Pensions - Articles - Government dragging its heels on pensions equality

The Government’s response this week to a landmark court judgment shows that it is ‘dragging its heels’ on pensions equality according to Royal London policy director, Steve Webb.

 On July 4th 2019, the pensions minister, Guy Opperman, finally made a written statement to Parliament (see notes) in response to a decision two years ago by the Supreme Court in a case known as the ‘Walker Judgment’. Mr Walker had taken the Innospec Pension Scheme to court because as a member of a same-sex couple he would not be entitled to the same pension if his partner were to die as a member of an opposite sex couple would receive. This was because the law only gave him entitlement for service since 2005, when Civil Partnerships were created. In July 2017, the Supreme Court found in his favour and, two years later, the Government has agreed to implement the necessary changes for public sector pension schemes. Private sector pension schemes will also be expected to follow the judgment to the extent that they do not already do so.

 However, in a little-noticed second part of the statement, the Minister referred to a wider review of ‘survivor’ benefits in pension schemes. That review was published back in 2014 but the Government has only now responded to it. And it has decided to take no action in response to the inequalities set out in that review. The particular group that will lose out as a result of the government’s continuing inaction will be widowers who will, for many years to come, generally get poorer benefits following the death of their wife than a widow would get following the death of her husband. It is estimated that putting this inequality right would cost public sector pension schemes several billion pounds.

 Commenting, Steve Webb, Director of Policy at Royal London said: ‘When leading politicians can find billions of pounds to spend on their spending priorities, it is deeply disappointing that the money cannot now be found to put right a historic inequality in the pensions system. The report published in 2014 made clear that there remain clear unfairnesses between men and women in pensions, and yet five years later the government still does not think that this issue is worth addressing. A generation of widowers will lose out as a result’.

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