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Women’s safety nets are falling away

Emerging Insight #:


Date of Release:

  June 3, 2020




  Feminist Finance Podcast

Helen White argues that women face increasing financial risks in the UK

The risks to women’s financial security in the UK are growing. Traditional safety nets are falling away, while the biases and inequalities that hold women back from establishing financial independence are not shifting quickly enough.

Helen White joined the Feminist Finance Podcast to explain this double bind, and how financial institutions, including insurers, can be do more.

Helen previously led the UK’s financial capability strategy at the Money Advice Service and supported the Insuring Women's Futures programme at the Chartered Insurance Institute, which examined the financial risks women face throughout their lives.

Women are still expected to do the vast majority of care for children and for elder family members, and to take time away from work to make that possible, a pressure that is still not applied to men. This has enormous impacts on women's ability to build their independent financial resilience. It severely impacts the pension savings women build throughout their lives, with women in the UK retiring with a fifth of the pension pot of men, as well as their ability to pay back debts, resulting in women in the UK typically taking up to ten years longer than men to pay off student debt.

While traditional expectations and care responsibilities hold women back, traditional safety nets are falling away for women. Relationship breakdown and separation is increasingly common, and more couples live together without getting married. Currently, this leaves women with no financial rights to a partner's pension, even if they have taken years out of employment to look after their children. At the same time, state support for women has also been weakened in recent years. Such risks build up throughout women’s lives, meaning that many find themselves in severe financial difficulties, even poverty, in older age.

Insurers can do more to adapt to the realities of modern relationships and better support women throughout their lives. Helen explained how insurers frequently work on the basis of outdated assumptions, like the assumption that people will live in a couple and remain together. These assumptions penalize women and increase their financial vulnerability.

Helen shared the example of car insurance. Car insurance in the UK is typically only taken out with one principle policy holder, most often a man. When couples separate, women typically have to build up their history with the insurer from scratch and face significantly higher premiums.

Such outdated assumptions around families and relationships come partly from a woeful lack of diversity in the industry’s leadership. As Helen argues, the sector must commit to representing the society they seek to serve and reflecting the realities of modern life.

The full interview and other episodes are available at