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Survivor Benefits Review: TUC Submission

Issue date


Trade unions have pressed for equalisation of survivor benefits for decades. Successive governments have recognised that discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation is wrong and have legislated to stop it occurring. But by failing to fully backdate the entitlement to equal survivor pensions such discrimination will continue for some individuals for decades to come. This small group of individuals should not continue to suffer and bear the costs of discrimination which society now judges to be wrong. 

The costs of backdating are presented as the main barrier to equalisation. However, the costs are small when put into context – i.e. as a proportion of the overall liabilities of occupational pension schemes and when spread over the decades they will be paid out. They will also diminish quite rapidly as the group affected by this discrimination shrinks.

Many pension schemes, especially those in the private sector, already provide full equality in survivor pensions, counting all periods of accrual for widows, widowers and same-sex partners. Schemes have made savings over the years as marriage rates have declined and fewer members leave a surviving spouse. In most cases these savings have easily offset the costs of extending and backdating accrual of survivor pensions to other dependants. 

The Equality and Human Rights Commission, our national human rights institution and the body responsible for making recommendations to government on the equality enactments, has supported the most recent call for full equalisation. In its position paper on the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act it stated: “In the Commission’s view, the government should take this opportunity to equalise pension provision for same-sex married couples, civil partners and widowers with the benefits enjoyed by widows.”

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