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Cridland State Pension Age Review

23 March 2017

Cridland Report emphasises importance of working longer but shies away from allowing early State Pension for those who can’t

Summary of my views:

  • Yes it is important to help people work longer, especially after Brexit
  • Yes Government should end the triple lock which doesn’t protect oldest and poorest pensioners properly anyway
  • Yes we must tell people about any increases to their State Pension age
  • Yes adults caring for elderly relatives need more help
  •  BUT I would go further in recognising differential work history and life expectancy by allowing early access
  • Current system helps those who are healthy and wealthy enough to wait longer for State Pension, while giving nothing to those who genuinely cannot keep working

 

  • People under age 45 will get no state pension until age 68.
  • Just increasing state pension age prolongs disadvantage for occupations and regions with known lower life expectancy.
  • I hope this review will help pave the way to end the increasingly unfair triple lock.
Cridland is right to focus on helping people work longer, especially part time: I’m pleased to see the Review suggesting reforms such as later life training, mid-life career reviews and protection for carers, which I recommended as Business Champion for Older Workers. Retirement can be a process rather than an event, with people cutting down gradually rather than suddenly stopping and more help for people to stay in the labour market longer is important.

Brexit makes later working even more important:  We should not force people to stay on and should recognise the wide variations in life expectancy across occupations and UK regions, but as we leave the EU and immigration falls, it makes sense to use older workers’ talents and lifelong experience more.  This can boost the economy and their own future income.

But many people genuinely cannot keep working and State Pension currently doesn’t make allowance for this:  Cridland highlights the vast differences in life expectancy across the UK – more than 15 years differential.  Just as the Review recommends more flexibility is required by employers to facilitate part-time work for older people and help for the increasing numbers of workers who will need to care for elderly relatives, I believe more flexibility is also needed in the State Pension system.

Disappointing that Review decides against early access: People with shorter than average life expectancy generally still pay around a quarter of their salary in National Insurance. They may have worked for 50 years or more but may die before being eligible for any state pension – or may receive very little. This seems inequitable and their lower life expectancy is not recognised by our National Insurance rules. Normal insurance would usually charge lower premiums to such people but that does not happen. Therefore allowing early access could compensate for this even if for a reduced pension.

Current system only helps those who are healthy and wealthy enough to work longer:  If someone can work beyond state pension age, they can get a much larger pension but there is no help for people to get their state pension earlier if, for example, they started work exceptionally young, perhaps in tough industrial jobs, and genuinely cannot keep going till nearly 70.  Cridland recommends some means-tested help just one year before State Pension age but I think moving away from just one ever-increasing age, would be more socially equitable.  A band of starting ages, such as between 65 and 69 with adjusted payments would be fairer.

Spurious accuracy of ensuring receipt of State Pension for ‘up to one third of adult life’: The aim of the Review was meant to ensure people spent ‘up to one third of adult life’ receiving State Pension.  The Government Actuary’s Department figures vividly highlight the difficulties of such a vague target.  Tiny changes in average life expectancy are shown to imply vast differences in timing of state pension age increases.  Between 2012 and 2014, life expectancy fell a little, but that implied a 5-year change in the state pension age timetable.  It does seem that targeting 33.3% of ‘adult life’ or 32% of ‘adult life’ is misleading, given the sensitivity to tiny changes in mortality and huge differences in life expectancy across the population.  A range of ages would surely better cater for individual differences and allow some flexibility.

Problems for WASPI women show dangers of raising state pension age – lessons need to be learned: The Government also needs to learn from the women’s state pension age fiasco that it is essential to ensure people know about any state pension age changes in good time to prepare. Many older women are facing serious hardship as a result of Government failure to communicate with them and there has been no recognition of the damage this has caused so far.

