Before the recent economic crisis, the long-term unemployed were considered to be the group most at risk of poverty. It is now evident that employment is not always enough to escape poverty and achieve social cohesion. Two groups of people “in employment” are also vulnerable; the working poor and low-pension women face a high risk of poverty.
In 2007, a new indicator was introduced to measure the “in-work poverty risk” in the EU. The analysis of data shows that families with children are overrepresented in this category and that especially single-parent families tend to be at the highest risk of in-work poverty in almost all EU states. In 2014, the Presidency of the Council of the EU introduced new indicators for measuring the share of women and men in full-time and part-time work, as well as self-employment. Although adequate data on gender and precarious work is still lacking, there is evidence to suggest that women, who were already overrepresented in certain precarious, undervalued and underpaid “feminised” sectors of employment, are more at risk of “in-work poverty” than men. This is mainly because feminised forms of employment, such as cleaning, domestic work, or care work are not fully recognised as proper paid work, as they are closely connected to women’s unpaid housework.
Women’s retirement benefits are 39% lower than those of men. This is almost twice the size of the gender pay gap. This reflects the “penalisation” of women’s interrupted working lives, compounding already-existing inequalities in the labour market. In countries where the social security and pension regimes are dependent on wage-based social contributions, women’s pensions reflect their shorter careers, their (often) derived rights as housewives, and the gender gaps in pay due to horizontal and vertical gendered job segregation. In countries in economic crisis (like Greece), despite severe cuts in pensions some pensioners are in the position of using their incomes to secure the survival of families, as unemployment is extremely high in the young generation. This has reversed the emphasis within poverty from the elderly to the young generation.
At a recent workshop organised by the Women’s Rights Committee of the European Parliament for the EU strategy on gender equality post 2015, the restructuring of the pension schemes was highlighted as a very important tool for working toward gender equality. More specifically, it is argued that two past reforms have increased the gender gap in pensions:
Firstly, the switch in emphasis from public (‘first pillar’) pensions to occupational (‘second pillar’) pensions: the overall effect tends to tighten the link between contributions and benefits (so called ‘the privatisation of risk’). Secondly, the emphasis on working longer; although its rationale is unassailable, there may be hidden side effects in the medium term leading to lower pensions for those who do not respond to the incentives.