Gender neutral pricing won't work in the way you think

The change that will probably change again.

From today, insurance companies can no longer charge women and men different premiums.

An instant and (widely reported) consequence of this will be a financial hit for female drivers, who will see car insurance costs rise, and for elderly men - whose pensions will get smaller.

But this state of affairs probably won't last long. With the new rule, profit margins for insurance companies will shoot up (note that womens' car insurance is going up, rather than mens' going down). This is likely to lead to insurers competing over market share, causing premiums to fall again, and probably ending up somewhere in the middle of the two original points.

Or the situation might resolve itself another way. Discriminating by gender made sense for insurers: men, on average, drive more often than women, and drive more dangerously. Women, on average, live longer.

Now that those risk factors aren't factored in, the insurance industry might simply start accounting for them in a different way - perhaps looking at how much you drive. This way they can still discriminate against male drivers - but not so explicitly. What about pensions? Well, as men are more likely to be bald, insurers could start discriminating by forehead:hair ratio, or indeed by blood testosterone levels. The point is that population risk analysis always means discrimination - and if it doesn't happen one way, it'll happen another.

Women drivers will take a hit. Photograph: Getty Images

Martha Gill writes the weekly Irrational Animals column. You can follow her on Twitter here: @Martha_Gill.

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Why Theresa May won't exclude students from the net migration target

The Prime Minister believes the public would view the move as "a fix". 

In a letter to David Cameron shortly after the last general election, Philip Hammond demanded that students be excluded from the net migration target. The then foreign secretary, who was backed by George Osborne and Sajid Javid, wrote: "From a foreign policy point of view, Britain's role as a world class destination for international students is a highly significant element of our soft power offer. It's an issue that's consistently raised with me by our foreign counterparts." Universities and businesses have long argued that it is economically harmful to limit student numbers. But David Cameron, supported by Theresa May, refused to relent. 

Appearing before the Treasury select committee yesterday, Hammond reignited the issue. "As we approach the challenge of getting net migration figures down, it is in my view essential that we look at how we do this in a way that protects the vital interests of our economy," he said. He added that "It's not whether politicians think one thing or another, it's what the public believe and I think it would be useful to explore that quesrtion." A YouGov poll published earlier this year found that 57 per cent of the public support excluding students from the "tens of thousands" target.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has also pressured May to do so. But the Prime Minister not only rejected the proposal - she demanded a stricter regime. Rudd later announced in her conference speech that there would be "tougher rules for students on lower quality courses". 

The economic case for reform is that students aid growth. The political case is that it would make the net migration target (which has been missed for six years) easier to meet (long-term immigration for study was 164,000 in the most recent period). But in May's view, excluding students from the target would be regarded by the public as a "fix" and would harm the drive to reduce numbers. If an exemption is made for one group, others will inevitably demand similar treatment. 

Universities complain that their lobbying power has been reduced by the decision to transfer ministerial responsibility from the business department to education. Bill Rammell, the former higher education minister and the vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire, said in July: “We shouldn’t assume that Theresa May as prime minister will have the same restrictive view on overseas students that Theresa May the home secretary had”. Some Tory MPs hoped that the net migration target would be abolished altogether in a "Nixon goes to China" moment.

But rather than retreating, May has doubled-down. The Prime Minister regards permanently reduced migration as essential to her vision of a more ordered society. She believes the economic benefits of high immigration are both too negligible and too narrow. 

Her ambition is a forbidding one. Net migration has not been in the "tens of thousands" since 1997: when the EU had just 15 member states and the term "BRICS" had not even been coined. But as prime minister, May is determined to achieve what she could not as home secretary. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.