Triple lock should be scrapped – it is a political construct that is increasingly unfair and leaves out oldest and poorest pensioners: I agree with Cridland that the triple lock should be abandoned after 2020. The triple lock is a political construct which purports to offer great protection while increasingly disadvantaging the oldest and poorest pensioners. The lock protects around £160 a week for the newest pensioners but only around £120 a week for older ones and it does not protect the Pension Credit at all which the poorest pensioners must rely on.  The arbitrary 2.5% figure has no economic or social rationale. Cridland suggests linking the State Pension just to earnings but I would like to see some protection against inflation too if that is rising faster.  There is a clear tradeoff between more generous pension increases and raising state pension age.  Having the triple lock in place also puts more upward pressure on the state pension age which itself disadvantages poorer areas of the country and those in heavy manual occupations. So the unfairness and extra cost of the triple lock make it ripe for reform.

 

March 23, 2017   2 Comments

Budget Comments

8 March 2017

Another missed opportunity to start addressing social care

  • No new incentives for social care savings and radical reform proposals pushed into Green Paper later this year
  • No proper help for savers – new NS&I bond pays interest rate lower than inflation, so savers lose money
  • Costs of public sector pensions will rise sharply, by nearly 40% between 2015 and 2020
  • Self employed bearing brunt of tax rises to pay for other measures

Addressing Social care crisis:

  • Extra £2billion for social care will help councils but may not be enough to ensure NHS pressures really relieved.
  • No new help or incentives for families to save for social care or use their ISAs and pensions.
  • More money for councils to cover costs of social care is good, but proper reform delayed – more money is just a sticking plaster on a weeping wound.
  • Will be a Green Paper later this year on radical structural long-term reform. That’s good but needs to be followed by urgent action as care system is breaking the NHS. Integration of health and care, helping families prepare for care costs, finding ways to recover extra money to pay for care – all these are essential as our population ages. The number of people over age 75 will increase by 2million in next 10 years.
  • No help for families to start saving for care – no incentives to help them save even though ‘death tax’ ruled out so can’t take money from their homes or estates.

 

Measures for savers

  • No new help for savers even as savings ratio reaches such low levels
  • New NS&I bond pays only 2.2% interest while inflation forecast to be 2.4% this year and 2.3% next year, so savers lose money in real terms each year

 

Helping people extend working lives

  • The Chancellor has announced £5million extra money for returnships for adults trying to get back into work. This is potentially good news for older people and other adults trying to return to work, especially helping many older women and carers who want to work after taking time out for caring. Of course, more is needed but this is a start. For example, if each returnship costs £250, this can help 20,000 people.

 

Pension matters

Pensions flexibility is raising far more money for Treasury than originally forecast.

  • Treasury expected pension flexibility to raise £0.3bn in 2015-16 and £0.6bn in 2016-17, but people have taken higher amounts out than previously forecast, so actual tax receipts were £1.5bn in 2015-16 and £1.1bn in 2016017. One cannot draw many conclusions from this as we do not know what the people who withdrew money will be doing with it – whether they have other pensions elsewhere and are repaying debts and so on. The Government needs to conduct some proper research into what people are doing when withdrawing pension money. Expected revenues from pension flexibility rules are expected to be £1.6bn in 2017-18 and £0.9bn in 2018-19. Again, we cannot draw firm conclusions without further information.

 

Costs of public sector pensions set to rise sharply.

  • The Budget figures list the costs of public sector pensions as follows. In 2015-16 the cost was £11.3bn but by next year that will have risen by over 20% to £13.7bn. By 2021-22, the cost is forecast to rise to £15.7bn, which is an increase of 39% over the 2015-16 level.
  • 2015-16 £11.3bn
  • 2016-17 £11.5b
  • 2017-18 £12.1bn
  • 2018-19 £13.7bn

 

Overseas pensions:

  • The Government is continuing its clampdown on overseas pensions. Anyone who wants to move their UK pension offshore into a ‘Qualifying Registered Overseas Pension Scheme’ (QROPS) will have to pay a 25% tax charge on the funds transferred, and also any payments made from the QROPS in the first five years after the money is transferred will be taxable in the UK.

