Sex and pensions do not comfortable bedfellows make, but I feel I must write something about this. While most of the current talk on UK pensions is about increased contributions and longer working lives, there is an actual scandal passing by barely reported.While I’m not a central pillar in the UK’s feminist movement I am afraid of my wife, take a passing interest in her welfare and am forced to accept that equality between the sexes is probably, ultimately, at the end of the day, when all is said and done, not an outright evil.So I’m glad that I don’t live in a country where women are openly and explicitly paid less for a job because they have the misfortune of being born without a penis.
Except that is exactly what is happening and today it’s been held up. In court. By judges.
Talk of lower average salaries, glass ceilings and old boys networks are commonplace, but compared to today’s high court ruling they should be counted pure joy.
Here’s the rub as press released by the British Medical Association today: “The High Court has found against the BMA’s judicial review of NHS pension scheme rules which deny the widowers of female staff the same rights as the widows of male staff. Currently service accrued by female NHS workers before April 6 1988 does not count towards the pension entitlements of their widowers. The BMA’s legal team was acting on behalf of Iain Cockburn, the widower of a female doctor.”
So, in layman’s terms, if you are a man-doctor and you die, your wife is entitled to your full pension. If you are a lady-doctor and you die, your husband is not entitled to your full pension. It’s that simple.
It is hard to think of a more cut and dry case of sexual discrimination anywhere. Indeed, it’s hard to even dream one up. And because it’s dependent on whether you qualified post 1988 it’s basically age discrimination to boot. If we accept that pensions are effectively delayed pay (because, well, they are), we are paying female doctors less because they are female.
I’ll just repeat that. We are paying female doctors less because they are female. In 2011. In the UK. And the courts are okay with that.
But here’s a slightly uncomfortable twist. The Hon Mr Justice Supperstone said in his ruling: “The main concern expressed was that this would amount to “charging” current Scheme members more for an improvement that could only benefit past Scheme members.”
Yes dear doctor, the reason that this outright misogyny continues is to protect your own pension contributions. If you are currently disgruntled by the prospect of increasing contributions over the next few years, spare a thought for some of those losing £8,000 – £10,000 a year from their pensions for having the audacity to be born a woman.
Edward Davies is editor, BMJ Careers