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The Material Reality of Sex

"The single most important cause of inequality and financial disadvantage for women is our unpaid work as mothers and carers."

Feisty Women is a Dundee-based charity addressing the important issue of equality and economic justice for women over the age of 60. The voice of older women is often absent from national debates about discrimination and inequality. Not any more.

Feisty Women offers new theories about the causes of sex discrimination, based on the reality of women’s lives, ground-up. Modern-day theories of discrimination based on complicated ideas about gender rather than the material reality of sex are prohibiting solutions that fit the problem. We know this because there is a wealth of data that shows inequalities for girls and women in Scotland today are stark. This is not in the nation’s interests. A successful, prosperous Scotland demands that we harness the talent, energy and potential of everyone.

Feisty Women believes it is time to get back to basics. The single most important cause of inequality and financial disadvantage for women is our unpaid work as mothers and carers.

Women born in the 1950s were the first generation to experience what economists call the ‘double burden’. Many of us went out to work on a larger scale than ever before but we also shouldered a disproportionate share of domestic work and unpaid caring responsibilities. We were pioneering in our attempts to combine motherhood and a working life. To this day, we are both providers and care-givers. This experiment did not work out well for older women.

Our double burden has resulted in fragmented working lives, poorer paid jobs, part-time jobs, little opportunity to pay into occupational pension schemes, long hours detrimental to the health of many and discrimination in the workplace. The intensity of our paid and unpaid labour has had a damaging impact on our health and economic well-being. Older women are in worse health and are significantly poorer than men the same age. Very little has changed for young women today.

New gender-based theories about discrimination appear to treat pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood as niche, incidental activities. However, young women still shoulder 70% of unpaid caring labour and domestic work. In addition, the Institute of Fiscal Studies reported in 2018 that the pay gap for women increases to 33% in the first 12 years of a child’s life.

In Scotland today there is an emerging grass-roots women’s movement offering new solutions to the problem of inequality for girls and women. These organisations, including Feisty Women, bring fresh insights based on the reality of women’s lives. New knowledge is the lifeblood of innovation. If we keep on applying the same solution type, then equality outcomes for women will not change. More of the same is not going to do.

3 PRIORITIES Feisty Women has three priorities: First, we are testing the effectiveness of equalities legislation by challenging the lawfulness of 2011 changes to the state pension age for women through civil litigation. Our interest is not the restoration of the state pension age for women or transitional arrangements, but damages on the grounds of indirect discrimination.

Our view is that equalities legislation is not fit for purpose. Our experience has shown us there are no straightforward routes through the legal system for women who want to make a complaint about sex discrimination or invoke sex-based exemptions. Details of our legal challenge are given below.

Secondly, we are capturing and disseminating data that illustrates the economic reality of women’s lives. The data that exists is incomplete and tends to be overlooked by policy makers. Inevitably, this impairs fair decision making.

Thirdly, we are designing an education programme, POWERFUL! , for girls to be delivered in schools to help them understand they have economic, social and political agency. The programme will include the management of constructive confrontations, assertiveness training, confidence building, political activism, the nature of discrimination against girls and practical economics. Girls need to know how to protect themselves financially.

Feisty Women’s Legal Challenge

Feisty Women’s legal representatives have worked across areas of law to prepare a brief for our QC Brian Napier requesting an opinion about the potential of securing damages through civil law on the grounds of indirect discrimination in relation to the 2011 Pension Reform Act. Our case has been describes as ‘unique’ and a ‘case of interest’ because, if successful, it will set a new precedent.

The 2011 Pensions Reform Act unexpectedly accelerated the age of state pension entitlement for fifties-born women by two years, contrary to the assurances of the Pensions Act 2007 and in addition to the five-year wait caused by the 1995 Pensions Reform Act. The UK Government asserted this change was necessary to achieve ‘equality for men’.

Feisty Women contends that the true reason for the 2011 increase in the state pension age for women was not high-minded equality principles for men, but a quick-win austerity measure where women were seen as a soft target.

Feisty Women argues that officials at the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) exploited Public Service Equality Duty (PSED) to ‘reverse engineer’ a plausible but false justification of reforms. Analysis contained within the Pensions Act 2011 Summary of Impacts and Annex A Equality Impact Assessment is ‘sex blind’. The underpinning assumption is that there are no differences in the economic participation and life experience of women and men as they approach retirement. This is blatantly not true. A wealth of evidence exists that shows the financial inequalities faced by women over a lifetime. Not surprisingly, the ‘sex blind’ assumption leads to a conclusion that 2011 pension changes were ‘proportionate’ for women.

Feisty Women believes officials at DWP twisted PSED, a mechanism designed to promote equality positively, to discriminate deliberately. A close examination of evidence used by officials at DWP reveals obfuscation, subjective opinion, omission and data that has been cherry-picked. An abundance of evidence exists to prove our argument because the individuals involved did not take enough care (or did not have the experience) to create a water-tight back story.

A Freedom of Information request about the authorship of the Pensions Act 2011 Summary of Impacts and Annex A Equality Impact Assessment made to DWP over several months ago has gone unanswered.

The UK Government minister who approved the acceleration of SPA for women as a ‘fair and reasonable measure’ (Annex A) in 2011 was the Lib Dem, Steve Webb. In 2016, Steve Webb was reported in the national press, saying he had made a ‘bad decision’. He blamed officials at DWP who he says ‘produced a very poor briefing as to the implications of different choices’.

Feisty Women believes that UK Government ministers and officials at DWP knew exactly what they were doing. Women were treated with a casual disregard and were harmed by what we consider to be the unlawful actions of officials at DWP.

In February 2019, Amber Rudd, the former Pensions Minister, said that company bosses who display ‘reckless and wilful behaviour’ and mismanage their employees’ pensions could face up to seven years in prison. Feisty Women endorses this view and believes the principle of ‘reckless and wilful’ mismanagement should also apply to the UK Government and officials at DWP.

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Feisty Women is a registered charity SC049016

c/o Community Regeneration Team, Arthurstone Library, Arthurstone Terrace, Dundee DD4 6RT


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