Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Would having more women in Parliament really make a difference? Well, take women’s pensions...

It’s a sign of a slow day when you start to worry about your pension.  I’ve worked out that  there’s no way I’ll have paid enough contributions to qualify for a state pension (39 years) when/if I retire.  What with all the usual interruptions  I probably have around ten years of contributions and I need a minimum of 30 years to qualify.  And for the record, I haven’t got any other sort of pension.  But at least I won’t be alone. Round about a third of women over 60 don’t get the full £90.70 (£95.25 from April) a week because their unpaid work bringing up children or looking after elderly and disabled relatives left them with insufficient NI contributions.  But even if we qualify, the state pension at around £4500 a year is still far below what the Government considers the poverty line for other citizens of about £12,500 a year (or 60 per cent of median average earnings) – so it's not a picnic.


On March 9th three years ago Baroness Patricia Hollis, gave a lecture on Women’s Pensions. The then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at DWP looked back at the creation of the modern welfare state post-war in which becuase women were expected to be financially provided for by husbands, women were disadvantaged in pension policy.  This “last bit of unreconstructed Beveridge” , as Baroness Hollis called it, has continued to keep millions of women in poverty in their old age.


Thanks to Baroness Hollis’ powerful campaigning voice in Parliament over several years, in October 2008 a change was introduced to help more women achieve the 30-year contributions record by purchasing extra years. (No such thing as a free lunch.) The hitch is the scheme probably doesn’t apply to me and a million or so other women because only people who already have 20 years of NI contributions will be able to buy back the extra years. Sisters - we’ll just have to keep working – if the EU lets us.


Of course I want to do more about women’s pensions - but would anything at all have been done to start to address this gender gap in pensioner poverty if it hadn’t been for women like Baroness Hollis in government? When people say would having more women in Parliament really make a difference, tell them what we’ve already done for women’s pensions (and what more there still is to do.)


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