And that’s the problem.
In a brutally honest moment, I ask myself. If I was interviewing for a job and a candidate told me that she was trying to start a family and may want time off to have a baby in 12 months time, however enlightened I might be, however hard I might try to safeguard that person’s rights, however well qualified for the role she might be.. would I offer her the job to the exclusion of all other factors? Similarly, if a candidate told me that he/she was married to a serviceman or woman who would be moving on in a year or two anyway.. I have to ask myself, reluctantly, would they be suitable for the job?
It annoys me, it is unfair. Don’t shoot me, I am trying to be honest. I have to balance the needs of the company and other employees with the need to do the right thing for the candidate. Invariably, like life, the answer isn’t clear cut.
I often reflect on this, ruefully. Separation and dislocation from ‘normal’ society, the upheaval of relentless postings, career breaks, caring for children who need to have (usually) dad’s extended sunny and sandy absences explained, the removal of child benefit tax breaks for anyone in a household where someone earns over £50,000, supporting someone who is worked until he wants to drop (I have seen just how hard servicemen and women are worked these days – no longer the carefree tours in Germany that I remember!), supporting a husband’s career and a tendency to relegate their own financial well-being to the bottom of the list. All these reasons, and more, mean that many military spouses are failing to earn decent wages and subsequently, save enough for retirement.
This and last year’s Scottish Widows annual UK pension report revealed problems. Fewer than 40% of women aged 30 to 50 are making adequate pension provision and I suspect that within military married patches, the number is lower, far lower than that. I base that on my personal and professional experience.
The public sector pay freeze and uncertain economic conditions are making things worse, but the tendency is to cut back on things that aren’t a necessity, and women cut back on pension contributions. Women are more inclined to cut back on their own needs (I remember that my mum would have smaller meals to ensure that we all ate well). Women usually put the family first, and it is easier to cut back on their own needs than it is to question those of their children. Women nurture, they care at home whilst men go out and bring home food for the pot.
But women have clout too.. and not just when the other half returns from a beer call or dining in night a little worse for wear. As I ventured the other day, they control the budget in the majority of households; Bright Grey research put the figure of women who are domestic Chancellors of the Exchequer as high as 71%. They usually put right the broken light bulbs and call in Work Services whenever there is something wrong with the house.
My clients’ wives are invariably articulate, educated to Degree standard, very bright, independently minded and savvy. They are also more likely to see their husband’s pension as a necessity.. but not their own. Which is crazy – women tend to live longer than men, so they need to make adequate provision. They are also more likely to be caring for those around them as they get older too. Paying into a pension is particularly important as they will not have as much time in employment to pay into one.
Another reason that a woman’s pension may be put on a back-burner is due to the career breaks she takes while having children – and having a child puts financial pressure on women as their income drops to maternity pay levels. When mum does go back to work she typically works part-time or flexible hours, which can reduce the amount available to pay into a pension.
Restarting saving when you restart work is vital before you get too used to the increased income and become to reward all those hard years and are less inclined to save. If you leave it for a year or so, it is much harder to start saving again and your pension will be affected. And in 10 years’ time you will be reading a blog about how you have not saved enough because you focused on your kids, the new plasma TV and didn’t save enough.
I am not a new man, I am not fluffy and ‘right on’ so please don’t think I am trying to ingratiate myself with a largely female audience. I can make scathing remarks about political correctness with the rest and the best of them. During my career of over 20 years though, I saw a lot of unfairness but never realised it; these days, we’d call it discrimination.
In my defence m’lud, I am (I am pretty sure in saying this) the only Independent Financial Adviser in the UK who was accredited to the National Association of Pension Funds, the Pensions Advisory Service and the Financial Service Authority’s voluntary community programmes so I like to think I do put my money where my mouth is. My job is about making money for my clients (and for me, lets be honest) but at least lets start from a level playing field. Military spouses and partners (men AND women) do get a bum deal and it wrankles.
I reflect too, that my opening paragraphs may have meant that in other circumstances, I may have been as much a part of the problem as I would like to have been, the solution. Thankfully, I have never been put in that position but I like to think I would do the right thing. In fact, I know I would.
Anyway, ask questions below if you like, please share this with your mates and friends, and you can also find me on LinkedIn here.
‘ bye for now.
Image used with the kind permission of the MoD image library.