said the figures were a perfect example of the need to consider women’s equality in policy that affects income and pensions.
“Gender budgeting, gender-sensitive sex-disaggregated data, and meaningful equality impact assessments are all vital tools to make sure women are not being driven deeper into poverty by policies which don’t consider equality from the start,” she said.
“Decision-makers in Scotland and the rest of the UK should look carefully at these figures and commit to concrete measures to close the pension gender gap.”
The DWP says the proportion of pensioners in poverty has fallen in recent years – but it is still at 13%, and 14% for women alone.
A spokesperson said: “We are committed to action that helps to alleviate levels of pensioner poverty and our ground-breaking pension reforms, including automatic enrolment, have helped millions more women save into a pension, many for the first time.
“Pension participation among eligible women working in the private sector has risen from 40% in 2012, to 86% in 2020.”
This article has been amended to bring the pay gap calculations in line with government methodology. It previously stated the pension pay gap was 16.9%.
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