March 8, 2017   1 Comment

Budget measures for social care

7 March 2017

Chancellor has chance to address one of biggest social issues of our time

  • Britain has been sleepwalking into a social care crisis – time to wake up!
  •  Elderly people who need care face wealth tax and stealth tax while others pay nothing
  • More favourable fiscal position offers opportunity to radically reform unfair care system
  • Integration and incentives long overdue – consider Care ISAs, employer care saving plans, auto-enrolment, eldercare vouchers, National Insurance

 

  • Dramatic unfairness in social care must be addressed
  • Huge focus on pensions, but nothing for pre-funding social care is betrayal of elderly
  • Social care for older people is pushing NHS to breaking point – and that’s before the baby boomers start needing care in coming years
  • NHS cannot keep picking up the pieces of our broken care system
  • Babyboomers will need care within next 20 years – huge demographic timebomb for younger taxpayers
  • Just giving councils more money is not the answer, that is a sticking plaster, but more radical reform needed too.

 There’s no single solution to care crisis – having been left so long it needs multiple approaches.The Chancellor faces a more favourable fiscal position than previously forecast and should seize the opportunity to address the social care crisis that is causing misery to many elderly people and engulfing the NHS.  Philip Hammond could be the first Chancellor to introduce long overdue reforms of the broken care system.  This should encompass both short- and longer-term policies, including proper integration of health and care, extending National Insurance and new tax incentives to help families prepare for care costs in advance by setting some of their savings or pensions aside, or saving specifically for care.  Signalling to families that millions of them will need some money in later life to pay for care needs, not just pensions, should have been done years ago, but successive Governments have failed to tell families to prepare for care.  Government spends billions on private pensions tax breaks, and the State Pension provides a base level of income support for older people, but millions of people will also need money for later life care costs too. Currently, they don’t know and neither Government, nor individuals, have set money aside.  The NHS is already at breaking point as it picks up the pieces of our broken care system, and that’s before huge numbers of baby boomers, now in their 60s, start needing care in future.  That’s where there may be a window of opportunity.  Babyboomers are often criticised for having better pensions, savings and other assets than younger people.  Of course, not all are well off, but the Government should encourage those that have assets to keep some of their wealth, pensions or savings for care in future.

Elderly people who need care face a wealth tax and an extra stealth tax to fund care:  Councils will only pay for care if people have less than £23,250 in assets, which could include the value of their house, unless they or their partner is still living there.  So families needing care face an effective wealth tax.  Those with no savings get care costs covered by council taxpayers, but those people who do have some assets have to pay for their own care.  But these same people are actually hit twice – and face a stealth tax, on top of this wealth tax.  Because of local authority cutbacks, councils are not paying enough to cover the costs of care for those who do get public funding, so those same people who must fund their own care not only have to pay for themselves, they also pay extra for the underspend on those funded by councils.  This is clearly unfair.  Radical reform is needed, giving councils extra resources can help short-term, but integrating the health and care systems is also required, to remove the artificial divide between health care and social care.  Taxpayers simply cannot afford to support increasing numbers of elderly people, but the money must come from somewhere.  Encouraging everyone to save for later life care, which one in four will need (and one in two of many couples), would signal that care costs must be planned for and incentivising such savings is vital in our aging population. The Chancellor should consider several reforms:

