Divorced women face pension poverty

30 January 2004
The plight of thousands of divorced women when they reach retirement age has been highlighted by new government figures.

Data from the Office for National Statistics, in its annual report on social trends, showed that 40 per cent of divorced women over 65 were poor enough to qualify for income support from the state, compared with just one per cent of married women and 23 per cent of divorced men in the same age group.

The ONS figures showed average earnings of divorced women over 65 in Britain were £92 a week in 2001/2, compared with £112 for widows and £227 for married couples.

Many divorced women have spent time caring for children and return to work too late to build up a sufficient pension pot by the time they reach 65.

Few women gained any share in their husband's pension as part of a divorce settlement, the ONS reported, leaving them worse off than married or widowed women. Only a third of divorced women had any private pension, the study found.

Jay Ginn, co-author of the report, said: "Divorced women who have had children are at the bottom of the pile."

The value of the basic state pension has been steadily falling, forcing more women to rely on income support and the report predicts that the number of divorced women on income support will increase from about 250,000 in 2001 to at least 750,000 in 2021.

The report also showed an increasing gap between the richest and poorest pensioners. The earnings of those in the top fifth of income brackets have increased by 80 per cent since 1979, while those in the poorest fifth have gone up by just 34 per cent.