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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 November, 2003, 17:11 GMT
EU targets insurance equality
The EU wants to stamp out "sexist" insurance
Plans to end discrimination in insurance premiums between men and women have been unveiled by the European Commission.

The proposals would mean an end to the practice where statistical differences between the sexes are applied to insurance rates.

The move has sparked uproar in the European insurance industry, but the Commission has insisted it is merely an extension of existing sex discrimination laws currently applied only to the workplace.

Anna Diamantopoulou, EU Commissioner for Social Affairs, said: "This is a groundbreaking proposal calling for gender solidarity in European society."

Women generally pay higher premiums for pensions and annuities while men pay more for life insurance.

Differences for various forms of insurance rest on factors such as life expectancy, driving records and other basic factors.

Higher charges

The Commission said: "Women are often charged higher premia on the grounds that there is a likelihood that they will become pregnant and give birth, with associated cost implications."

Women also get lower incomes from their pension savings when they get an annuity - insurers say this is because the same pot of pension money has to last longer, so it is spread more thinly over more years.

We can set prices fairly on the basis of genuine risk, which benefits all our customers
Mary Francis, ABI
But Ms Diamantopoulou insisted that other factors, including lifestyle, were responsible for the differences.

A statement from the Commission added: "There are a number of factors not linked to sex that are equally important in establishing life expectancy, such as socio-economic or marital status, the region a person lives in or levels of smoking.

"When these factors are removed from the equation, differences in life expectancy on purely gender grounds are much less than stated."

Insurers had argued that differences in charges between the sexes were based on actuarial statistics - or insurance risk and cost calculations.

'Perverse' proposals

The UK's Association of British Insurers denounced the move saying: "This piece of EU legislation will do no one any good."

Director general Mary Francis added: "We can set prices fairly on the basis of genuine risk, which benefits all our customers."

She added that the plans, which aimed to improve access to insurance for women, would have the "perverse effect" of pushing up the cost of life and motor insurance for women and cutting household incomes from annuities - most of which are held by men.

It added that, women live three years longer than men on average. If firms could not take this into account life insurance premiums for women would have to rise by 10-15% - or by 35 a year.

"The Commission's proposals would not help us address the real issue - how to increase women's retirement savings overall," she added.

If the plans are approved by EU governments, insurance firms will be given six years to adapt to the changes.

The controversial proposal is the first EU directive to try to tackle discrimination outside the workplace.

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