  • Special ISAs for Care Savings: Chancellor could introduce a new type of ISA to help people save for care and could encourage people to switch existing ISAs into new Care ISAs. These could perhaps get an added Government bonus if the money is earmarked specifically for care. This would be a far better use of taxpayer money than subsidising Lifetime ISAs as retirement saving.  This could encourage a maximum sum (perhaps up to £75,000) to be set aside, which could be passed on free of Inheritance Tax to form a Care Savings ISA for today’s older generations and then passed on to next generations if not used.  A ‘family care savings plan’ could help signal to families that Government won’t cover most care costs.
  • Allowing tax free pension withdrawals for care: Many baby-boomers have money in their pension funds and now have more freedom to leave their money invested, rather than buying an annuity. The Chancellor could allow tax-free withdrawals from pension funds if the money is spent on care, to encourage people to keep some back in case they need care.
  • Tax incentives for employers to help staff save for later life care or auto-enrolment: A pension is not the only money you may need in retirement. Encouraging employers to contribute to a care savings plan for their staff, with similar tax breaks to pensions, could help people build up funds for later life care. Care saving could also be incorporated into auto-enrolment in future.
  • ‘Eldercare’ vouchers to help staff with care costs: Employers could offer elder care vouchers (along the lines of childcare vouchers) which get tax relief as an employee benefit.
  • Stamp duty breaks when older people downsize their home: Government could help ‘last time buyers’ downsize their home. Perhaps with a one-time stamp duty exemption on last home purchase. This could free up some money that could be spent on care in future years.

I do hope the Chancellor will seize the opportunity to start addressing our social care crisis.

March 7, 2017   Leave a comment

Despite advances in equality, there’s still huge gender divide in pensions and care

6 March 2017

  • International Women’s Day celebrates women’s progress but more to do
  • Too many women still losing out in pensions relative to men
  • National Insurance still penalises women – including in State Pensions
  • Lower lifetime earnings leave women with lower private pensions too – older women particularly at risk

Older women have achieved improved equality, pay and maternity rights for today’s younger women:  As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th, spare a thought for current cohorts of women coming up to or just reaching retirement.  Throughout their lives, they have paved the way for younger women, as they fought for maternity rights and equal pay, as well as battling gender discrimination in other areas of the workplace.  Female employment conditions are vastly better nowadays than when the babyboomer women were starting out.

But women still losing out in both State and Private pensions:  There remains a significant – albeit narrowing – gender pay gap especially for older women, and one area where all women still lose out relative to men – and always have done – is in pensions.  Women are still very much the poor relations when it comes to pensions. Both for state pensions and private pensions, women’s prospects are worse than men’s.

Mums are supposed to get credit for State Pension when looking after young children:  Mothers who stay at home to look after their young children are supposed to be eligible for credit towards their State Pension, so they do not lose out while bringing up their family.

But new unfairness in National Insurance denies State Pension rights to many women:  In fact, brand new unfairness has recently been introduced into our National Insurance system that will penalise many younger women.  The recent decision to deny Child Benefit to families where one partner earns more than £60,000 has a little-known side-effect of stripping many middle class women of their State Pension entitlements.

Mothers have to claim Child Benefit even though they know they’re not entitled to it: The credit for State Pension is only automatically added to their National Insurance record when they claim Child Benefit.  Those mothers who know they are not eligible for Child Benefit because their family income is above the limit are actually supposed to apply for the benefit anyway, in order to get homecare credit for their State Pension.

If they don’t claim the Child Benefit they’re not entitled to, they can’t backdate it:  Firstly, it seems ludicrous to expect women to apply for a benefit they know they are not entitled to.  But more importantly, if these women discover that they have lost their State Pension credit, they cannot claim it later.  The new rules mean women can only backdate a claim for three months, otherwise that pension year is lost for ever.  If they have not claimed within the three month window and find out about this later, the Government does not allow them the credit.

Classic example of State Pension penalising women and not recognising their lives:  Clearly, the State Pension system is not designed with women in mind.  Women’s lives are different, due to their social and family roles and our pension system must make proper allowance for this.  It’s no use saying they will be credited and then preventing them from receiving the credits with new, complex rules.

