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The number of women saving adequately for later life has reached a 15-year high, but self-employed and low-earning females remain at risk of a poor retirement, according to new analysis.

An annual snapshot of retirement provision, published by pension provider Scottish Widows, found 57 per cent of women were saving enough for retirement — the highest level since the report was first published in 2005.

The increase was largely due to the automatic enrolment policy, which sees eligible workers defaulted into a workplace pension by their employer, who contributes at least 3 per cent of pensionable earnings on their behalf.

However, the government’s efforts to boost workplace saving are not helping millions of self-employed workers in the UK.

Scottish Widows found that fewer than half of self-employed women were saving adequately for retirement, which it defined as setting aside at least 12 per cent of income, or having a “defined benefit” pension to rely on in later life

Its findings echo a separate study this week by Fidelity International which found that 71 per cent of self-employed women had no pension savings at all. For women in employment, this figure dropped to 35 per cent. Nearly three-quarters of women who were not saving anything for retirement said this was because they could not afford to.

In further evidence of the “gender pensions gap”, Scottish Widows found that men were still retiring with around £78,000 more in their pension pots on average than women.

“We’ve come a long way, but 15 years later there’s still an unacceptable gap between men and women,” said Jackie Leiper, distribution director at Scottish Widows.

The studies have been published amid rising pressure on political parties during the election campaign to take action to help bridge the pensions gender gap, particularly for low-earning females.

“The lowest earners need the most help to build up good pensions,” said Baroness Altmann, a former pensions minister.

“Most women earn less and work fewer years than men, leaving them with lower private pensions over their working life.”

Baroness Altmann is calling on the government to address an anomaly in the tax system which sees more than 1m low-paid women miss out on a government top-up on their pension contributions.

Some women who earn below the level of personal allowance — currently £12,500 — have been enrolled into pension schemes by their employer which have no facility to credit a tax top-up on their contributions to which they are entitled.

The People’s Pension, a provider, is also calling for reforms to address pension inequality between the sexes.

This includes lowering the £10,000 earnings threshold at which workers are automatically enrolled into a workplace pension — so more women participate in company retirement schemes — and “future proofing” the policy of granting 30 hours free childcare per week to parents of three and four-year-old children.

“Tweaks to auto-enrolment policy will help reduce this gap but if we’re going to really tackle gender pensions inequality, we need to look at the motherhood penalty women face when they have children,” said Gregg McClymont, director of policy with the People’s Pension.

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