Pensions and equality: what changes can we all make?

by Victoria Tillbrook Partner, Pensions Credit Advisory, PwC United Kingdom

Email +44 (0)7812 063987

Research published by Insuring Women’s Futures highlights that the different financial risks faced by women and men during the course of life fall into different patterns. Factors like study choices lead to a gender pay gap that is often compounded by relationship and family decisions and other life events. Overall, it results in the average pension pot of a 65 year old woman in the UK being a fifth the size of a man’s, at just £38,5001. The ethnicity retirement income gap is also 25% between white and ethnic minorities, and slightly bigger if of black African heritage.

The statistics are shocking, and the COVID-19 pandemic risks widening the pay and pensions gaps further, in particular as more women work in sectors that have been shut down - and again this is even more pronounced for women from ethnic minorities.

So, what actions can policymakers, regulators, employers, trustees and pensions providers take now to support fairer and more inclusive pensions and retirement outcomes?

It was important to us that equality was the focus of our recent virtual Women in Pensions 2020 event, a forum we are proud to have built up for the past nine years. I was delighted to chair a panel discussion with my colleagues Jane Portas (also a co-founder of Insuring Women’s Futures), Teresa Owusu-Adjei and Saye Mkangama to hear about their own personal experiences and approaches to issues around the pensions gap and equality. From the panel discussion, audience questions and interactive breakout discussion groups, I found there were three key takeaways.

6 Moments that Matter

Drawing on her Insuring Women’s Futures pensions research insights and the recent manifesto “Living a financially resilient life in the UK2, we heard from Jane how women’s life journeys tend to be far less linear than men’s, so employers and pension providers need to engage with women in a different way - at key life stages referred to as 6 Moments that Matter. Gender and intersectional data analysis and pensions gaps insights can be really powerful here, helping organisations to put the needs of their members at the heart of their pensions scheme design and engagement approach.

How employers navigate the return to work after lockdown will be crucial and needs careful consideration. The way the furlough scheme or flexible working arrangements have operated must not be allowed to exacerbate the pay gap and therefore the pensions gap. COVID-19 has also caused difficult personal challenges and disruption for many, with important pensions implications. For example, 69% of annuities are single life, and we know older men have been most affected by COVID, so those dependent women who may have been bereaved during the pandemic could be left even more exposed.

Black livelihoods matter

Since the death of George Floyd in the US and the Black Lives Matter events, the discussion is now shifting to black livelihoods. In the context of retirement income, the pensions gap will be worse when looked at through an ethnicity lens. If you compare ethnic minority women to white men the gap in gross pensions income is 51%.

Our chairman recently hosted a live webcast for all UK employees discussing where PwC is on racial equality, barriers to progress being made, the specific actions the firm has already committed to - and new actions being announced. Concerns that have been raised include not having fair access to work, or support from those people who can change their career and not properly addressing microaggressions. That is not a unique PwC experience, but reflected across all of the industries and work pay. Businesses have an important role in progressing the discussion to influence change both within their organisations but also within wider society.

Ensure products and communication channels reflect the diversity of the consumers

It is important to recognise there are historical structural issues which are major contributors to the current pensions gap and these can be more difficult to address. However, we heard that there are actions which can be taken in relation to inclusion and engagement which will help to reduce the gap as we move forward.

Three actions that employers can take to drive better inclusion and engagement:

  1. Analyse your data, for example is there a difference in savings rate between male and female employees?
  2. Review the products and options available to employees recognising that “one size fits all” may no longer be appropriate
  3. Develop multiple communication channels for employees to access information

More generally, a pensions industry which is more representative of the wider UK population will lead to better outcomes for society as a whole.

You can read more of our pensions insights or get in touch with us to discuss further.


1 Insuring Women’s Futures’ research report “Solving Women’s pension deficit to improve retirement outcomes for all” authored by Jane Portas, published by CII

2 Insuring Women’s Futures manifesto “Living a financially resilient life in the UK”, authored by Jane Portas, published by CII follows the culmination of a 150-strong Task Force of experts drawn from policy, regulation, business and society.


by Victoria Tillbrook Partner, Pensions Credit Advisory, PwC United Kingdom

Email +44 (0)7812 063987

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