Further injustice for low earning women who also get no National Insurance credit for State Pension and Government refuses to help:  There are other ways in which women lose out on their State Pension too.  The National Insurance rules penalise low earners and those with several low paid jobs.  These are predominantly women.  Mothers who stay at home to care for children can get credit to National Insurance.  Those who work part-time and earn more than £5824 a year but less than £8060 are also credited with a year on their National Insurance record, but do not actually have to pay National Insurance.  However, if they earn less than £5824 a year in one or more jobs, they get no credit for National Insurance at all.  The Government has known about this anomaly for years, and has refused to address it.  I tried, as Pensions Minister, to persuade the Treasury to at least allow these women to claim National Insurance credits, or to reduce the minimum earnings level to ensure that those women who are working are not treated worse than those who stay at home.  So far, Ministers have refused.  This is unacceptable.

More women are single nowadays so can’t rely on partner’s State Pension:  As increasing numbers of retired women are single or divorced, they have no husband’s pension to rely on and need their own pension.  So receiving less State Pension is of great concern, particularly as they also have much lower private pensions too.

Lower earnings, interrupted careers, caring duties mean less private pension:  As women are the prime carers for both children and adult loved ones, women’s lower lifetime earnings mean their private pensions are lower.  They are often left out of workplace pensions and have less income to devote to saving.

Auto-enrolment leaves out millions of women:  Even in the new auto-enrolment programme, far more women are left out of workplace pensions than men.  Anyone earning less than £10,000 a year (mostly women) does not have to be automatically enrolled into a pension and will not get the benefit of their employer contribution.  If they are in more than one job, but each pays below £10,000 they miss out altogether on the behavioural nudges that have been so successful in widening private pension coverage recently.  Low earners can request to be enrolled, but of course that is far less likely due to the very inertia that auto-enrolment is designed to overcome.

Older women faced short-notice changes in State Pension age that caused hardship:  Overall, the inequalities paint a bleak picture for women’s retirement income.  The Government also increased the state pension age for older women, giving many of them insufficient time to prepare.

Women continue to struggle to match men financially:  Between balancing their careers, looking after children and caring for elderly parents women are being squeezed from every angle.  Those in their 50s and 60s have particular difficulties, but younger women face penalties too.

Social care crisis disproportionately affects women:  The crisis in social care hits women hardest.  It is wives, daughters and sisters who usually bear the brunt of caring responsibilities, sacrificing their own income for the sake of their loved ones.  This leaves women less prepared to fund their own care needs and women are much more likely to live longer than men and be on their own, so will spend more money on care in later life than men.

Great strides have been made, but big divides remain:  Life in Britain today still leaves women worse off than men, particularly as they get older.  Although women have made enormous strides pushing through glass ceilings in the workplace, the gender pay gap remains and there is still a significant gender divide in pensions and care.  More progress is needed to reduce women’s disadvantages in 21st Century UK society.

March 6, 2017   2 Comments

Brilliant News – BHS Deal Helps 19,000 Members Get Better Pensions

28 February 2017

  • Well done to the Pensions Regulator – £360m deal to support BHS scheme
  • Members will get much more than PPF while Sir Philip pays up for future pensions
  • Regulator has worked hard to secure good structure for the deal as well as significant extra funding

I am delighted that the Pensions Regulator has managed to agree a deal with Sir Philip Green that secures over £360m for the BHS pension scheme and takes members back out of the Pension Protection Fund assessment.  Members should be better off than in the PPF and those with small amounts can choose to take a cash sum up to £18,000 and leave the scheme altogether.

What does this mean for BHS pension scheme?  This deal will bring an end to the uncertainty facing so many former BHS employees, who felt let down by their former owners and were worried about losing their pensions.  They will now be able to achieve more pension than in the PPF.

So what will happen to the pension scheme members? The members should be better off than if they had stayed in the Pension Protection Fund.  Their scheme has been in the ‘PPF Assessment Period’, which means all pensioners and anyone that has reached pension age since the company collapsed will have only been receiving the PPF level of benefits.  Under the new scheme, members will be taken out of the PPF Assessment and receive recompense for any underpayments during the past few months and then move onto the higher benefit levels of the new scheme.

