Women would be forced to pay hundreds of pounds more for their car insurance under new EU anti-sexism laws expected to come under heavy fire from a parliamentary inquiry this week.
Female drivers are charged up to 30 per cent less than male drivers because they have fewer crashes. They also pay less for life insurance, because they are less likely to die young.
The measures proposed by the European Commission to enforce 'gender equality' would force the financial services industry to treat the sexes equally. It argues that differences in men and women's life expectancy are down to potentially changeable lifestyle and social forces, such as women traditionally drinking and smoking less than men.
Luisella Pavan-Woolfe, the European Commission official overseeing the gender equality drive, told the Lords European U N I O N sub-committee on consumer affairs, due to publish its findings this week, that it would be unacceptable to charge black people more for car insurance even if it could be proved they had more crashes, and that it should be equally unacceptable to differentiate between the sexes.
The government is unimpressed. Jacqui Smith, the equalities minister, will push at a crucial meeting of the Employment Council on 4 October for amendments which would allow insurers to charge men and women different rates so long as they are supported by 'objective' reasons and sound evidence.
Her stance will receive strong backing on Wednesday from the committee's report, which is expected to argue that it does not make sense to deny genuine differences between the sexes. 'Where there are objective reasons for taking account of gender, it should be allowed,' said one source close to the inquiry.
Young women who have just passed their tests could be worst hit. There are 60 per cent more claims by men aged 17-19 than among women.
Women could, in theory, gain from equal treatment if it were also enforced for pensions. They pay more for annuities than men to get the same standard of living in retirement because they are likely to live longer and so need a pension for longer.
The Equal Opportunities Commission said while it supported the equality directive, insurers should be allowed to charge different rates as long as it was explained why they were doing so.
Some EU countries, including Sweden, Poland and the Netherlands, already ban insurers from differentiating between the sexes.