Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The great gender reassignment crash?

GraphDownwardTrend ashxOh dear.

I'm not wanting to start a run on stocks or anything ...

I also have to hastily issue a disclaimer that I'm not licensed to offer investment advice ...

But some folks could be forgiven for thinking there might soon be a big fall in business for Gender Identity Clinics.

The smart money could be moving to other sectors now that the European Court of Justice has ruled that it's discriminatory for insurers to offer different car insurance and annuity rates for women and men.

After all, why else would so many people have been rushing to have gender reassignment treatment?

Joking aside

Joking aside. (And, yes, that was some genuine authentic trans humour.) I do find today's judgement a bit perverse.

I should say that I've not read the actual ruling yet. And that could be quite important, as this is the kind of story which is at risk of being spun to serve an anti-Europe agenda.

The reason I find it strange is that we professionals spend a lot of our time explaining that you don't achieve equality by treating people identically. It's the outcome (not the input) that determines equality.

Price reflects cost

In a competitive world it makes sense for services to be priced differently when they are covering different things.

A size 8 dress ought to cost a little bit less than a size 18 for instance. Granted there's the same amount of cutting, stitching and inspection in the manufacture. But the smaller dress uses less fabric, and nobody would argue that it was 'sizeist' to charge more for a bigger product.

On insurance, I've always personally accepted that so long as rates are based on accurate data about risks, then it's fair that the price to insure something should reflect the cost basis. You live in an area of high crime, you expect to pay more. You belong to a group which is statistically more accident prone, the same should apply.

Of course, taking average values for the accident record or mortality rates of an entire gender is a bit of a blunt instrument.

I'd rather my car insurance were computed on my personal whole life accident record.

OK I admit, it's a bit harder calculating pension rates that same way, without knowing exactly when I'm going to die, but other factors are taken into account there anyway .. like where we live and the kind of work we do. Manual workers in northern towns don't live as long as middle class office staff in the south.

How can anyone arrive at a competitive price for anything without taking account of factors with a real influence on the cost?

One bad judgement doesn't make the system rotten

So, I think today's ruling of the European Court of Justice sounds monumentally bad ... if the reporting of what it actually says is accurate.

I can already picture right wing commentators getting overexcited about the judgement, and using it to justify a much bigger agenda, by suggesting it's a reason why Britain should pull out of European legal frameworks.

Note that the European Court of Justice is the arbiter of European Community Law, and quite separate from the European Court of Human Rights -- which has also been in the news lately. However, don't expect the people doing all the shouting to make such factual distinctions. They've both got 'Europe' in the name.

But the point is that courts sometimes do come out with daft judgements.

British courts have come to some really awful decisions...

They've made a criminal out of a man who tweeted a thoughtless wisecrack about blowing up an airport. That's bad law.

They've jailed a woman who was so terrified of her abuser that she withdrew her complaint against him. That's bad law.

It happens all the time. But we don't immediately run around suggesting that we get rid of the magistrates, county or high court systems.

The same goes for this too.


I do hope nobody really does think anyone would change gender for trivial reasons ... however few of them might be left.

If you're younger than 55 then there's no advantage in terms of state retirement age.

After today, there's no advantage when it comes to insuring yourself as driver .. though maybe your pension might be worth a bit more for the same investment.

And of course there are all those cosmetics .. clothes .. and the small fact that women (trans or not) earn substantially less over their lifetimes than men doing the same job.

Maybe today's justices should have applied themselves to that problem instead.

Meanwhile, I'm sure that people will carry on seeking gender reassignment for the reasons they always have. To be themselves. And sod the cost.


Saffy Walton said...

As we seem to be going down this path anyway, I wonder why ageism hasn't been challenged?

Christine Burns MBE said...

Oh it raises all sorts of possibilities.

For instance, if different premiums for men and women are discriminatory then why should it remain OK for disabled people to be charged more for services such as health insurance?

Emily said...

This ruling could have some wide-ranging implications helping women who are discriminated against through higher health insurance costs (Germany and Switzerland both allow insurers charge women more for the legally required health insurance). I'm looking forward to seeing this tested over here.

As for the ruling regarding British insurance, I bet that the insurers just raise premiums for women, rather than creating parity by dropping premiums for men whilst increasing the premiums for women. They'd not miss the chance for the extra money!

Chris Sharp said...

I am not so uncomfortable with this ruling. Yes I understand the logic of applying statistics and it is applied in many other contexts. That does not make it right however (e.g. default retirement age). This ruling, taken at face value, challenges insurance companies to develop better and fairer ways of assessing risk than using sex as a major criteria. I think that has to be for the long term good. I can think of a number of things insurers could do. It also begs the question...if society, through the actions of insurers in assessing young males so great a risk, really think they are so dangerous (and statistics appear to confirm that this is so), why on earth allow them to drive at all? We seem to be saying that we cannot abide financial consequences but we can abide the consequences arising from injury and loss of life. The whole system of driver proficiency and behaviour requires more attention. Lorry drivers have on board tachometers for instance. Too big brother for many but it might be an option for those who find themselves facing huge insurance costs if the option were made available. Great website by the way
and thank you for the opportunity of commenting so easily.
Chris Sharp
Equalities Adviser
Higher Education

Christine Burns MBE said...

Thanks to both Emily and Chris for interesting comments.

In a sense, of course Chris, the market does in effect try to rule out young drivers by having such high premiums for them. I understand that the premiums for teenage men have typically been over £2,400pa .. typically about £1,000pa higher than young women of the same age. Of course, this doesn't STOP such drivers though. It either leads to parents trying to put their children on policies in their own name (in ways that can be illegal) OR more and more people driving without insurance.

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