What happens to the BHS pension scheme?  A new scheme is being set up that will run on outside the Pension Protection Fund, but will remain eligible for it and will still pay an insurance levy to the PPF.  The new scheme is expected to be very well funded, now that it will have access to over £360m from Sir Philip Green.  The new scheme will be run by three independent trustees, who have yet to be appointed and they will be responsible for its investments and for paying out the pensions to members.

Will all members go into the new scheme then?  Most members are likely to transfer to the new scheme.  Different categories of member will be in different positions.

  • Pensioners are all likely to transfer over to the new scheme, but if they do not do so, they will stay in the PPF and their payments will continue under PPF rules.
  • Members who are not yet at pension age are also likely to transfer, and will receive more than under the PPF.
  • Members with small pension entitlements under the scheme will be offered a cash transfer if they want it. Those who have pensions with a cash transfer value of up to £18,000, which is likely to reflect a pension income of under £10 a week, will be allowed to take their pension as a cash sum.  They will usually be best to transfer into a new Defined Contribution pension scheme and they can use the fund as they wish once they reach age 55, although keeping it for later life is usually most appropriate.

How will those who are thinking of taking the cash sum know what’s best for them?  The new scheme has provision for all these members to have access to independent financial advice, to help them assess whether they are better off keeping their money in the new scheme and taking a pension income, or transferring out.  For example, if they have plenty of other pension income, they may find the money more useful to them than a small pension, or if they want to pass on money to loved ones or are in poor health, they may feel the cash sum offers them a better option.

How is the new scheme better than the PPF?  In the PPF, members who were not yet pensioners would have their initial pensions reduced by around 10% and would lose all their inflation protection for years before 1997.  In the new scheme, all members will receive their full pension on day one, and will also receive a fixed inflation uplift of 1.8% a year for entitlements built up before 1997.  This is less than the indexation of the old scheme, but much better than the PPF would pay.  The PPF would also cap members’ pensions if they were entitled to large pensions.

Will the new scheme still be eligible for the PPF if it fails?  Yes, the terms of the deal ensure that the new scheme will still pay a levy to the PPF and will still be eligible to enter it in future if the scheme fails.  However, this is not expected to occur as the Regulator believes the extra money being paid to the scheme will leave it very well funded.

How much will the new scheme pay to the PPF each year in levies?  The new scheme may be the first one that will be assessed as a ‘stand-alone’ scheme under new calculations being consulted on by the Pension Protection Fund at the moment.  The PPF is currently consulting on a new levy methodology to reflect the fact that some schemes have no realistic sponsor but are still running on and managing their investment risks and returns to generate the pension payments required over time.

What happens to the Regulator’s investigations into the BHS former owners?  The inquiry into Sir Philip Green and his companies will now end, although there are further investigations into Dominic Chappell and Retail Acquisitions Limited.

Why is this such good news?  This really is a good news story.  I believe it is good for all concerned.

  • The members will get more money than they would have done under the PPF.
  • The Pensions Regulator has demonstrated that it has the power to force employers to pay significant extra sums if they failed to fund their schemes adequately.
  • It is good news for the PPF because the scheme will now no longer need to be supported by it.
  • It is good news for the pensions system because it sends a signal to employers that the Regulator has the power and the determination to pursue employers who underfund their pensions and hopefully it will encourage more employers to obtain Clearance before selling their pension scheme.
  • It is good news for Sir Philip Green as he no longer has the Pensions Regulator investigation hanging over him and has now kept his word to the Work and Pensions Select Committee about sorting out the pension.

It is good news for all pension schemes as it can also help to boost confidence in the regulatory system.

