Most self-employed women are not saving enough for retirement and remain at risk of running out of money after they finish work, according to Scottish Widows analysis.

While auto-enrolment had raised pension participation rates among female workers, the report found only 46% of the self-employed were able to save the recommended minimum.

There is currently an all-time high of 1.7m self-employed women in the UK.

This year’s Scottish Widows Women & Retirement Report released today (13 November) also showed low earners were particularly at risk of not saving adequately – defined as having a defined contribution (DC) pensions plan or setting aside at least 12% of income.

It also found more than a third (37%) of women defined as ‘lower-middle earning’ have opted out of a workplace pension citing ‘other financial commitments’. These included supermarket, call centre, nursery and care home workers.

More than half (55%) of women surveyed felt they were not adequately preparing for retirement while four in ten said they were unaware of how much they are saving.

However, overall the analysis showed 57% of women were saving enough money for retirement – the highest level since Scottish Widows report was first published in 2005. The provider said the improvement was largely thanks to the success of auto-enrolment (AE).

Women are being urged to save more which has seen contributions to pension pots rise 14.6% since 2004, outstripping male contribution rates (8%) for the same period. Men are still benefitting from an additional £78,000 in pension savings by retirement age however, due to the gender pay gap.

Scottish Widows distribution director Jackie Leiper said the “unacceptable gap between men and women” is still not enough progress for equality in savings.

She added: “The groups who are often overlooked need more support to overcome the challenges they face in saving for the future.”

Leiper has called for a “series of reforms” to allow for a “more tailored” approach to saving including increased default savings levels, improving the scope of AE, and managed access to pensions savings to purchase property.

The People’s Pension director of policy Gregg McClymont agreed that a measure to change AE policy would help close the savings gap.

He said: “These findings are further evidence of a stark and worrying gender pensions gap; tweaks to the AE policy will help to reduce it.

“We’re calling on the next government to introduce a package of measures to address this inequality. It must recognise that caring is an economic activity which should attract workplace pension contributions; lower the threshold at which AE kicks into the National Insurance trigger to bring in nearly half a million new pensions savers – three-quarters of whom would be women.”

This follows findings from peer-to-peer lending platform Blend yesterday (12 November) that showed 32% of women list safety as their main priority when investing and inherently choose less risky options for building their savings.

The research also found women are more interested in exploring alternative finance options and are ‘better’ investors than men in the long term, outperforming them by an average of 1.8% over a three-year period.

This article originally appeared on Professional Adviser on 13 November 2019.