LECTURERS are calling for an end to discrimination against unmarried couples in their government-run pension scheme which is causing misery for thousands of people.
They want a change in the rules that mean unmarried partners of are not entitled to the pension rights enjoyed by spouses.
Among the worst hit are lesbians and gay men whose partners are not accepted under current pension scheme rules, according to lecturers' union NATFHE and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.
The call follows the relaunch of a TUC campaign to persuade the Government to change the rules of several public sector schemes covering more than 3.1 million employees, including the Darlington-based teachers' scheme.
Of those, more than 200,000 are thought to be people in unmarried relationships including many "common law" spouses.
The unions say the schemes have failed to keep up with best practice in the private sector and the ban has brought hardship to thousands, many of whom did not realise they had no entitlement.
Susan Johnson, head of pensions at the ATL and a member of the government working group examining the future of the superannuation scheme, said: "We come across some very tragic cases where people in long-standing relationships, sometimes with children, find that because they were not married they will not receive any pension.
"It's disgraceful that partners in unmarried relationships cannot get the same pensions as widows or widowers. People in identical situations, apart from the fact they they have not gone through a wedding ceremony, are being discriminated against and some of them are being left in dire financial straits," she said.
The unions say the cost would be less than 1 per cent of salaries to be added to the teachers' pension fund. But the Government, already committed to the potentially expensive scheme to create stakeholder pensions for about five million employees who do not belong to occupational schemes, is likely to resist any extra spending.
Proposals for stakeholder pensions are due to be unveiled at the end of a wide-ranging review later this year.
The TUC first launched its "For richer, for poorer" campaign three years ago but believes it may have a better chance of winning its demands under Labour, which is less disapproving of non-married relationships.
The anomaly affects six schemes covering local government, the NHS, teachers and college lecturers, the civil service, police and fire service.
Ann Cotterrell, assistant secretary at NATFHE, said: "Our members feel very strongly that this is an outdated rule and that pensions ought to take account of the way people live now."
A Department for Education and Employment spokesperson said: "There are significant potential public expenditure costs arising from the extension of dependency benefits and these need to be considered in their full context before Government policy can be properly determined."
Personal finance, Friday,page 29