The Government should do more to resolve the structural issues that contribute to the gender pension gap – but that alone will never be enough to solve it. Trade unions have a key role in tackling the problem.
Neil Walsh, Prospect’s pensions officer, has drawn up a list of actions that Prospect branches can take.
Get information on your employer’s gender pension gap
The first step in tackling an issue is to get an idea of the scale of the problem. Get information on the gender pension gap for people retiring from your organisation in recent years – and break it down into its main components (eg how much was caused by differences in pay, how much by differences in length of service, how much of a role did caring responsibilities play etc).
Prospect officers can help reps to specify the information they would like employers to provide. Once the information is available, reps can start talking about it with members and employers.
Request pension scheme membership data from your employer and work to ensure take-up is as high as possible
The “automatic enrolment earnings trigger” indirectly discriminates against women by disproportionately excluding them from access to occupational pension schemes.
It is scandalous that this discrimination is embedded into the structure of the occupational pension system. Branches can counteract this by letting members know that those earning less than the trigger have the right to opt in to an automatic enrolment pension scheme.
Provide information to people taking breaks from employment because of caring responsibilities
Branches should highlight to members the potential impact of maternity, paternity or parental leave on pension entitlement.
Couples should discuss the impact of caring responsibilities on pension contributions and how they can share the impact of reduced contributions.
Allow partners to make contributions to occupational schemes on behalf of members on parental leave
Greater understanding of the impact of caring responsibilities on pension income should mean that more families will realise the importance of maintaining a more equal share of pension contributions.
The person taking on the primary caring responsibilities should not be the only person facing reduced contributions.
The best way to balance pension entitlement more fairly is to allow a partner who continues to work to contribute to the other partner’s occupational pension scheme.
Branches should discuss with employers whether that is technically feasible within the pension schemes they offer.
Negotiate additional pension contributions for employees on parental leave
Branches could put additional employer pension contributions for employees on maternity, paternity or parental leave on their bargaining agendas.
Even nominal additional amounts would keep employees with caring responsibilities engaged with pension accumulation and help tackle the gender pension gap.
Help members understand the pension information sent by their pension scheme
Pension schemes send regular projections of pension benefits already accrued as well as pension benefits expected to be accrued in the future.
Branches can engage directly with the employer or pension provider about the format of the statements provided. They can also support members in understanding their own statement.
Research by Aviva shows that women report much lower levels of confidence when it comes to understanding pensions. Prospect officials can support branches that want to do more to help members understand pension information.
Does your occupational pension scheme operate on a net pay basis?
Branches should find out how the employer’s scheme operates tax relief. If it is on a net pay basis, they should consider asking the employer or the pension provider to make good the tax benefits lost by lower earners.