4 March 2021
If you’re covering International Women’s Day please see the following comments from Quilter spokespeople.
Address gender in the plan for jobs, says Jane Goodland, corporate affairs director at Quilter
“The crisis caused by Covid has had a devastating impact on gender equality – social, cultural and economic – and women have been more vulnerable to the negative effects. The progress that had been made in gender equality has arguably regressed and so must remain high on the agenda as we emerge from the pandemic.
“Financial inequality between the genders in particular has been severely impacted. Figures from a recent McKinsey & Company study found that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s jobs as they make up 39% of global employment but account for 54% of overall job losses. Add on that as schools have closed, childcare and other dependency care disappeared a gap needed to be filled and in the main women have picked up the additional domestic and family work.
“Unfortunately, the picture has not even been favourable for the upcoming generations. We know that the economic impact of the pandemic has been particularly challenging for young people and unfortunately younger women were impacted far greater than younger men. Facing these challenges at a young age can severely knock financial confidence and potentially increase financial vulnerability, in hundreds of thousands of women.
“The support the government has put in place has been extraordinary and we appreciate not every job can be saved, but as we emerge from this crisis, it should be doing more to get women back into the workforce, particularly in younger cohorts. The Chancellor has announced his plan for jobs, but it is unclear whether gender has been considered as part of this. Any research on the area should be disclosed and if there is none then the government urgently need to consider how their proposals will benefit women. The government also needs to encourage firms to consider what more can be done to ensure the workplace is one in which female talent can thrive. Things such as the gender pay gap reporting regulations have been a good first step, but more now needs to be done to get women into senior level positions and ensure they are better protected when the next crisis comes around.
“Increasing financial confidence through education and engagement will go a long way to ensure women participate more in the personal finances of the nation. Data has shown women often make better investment decisions and will make more sensible financial decisions, but they are often held back by a lack of confidence. As we rebuild, we should have an even greater focus on making policy decisions that are better informed by the challenges and barriers that exist for half the population – we must learn the lessons from this crisis and find a way to build back to a more equal society.”
End pension net pay injustice, says Heather Owen, financial planner at Quilter
“While it is right to celebrate just how far women have come in terms of gender equality in the UK. There are long roads ahead and the legacy of inequality echoes throughout many arenas. We know that women’s pensions are still dramatically below their male counterparts. In fact the latest available figures from the Office for National Statistics show that a women’s median pension pot at £48,500 is still less than men’s 10 years ago at £49,300.
“This situation is not helped by an archaic pension taxation system, which means some women are disadvantaged. After much posturing, in July last year the government finally started to make headway on how to fix the discriminatory issue of net pay schemes versus relief at source as it launched a consultation. However, the consultation closed in October and there has been no update. The recent budget did not give any timeline and so we must hope the tax consultations due for late March include an update otherwise this unjust situation will continue.
“There are two ways the government tops-up people’s pension contributions with tax relief, these are known as net pay arrangement and relief at source. The issue is that net pay arrangements sees the lowest paid miss out on the government top up. It affects those individuals who earn at or above the £10,000 needed to trigger auto enrolment but below the personal allowance £12,500.
“Members of pension schemes who do not pay income tax are given a Government top up of 20% (tax relief) on pension contributions up to £2,880 a year, which in practice means a net contribution of £2,880 is topped up to a gross contribution of £3,600. But the problem is that this tax relief is only available where the pension scheme operates relief at source. The large proportion of workplace pension scheme market operates net pay arrangements. So some workers earning £12,499 a year could retire with a pot worth £59,000 while others will end up with £51,000.
“Women are the overwhelming bearers of this injustice as they account for approximately two-thirds of the people impacted. It is impossible to comprehend how any female “levelling up” agenda can be achieved without such a system being updated.”
Plug the gender protection gap, says Gemma Harle, managing director at Quilter
“While things have become more equal, women still shoulder an enormous amount more caring work than their male counterparts. Whether it is caring for elderly relatives or new members of the family, the ONS worked out that women carry out an overall average of 60% more unpaid work than men. This partly feeds into why there is still a significant gender pay gap and ultimately this can translate into women having a harder time securing the same mortgage products as their male counterparts.
“This is well illustrated by the Women’s Budget Group, which estimate that women need over 12 times their annual salaries to be able to buy a home in England, while men need just over eight times.
“Many people often get some form of protection, like critical illness protection or life assurance, from their employer as a workplace benefit. As women are more likely to take career breaks to take on the lion’s share of caring, it can mean that they are left unprotected. If the worst was to happen it can leave a family in a difficult financial position at the worst possible time. Making sure that both the primary carer in a family and the primary earner both have financial protection is very important. Ultimately though, caring responsibilities need to be better shared among the genders so that women are not so heavily relied upon and there is not such a disparity in pay.”
