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Living together still pension sin

Ministers loath to give teachers' partners the rights they gave themselves. Jon Slater reports

MINISTERS are considering giving partners of unmarried teachers pension rights, but they want them to foot the bill, it emerged this week.

A Bill introduced by the Labour MP for Stalybridge and Hyde would force all councils, schools and other public-sector employers to give unmarried staff the chance to contribute towards survivor benefits which would entitle their partner to a pension after their death.

Teachers are among the three-quarters of public-sector workers whose pension scheme gives nothing to unmarried partners in the event of their death, a situation MP James Purnell told the Commons is a "complete injustice".

The Bill is due to be debated again on March 7. It will need government backing to become law. Although that is seen as unlikely, a spokeswoman for the Department for Education and Skills confirmed that changes to the teachers' pension scheme are under consideration.

"The department has stated that it has no objection in principle to the provision of unmarried partners' pensions if that is what the membership wants and provided that the cost of introducing them is borne by members."

Unmarried partners of teachers who die can face a substantial loss of income.

A deputy head of a middle school in Kent who has been living with her female partner for 24 years said: "If I dropped dead on the day that I retire my partner would lose a lump sum of pound;45,000 to pound;48,000 and about pound;16,000 per year. It makes me rather bitter. I have been with my partner for longer than most people have been married.

"When I made colleagues aware of it they were extremely surprised, particularly the heterosexual ones, and extremely angry."

MPs last year voted in favour of giving their unmarried partners pension rights which are already granted to married couples.

"This issue was brought to my attention following the tragic death of a constituent whose partner was refused a pension despite having two children with him - simply because they were not married," Mr Purnell said.

He said that extending pension rights to unmarried couples could encourage people to work in the public sector. Ninety-one per cent of those who work in the private sector can contribute to survivor benefits.

Last year, a parliamentary petition calling for greater pension rights for unmarried couples was signed by more than 200 MPs of all parties.

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