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18 Dec 2021

Millions of workers missed out on workplace pensions - here's how you can boost yours

Women have faced the biggest pension savings impact from the pandemic
A white female pensioner checking her records

Millions of people are missing out on workplace pension savings due to the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

A new report by pension provider Now Pensions found that 2.8 million people were missing out on a workplace pension, up from 2.5 million in 2020.

The groups of people most impacted include women, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, carers, and single parents.

Here Which? take a look at why each group may be missing out on pension savings and provides tips on boosting your pot.

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Why are these groups missing out?

Since 2012 employers have had to enroll their staff into workplace pension schemes as part of a government initiative to get people to save more for retirement.

The minimum total contribution under auto-enrolment is 8%. The employee pays 5% of this and the employer must pay the remaining 3%.

You need to be at least 22, below the state pension age, work in the UK and earn more than £10,000 a year to qualify for auto-enrolment.

However, Now Pensions said auto-enrolment is not suited to help employees who take significant career breaks, work in multiple and or part-time jobs or frequently move between jobs.

The under-pensioned groups are much more likely to be ineligible for auto-enrolment and this widens the pension and savings gap.

According to the report, the proportion of under-pensioned groups that were ineligible for auto-enrolment during 2020 included:

  • Women - 22%
  • Women with disabilities - 29%
  • Ethnic minorities - 17%
  • Men with disabilities - 11%

One in five women do not qualify

Almost one in five employed women (2.2 million) earn below £10,000 which means they do not meet the threshold for auto-enrolment.

The report, 'Pandemics and Pension Inequality' found that the impact of repeated lockdowns, homeschooling and increased domestic responsibilities affected women's ability to work and save.

It said the downturn of sectors such as retail and hospitality during the pandemic has been particularly hard for women as they disproportionately work in lower-paid, part-time roles.

The report also found more women were furloughed - 2.3 million during the third lockdown.

Women also bear the brunt of non-paid care work. According to the UK charity Pregnant Then Screwed, 25% of working mothers use annual leave to manage care duties, 18% reduced their hours and 7% took unpaid leave.

Ethnic minority groups disproportionately affected

The report highlighted that figures show unemployment rose from 8.9% to 10% among Black, African, Caribbean, and Black British people during the first few months of 2020 and the second quarter of 2021.

Ethnic minority employees saw a 14.2% fall in income between February and July 2020 compared to just 5.1% for white employees.

As a result of falling income and job losses, 11% of ethnic minority groups used their savings to cover loan repayments compared to just 5% of white consumers.

Time spent not working disrupts pension contributions and will likely lead to poorer retirement outcomes.

The disability employment gap is vast

The report also highlighted that the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows there are more than 14 million disabled people in the UK and the employment rate is 53.7% compared with 82% for non-disabled people.

This group was more likely to work in pandemic-hit industries or face redundancy. Of those made redundant in 2020, 51% have a disability or long-term health condition, according to Citizens Advice.

On top of unemployment, more than half of these individuals are spending more on household bills and utilities than before the pandemic.

However, there has been a small rise in the number of people with disabilities in full-time employment since the recovery started. This is because being able to work from home has improved accessibility for some kinds of jobs.

Financial pressures for carers and single parents

Similar levels of men (4%) and women (5%) reduced their working hours to care for children or other dependents or stopped working to become full-time carers between March and October 2020.

However according to the FCA, among single parents almost double (9%) were forced to cut their hours or stop working to care for children or others.

The cost of childcare was also flagged as a 'significant issue' with three in 10 saying they had to pay more for this during the pandemic.

Self-employed and people with multiple jobs

Self-employed people already made lower pension contributions than average due to their exclusion from auto-enrolment.

The report found almost one in three self-employed people and one-in-five part-time employees are working fewer hours since the pandemic. This is contrast to just 13% of people in full employment.

And almost seven in 10 self-employed people do not contribute to a pension at all.

Self-employed people were vulnerable during the pandemic as they were not able to access the furlough scheme and it took longer for the Self Employment Income Support Scheme to be put into place.

People with multiple jobs who earn more than half of their income in employment and the rest in self-employment were also not eligible for this scheme.

What can be done to close the gap?

Now Pensions would like to see the £10,000 auto-enrolment threshold removed to get more people into a workplace pension.

It would also like to see auto-enrolment into a pension scheme from the first £1 of earnings.

Pension contributions for auto-enrolment are only taken after the qualifying earnings sum of £6,240 has been deducted. Therefore an employee earning just over the £10,000 threshold will only pay their 5% contribution on the remaining £3,760.

Now Pensions says if both these policies were introduced, then a further 2.8 million people would increase their pension wealth by an average of 52%.

In response, the Department for Work and Pensions told Which?: 'Helping women save for retirement remains a government priority, including throughout the pandemic.

'Thanks to automatic enrolment the latest figures show the number of women who benefit from a workplace pension is equal to the number of men.'

It also said its 2017 review of automatic enrolment committed to enhancing the scheme with measures including reducing the age to 18 and removing the lower earnings limit.

MP for pensions Guy Opperman said in September earlier this year that these measures are due to be implemented during the 'mid-20s'.

How to boost your pension savings

There are some simple steps you can take to give help improve your pension savings.

Track down lost pots

If you've lost track of a pension from a previous job, you can use the government's Pension Tracking Service, which has a register of all workplace schemes.

This will give you the name and contact details of the provider of your employer's scheme so you can contact them directly.

Claim National Insurance credits for the state pension

If you are out of work you stop paying National Insurance which counts towards your entitlement to the state pension.

To get the full, new state pension you need at least 35 years of National Insurance Contributions.

So check if you are able to claim National Insurance credits for when you're not paying National Insurance.

Credits can help to fill gaps in your National Insurance record, to ensure you qualify for the state pension.

Try saving into a lifetime Isa

If your earnings or way of working means you don't qualify for auto-enrolment but you have money to save you could try a lifetime Isa.

The lifetime Isa is a tax-free savings or investments account designed to help those aged 18-39 to buy their first home or save for retirement.

For every £4 you save, the government will add £1 up to a maximum of £1,000 every tax year until you turn 50 years old.

Just bear in mind that you won't be able to access this cash until you are over 60 (unless you are buying your first home).

Get free pension advice

You can get free, impartial guidance from the Pensions Advice Service.

You can contact the Pensions Advisory Service on 0800 011 3797 or visit its website.