The answer to this question is ever changing. The current UK system is based on the principle that you have to work for at least 30 years to qualify for a full state pension.
So people with a shorter employment history would miss out, regardless of their reason for working for less than 30 years. So someone who was willing to work and had chosen not to, would have been entitled, on paper, to the same reduced amount as someone who had spent years looking after children, elderly relatives or others.
The new system, unveiled by Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith, will mean that when the calculations are made the periods of time for which you are caring for someone will be treated as work.
The move will no doubt appeal to women voters, who have felt that they are penalised by the system for putting caring duties above paid work. The change is part of an overhaul of the system that will see the state pension rise to a flat rate of £140 per week.
However, the changes Iain Duncan Smith plans to introduce have not all been well received. Wealthier workers will lose out thanks to his proposal that they will have limited ability to opt out of the second state pension. Currently, workers can elect to contribute the monies that would have been put into the second state pension in a manner of their choosing, typically into a private occupational scheme.
The present system, claims Duncan Smith, is too confusing. Many people cannot even remember whether they have opted in or out. But while the reforms will be clearer for such people, they are likely to be worse off.
Whichever camp you fall into, it may be worth checking your entitlement on the direct.gov.uk website. If you are a woman nearing retirement under the old regime, you may have to “top up” your national insurance contributions to receive a full pension.