I presented a paper last week at the Child and Family Law Quarterly Seminar, entitled ‘UK Pension Reform: Implications for Family Law’. It meant looking up the latest stats, as well as collating some of our research on poverty in later life, and thinking about where we have got to on this issue, which affects men and women differently.
We have known for at least ten years that divorced older women are on average the poorest of women including widows, and much poorer than divorced older men. Poverty in old age is linked to poor health, poor housing, social isolation and low quality of life. Divorce, especially after the age of 45, significantly increases the risk that a woman will end up in poverty. Almost half of divorced older women over 65 live on incomes below the poverty line, and only one in five has sufficient private pension income to keep them out of poverty without additional income from the state.
Further to all that, the environment for women’s employment and income is currently very bleak indeed as 72% of cuts are expected to fall on women, and cuts to services mean that women have to take on more caring work. The severe cuts to legal aid affect divorcing women very badly, and their access to high quality advice and representation about these complex issues is limited. In addition this highlights how very important it is to introduce the proposed single-tier state pension, which would be payable to all older people as an entitlement. This would have an important impact on the poverty of divorced older women who live alone.
My feeling is that not enough use is made of pension sharing orders, and not enough consideration given in research or practice to the long term financial consequences of divorce, especially for women who may struggle financially and in employment, as single mothers, for long stretches in their lives.