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Women’s Enterprise Scotland (WES) has warned of a ‘pensions time bomb’ amongst the nation’s women business leaders.

A survey of women-owned and women-led businesses in Scotland conducted by WES revealed that 60% were not paying into a pension and 40% of those not paying had no pension provision at all. The lack of pension provision was greatest for women operating as sole traders, with 46% having made no provision for a pension at all, which is higher than the 35% of the whole adult population who say they don’t have a pension[1].

The pay figures from the WES survey showed that 53% of respondents were paying themselves a salary of £15,000 or less and 12% were getting a salary of £30,000 or less.

Carolyn Currie, Chief Executive of Women’s Enterprise Scotland, said: “There’s no shortage of ambition amongst Scotland’s women business owners but access to finance continues to be an issue. This lack of access to capital could potentially be hampering both business growth and the ability of women business owners to pay into a pension, creating a time bomb of pensions poverty which needs urgently addressed.”

The gender pay gap in enterprise is complex, with similar issues to the mainstream labour market, including occupational segregation, under-employment and the under-capitalisation of work done by women. 90% of women-owned businesses who responded to the survey said they wanted to grow their business but 48% said access to finance was a challenge. 65% of those surveyed had used their own savings to support the business which may be limiting their ability to save for a pension.

Jamie Jenkins, Head of Global Savings Policy at Standard Life Aberdeen, said: “Automatic enrolment has ensured millions more women are saving into a workplace pension with the benefit of an employer contribution. However, there is still much to be done and work is ongoing to try and find a way of extending this success to the self-employed. This research further demonstrates the need to make progress in this area quickly.”

Currie concluded: “The gender pension gap in the UK is hugely troubling and cannot be ignored. Women-owned businesses could benefit from needs-based, gender specific business support, along with changes at a policy level to tackle issues such as pension provision during time away from work to meet caring commitments. Targeted action is required to ensure that whether in paid employment or running a business, women have the pensions provision in place that they need to avoid facing poverty in old age.”


Notes to Editors

  • Women’s Enterprise Scotland (WES) works to create an entrepreneurial environment where women-led businesses can flourish. WES collaborates with other business support organisations to help close the gender gap in enterprise.

  • Women’s Enterprise Scotland (WES) conducts a survey of women-owned and women-led businesses in Scotland every two years. The survey is also distributed by partners across the enterprise eco-system.

  • The Women’s Enterprise Scotland (WES) survey research was conducted from June – July 2019. A total of 196 survey responses were received.

  • Women-owned businesses in Scotland contribute £8.8bn into the economy every year and have created over 230,000 jobs.

  • Scotland’s women-owned businesses contribute more GVA than Sustainable Tourism (£3.9bn), Food & Drink (£4.1bn) and Creative Industries (£4.4bn).[2]

  • A recent report by the British Business Bank and the British Venture Capital Association revealed that less than 1p in every £1 of venture capital goes to female-led businesses.[3]

  • WES is a member of the T20, the think tank and “ideas bank” of the G20 and participated in the T20 Summit in Tokyo in 2019 and in Buenos Aires in 2018.

  • Standard Life Aberdeen supported the Women’s Economic Empowerment Conference in November 2019, hosted by Women’s Enterprise Scotland at RBS Gogarburn in Edinburgh

[1] Pension Statistics, OnePoll (2018)

[2] Growth Sector Statistics Database, Scottish Government July 2019

[3] UK VC and Female Founders British Business Bank. In collaboration with Diversity VC & BVCA (2019)




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