Over the next few days there will be plenty of debate on this question , prompted by the “monstrous regiment of women”, now nearly 100,000, who have signed the “Women Against State Pension Increase” or “WASPI” petition.
We are due a debate on the issue on 7th January, led by the redoubtable Maori Black (who John Knox would definitely have disapproved of. We are likely to get another debate as a result of WASPI.
The success of the petition lies mainly in its ability to tap into a felt injustice among mature woman that pensions has been a man’s world and they have not been treated with justice. In a slightly more detailed way, the columnist Sarah Pennells (aka SavvyWoman) explains what WASPI is about.
This short (1 minute) video explains very clearly what is going on – how it effects women – and why so many women have grounds to be angry.
WASPI has a weak financial basis
There are a lot of matters brought about by EU equality legislation that do not make sense. For instance we are no longer able to provide men with better annuity rates than women, despite men generally living shorter than women. Similarly the Government Actuary cannot give men a better state pension than a woman based on men getting less payments.
So women are generally winners in the equalisation game, though at a strictly financial level, equalisation does not make sense.
The gap between male and female life expectancy is narrowing, probably because less men are dying from occupational illnesses resulting from spending a working lifetime down a hole in the ground or fixing asbestos ceilings. Men are also becoming more sensible about drinking and smoking. Women have always been more sensible – or historically were not given the same opportunity to screw up their lungs and livers.
So men and women are – actuarially speaking- looking more like each other. The financial arguments for equalisation are getting stronger.
WASPI has a weak moral basis
But it’s the moral argument to equalise the state pension age for men and women that is – to my mind – critical. It simply doesn’t make sense to have equal rights in the workplace without having equal rights when leaving it.
The injustice (to men) of having to work longer is no longer morally acceptable as women now have rights within the workplace that are equal to their male counterparts. I am aware that there is still a disparity between male and female pay – one that I object to – but this disparity is also narrowing. There are now more women in the Boardroom (though not nearly enough) and there are less women who work for pin money.
I cannot see how the moral argument for equality is well served by WASPI. Nor can I see the specific arguments that WASPI makes about there being a conspiracy of silence about these changes, holding water. There have been mistakes communicating change but these mistakes are endemic to all aspects of financial education. We are financially illiterate as a nation, relative to our literacy levels in other areas and relative to the literacy levels of other European nations. The failure to engage and get educated about State Pension Reform cannot be laid wholly at the Government’s door.
In my opinion both the financial argument and moral argument’s that fuel WASPI’s fire, are over-stated.
WASPI – a force for good.
But what WASPI does, and does brilliantly, is bring into focus a whole raft of issues facing both men and woman in their fourties, fifties and sixties. The promise of a comfortable work-free retirement is a chimera and has been for many years. The lifestyle promoted by the brochures of the tour operators of a silver generation floating through retirement on an ocean liner is a false promise.
How about this agenda from a friend of mine
I would love to believe 2016 will be the year when the UK pensions world world woke up from its dream/lethargy and realised what a dire state of future provision it has created, supported, went along with, distracted by irrelevant minutiae.
The OECD say through it though, and hopefully Mercer Melbourne will push us into the relegation zone by properly recognising the risks in DC rather than over optimistically projecting the outcomes from it.
And then perhaps we will understand that we are heading for a world where:
(1) state pension will be at around 25% of average earnings from age 67 and rising. And headed for cutbacks even at hat level.
(2) private sector provision is risky.
(3) whilst the risk from scams is appalling, the greater risk is the fundamental one of investment returns. The industry needs to engage with Aon’s analysis of what DC would have produced over the past 55 years, and the variability thereof. Once again, overfocus on the periphery of the issues.
(4). And the EXPECTED outcome is probably overestimated, given the prospects for returns assumed from typical default funds. But might just provide about 20% of lifetime average earnings – so say 10-15% of final salary. Who knows.
(5). Perhaps, just perhaps 2016 will be remembered as the year when the DWP kicked off the first real investigation of State Pension Age and it was carried out by a new Adair who dared to challenge this cornerstone of our system in protecting the elderly. And returned it to that. And away from what it has become, which is a for many an added encouragement to stop working when they could be contributing to society.
(6). Let’s hope it is not remembered instead as the year dominated by GMPs and all their trivia.
The uncomfortable truth is that the flip side of our better health is a demand from society that we work longer and contribute more to the GDP that will fund our extreme old age. If the forthcoming debates in parliament focus on these issues rather than the inadequacies of Government communication, then they will be worthwhile.