Make financial advice more accessible to women, says Amanda Cassidy, managing director at Quilter
“There is still a significant gap between the number of men and women who receive financial advice. The FCA estimate that only 40% of the UK adult population who took financial advice were female. This can have huge ramifications for someone’s wealth particularly in the current climate when interest rates on cash savings are so low.
“Part of the reason for this is that the advice and investment industry has been dominated by men for so long, and has historically catered predominantly to male consumer needs and failed to grasp that women may have different investment needs, financial goals and relate to finance differently.
“The solution is twofold: the industry needs to better cater for specific female investment and advice requirements and those working within it need to better reflect those who it intends to serve. The advice industry is still heavily populated by male advisers and we need to make sure that there is a steady stream of female advisers joining the profession. Taking advice is a personal and emotive process and it is understandable that women often say that they would prefer to see a female financial adviser.
“The Office for National Statistics claims that by 2025, 65% of the UK’s wealth will be controlled by women and therefore it’s up to the industry to make sure that more women can access the type of advice that they want and make their wealth work as hard as possible for them as soon as possible.”
Reform convoluted child benefit rules that put women’s state pensions at risk, says Rachael Griffin, tax and financial planning expert at Quilter
“Convoluted changes to the child benefit system that has saved the Treasury £1bn annually continues to put tens of thousands of women who are not working, but whose partners earn over the child benefit threshold, at risk of receiving a vastly reduced state pension.
“To receive a full state pension, you need to pay or be credited with 35 years’ worth of National Insurance (NI) contributions. Under the pre-2013 system, mothers automatically received NI credits when they started to receive child benefit payments. Following the introduction of means-tested child benefit, parents who do not qualify for child benefit need to remember to fill in the child benefit claim form (CH2) to retain national insurance credits when caring full time for a child. Each year’s credit is worth £250 a year at state pension age.
“The Government leaves little room for error, only allowing women three month’s worth of NI credits back if they forget to claim. It is unfathomable how the current system means if women fail to fill out a form quickly and they lose valuable money for later on in life.
“This is yet another example of an over-complicated system disproportionately impacting women, who are expected to spend hours trying to understand needlessly intricate benefit rules at one of the most challenging times of their lives when they are likely to be sleep-deprived.
“What’s more, the £50,000 ‘high income’ child benefit threshold hasn’t risen since it was introduced in 2013, meaning that more and more families will have been caught unawares as incomes have increased. In fact given the higher rate threshold will increase to £50,270 in the 2021/22 tax year we are now in an absurd position where basic rate taxpayers will fall into the high income child benefit threshold.
“Getting it wrong could mean they are left without a state pension for up to 12 years as the UK's tax system will not recognise them for national insurance purposes if they do not work or claim child benefit. This needs a common-sense review and at the very least a commitment to fully backdated state pension credits when people sign up late for child benefit.”
Strive for greater board diversity, says Gemma Woodward, responsible investment director at Quilter:
“Great strides have already been made towards greater gender diversity on boards, with the fifth and final report from the Hampton-Alexander Review finding that the number of women on boards of FTSE 350 companies has increased by over 50% in the last five years.
“In 2011, 43% (152) of all FTSE 350 boards didn’t have a single woman present. But in the past decade these board-room dinosaurs have become all but extinct, as now not a single board in the FTSE350 is all-male. This is a fantastic achievement, but we must go much further. Women constitute just over a third of all board-room seats across listed UK businesses, up from a fifth in 2015, so the upper echelons of businesses are still majority male.
“Once more, recent research shows that the vast majority of female company directors occupy non-executive roles rather than executive roles, which tend to come with a much lower level of pay. So while the focus on boards is welcome, attention must be paid to promoting gender diversity in executive positions, as well as in middle management and lower rungs of the business.
“The theme of this international women’s day is #ChooseToChallenge, and it is vital investors use their influence to challenge executives on their efforts to promote greater gender diversity. This is not just a nice to have, but a necessity for investors in a post-Covid world.
“There are a number of studies which show how greater gender diversity, and diversity more generally, improves both business performance and investment returns. More women on boards means more diverse perspectives and experiences, which allows for more effective decisions to be made, and groupthink to be challenged.
“Greater gender diversity also helps drive innovation, and assists companies respond to emerging risks and challenges. Culture is central to achieving this diversity. There must be a culture of open-mindedness with strong leadership to remove the barriers that prevent women rising to the top. This is imperative to retain the top talent that will contribute to the business’ success.”