More of us now save for our old age but there is still a big gender gap
Women are still twice as likely as men to end their working lives with no private pension despite a decade of attempts to close the gap, a new study reveals.
Almost 1 in 5 women who retire this year will have no private pot — double the proportion of men, according to the report by Prudential, provided exclusively to Money.
The good news is that more of us — both men and women — are saving for later life, reflecting some success for drives by the government and employers to encourage people to save.
In 2008, 23% of people retiring had no private pension savings. This has dropped to just 14% in 2017.
However, the figures reveal the disparity between the sexes continues. For women the proportion is down from 32% to 19%; for men it has fallen from 17% to 9%.
Maike Currie, investment director for personal investing at Fidelity International, attributes the discrepancy in part to the fact that women, on average, still earn less than men.
“If you factor in that many women are still the primary caregivers, taking a career break to raise children or care for an ill or elderly relative, women inevitably end up with less money to save into a pension, leaving a glaring pension gap between the sexes,” said Currie.
Attitudes to pensions have changed over the decade, with new rules providing for greater flexibility in using retirement savings. Since April 2015, under “pension freedom” rules, people have been able to withdraw their pots from the age of 55 to spend or invest as they wish. Previously pension pots had to be used to buy annuities providing an income for life — often poor-value deals.
But many, particularly women, still leave saving much later than they should.
Midori Abraham, 39, from Althorne, Essex, began saving into a pension only this March — despite working in financial services. She admits she has “a lot of catching up to do. It’s frightening to see how little you can end up with. If I had started saving in my twenties, putting aside even half what I am now would have made a huge difference.”
Say you invest £100 a month in a pension growing by 6% a year after charges. If you start aged 25, the fund will be worth £200,145 by the time you are 65, calculates the adviser Chase de Vere. Start a decade later and the fund will be worth £100,954.
More of us are also likely to save into pensions under the auto-enrolment scheme that requires employers to provide and pay into a pension for their staff, who are automatically signed up unless they opt out. The rollout began with big companies in 2012 and will include all employers by next February.
The scheme is open to workers from the age of 22 up to state pension age who earn at least £10,000 a year. About 8.5m workers have joined a workplace pension as a result of auto-enrolment, according to the Pensions Regulator.
While changing pension rules have improved the image of retirement savings since the 2007-8 financial crisis, there are concerns that some people are making poor decisions about their savings or becoming victims of fraud.
Last week, MPs launched a wide-ranging inquiry into the impact of pension freedoms. “It is vital that adequate support ensures people are equipped to ensure they don’t make decisions they subsequently regret,” said Frank Field, chairman of the work and pensions committee.
Prudential interviewed 1,000 people every year over a decade about their attitude to pensions. Results show incomes for new retirees have struggled to recover from sharp falls immediately after the financial crisis.
Those retiring in 2008 expected to live on £18,700 a year — a figure that slid to £17,800 in 2009 and continued to fall to £15,300 in 2013. There has been some recovery since then, but 2017 retirees still expect to live on £18,100 a year — £600 short of those retiring 10 years ago.
Prudential’s research also highlights the steady decline in the number of people leaving work with a “gold-plated” final salary pension. In 2008, more than half (52%) of new retirees received most of their income from a final salary scheme; now that has fallen to 42%.
Vince Smith-Hughes, a retirement income expert at Prudential, said: “Since 2008 we have seen a continued shift in the responsibility for retirement provision away from government and employers and on to the individual.
“For most people looking to provide for as comfortable a retirement as possible, the best approach remains the same now as it was back in 2008: save as much as possible into a pension as early as possible in your working life.”
How to maximise your pension
There are three main sources of pension income: the state pension, a workplace pension and a private pension.
Your income from a state pension will depend on the number of national insurance (NI) contributions (or credits) you clock up in your career.
Under the new single-tier state pension system, you need a minimum of 10 years of Nics to qualify for any state pension benefit and 35 years of credits to qualify for a full basic state pension. The full state pension is currently worth £159.55 a week.
It is important to check your NI record, particularly if you have taken a career break, to see if there are any gaps that need to be plugged. You can do this by visiting www.gov.uk/check-national-insurance-record.
Most employees now have a workplace pension that benefits from employer contributions. In some cases the employer will match — or beat — any contributions you make.
Currie of Fidelity said: “If your employer contributes to your pension, they must continue to do so while you are receiving statutory maternity pay — that’s up to 39 weeks and possibly longer if your employer offers it as part of your contract.”
Deciding how much money to put into a pension will depend on the kind of lifestyle you want to enjoy, your age now, when you started saving and how much you earn.
As a rule of thumb, you should aim to save a total of 12.5% of your gross salary into a retirement scheme, according to the pensions giant Aviva. This includes both your own and your employer’s contribution, as well as tax relief.
Aviva also suggests a 40-year rule — begin saving at least four decades before your target retirement date.
Make sure your pension is not too expensive. Charges levied by providers can have a devastating impact on your retirement pot.
Say you started investing £100 at the age of 25 and the investment grew by 6% a year. By the age of 65, your pot would be worth £200,145 if charges were set at 1% a year. But with charges of 2%, this would fall to £153,238, according to Chase de Vere.