February 28, 2017   Leave a comment

State Pension Age and Triple Lock

28 February 2017

  • Triple lock will lead to extra unfair rises in State Pension Age
  •  Work and Pensions Select Committee is right to call for earnings and inflation link instead of triple lock
  •  Continually raising State Pension age disadvantages vulnerable older people
  •  Politicians hide behind triple lock but it does not protect pensioners properly anyway
  •  Keeping triple lock in future gives more money to better off and younger pensioners

Raising State Pension Age disadvantages vulnerable groups: Raising the state pension age entails significant unfairnesses that have been underplayed or under-recognised by policymakers. Recent furore over women’s State Pension Age increases highlights the problems this can cause. The state pension age has been increasing because of rises in average life expectancy, however there are huge variations in life expectancy across the country. Those who live in certain regions, people with heavy manual labour occupations, dangerous jobs or on low pay usually have lower life expectancy than the average, so it seems unfair to keep raising the age at which they can start taking their state pension, just because the ‘average person’ is living longer. There is no provision in the National Insurance pension system to recognise lower life expectancy or serious ill-health.

WPSC report suggests abandoning triple lock, so State Pension Age rises more slowly: The Work and Pensions Select Committee has commissioned an IFS report that identifies the problems caused by pressure from keeping the triple lock on State Pension Age rises. https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/8942 . I believe we have been increasing State Pension Age without thinking about more nuanced and fairer ways of managing the costs of National Insurance pensions and the WPSC report is a helpful addition to the debate.

Yes, Government must protect pensioners: Of course it is important to protect pensioner incomes. However, the triple lock is actually a political construct and fails to offer proper protection. It promises to increase just two parts of the hugely complicated State Pension so that they are guaranteed to rise in line with the highest of earnings, prices or 2.5% under the triple lock. There is no economic or social rationale for this system, the 2.5% is not related to any economic variables and is politically motivated. The longer the triple lock stays in place, the more disadvantaged those who are not covered will become and the greater the pressure to increase State Pension age even further.

Triple lock does not properly protect oldest and poorest pensioners: The only two elements covered by the triple lock are Basic State Pension (around £120pw and received by older pensioners) and the new State Pension (around £160pw but only available to the youngest pensioners). Therefore, the oldest and poorest pensioners are not properly protected. Pension Credit for the poorest pensioners is only linked to rises in earnings. The State Second Pension, Earnings Related State Pension, disability, war veterans’ and widows’ benefits, deferred increases and carers’ benefits are all only linked to rises in prices.

Triple lock has been used to cover up failures in other pension policy areas: Too often, when people complain to MPs about pension problems, the official reply is that the Government has the triple lock so it is unquestionably looking after pensioners properly. This is politically convenient but lazy policymaking and is not being honest with the population.

Keeping triple lock means higher State Pension Age rises which compound unfairness: The Work and Pensions Select Committee’s analysis, done by the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies, confirms that keeping the triple lock for future years after 2020 will cause unfair extra rises in State Pension Age. This is not the best way to manage pension policy in a country with large variations on life expectancy and work history.

 It’s time to consider better approaches to managing state pension costs than just keeping triple lock and increasing state pension age: Government must consider how to manage State Pension costs more fairly than just continually increasing the State Pension age, which unfairly penalises people with lower life expectancy and long working lives.

Consider other factors than just chronological age: Realising the inefficiency and unfairness of the triple lock, and the problems created by continually increasing state pension age, can help improve the operation of state pension policy in future. Those who are in poor health, have much lower life expectancy or have had very long working lives may need pensions sooner. Making them wait longer before they can get any money at all will feel unfair.

Consider contribution record and flexible age range: A fairer uprating system than the triple lock is needed, that does not penalise the older and poorer pensions. I hope the Cridland Review will be making recommendations in this area. For example, Government should consider perhaps extending the number of years of National Insurance required for a full State Pension, as well as more flexible range of ages than just one starting age. Such changes would help the more vulnerable groups more effectively than the current system.

February 28, 2017   1 Comment

Defined benefit pension schemes Green Paper

20 February 2017

  • DWP seems rather complacent about sustainability of UK Defined Benefit pension schemes
  • Nearly 90% of schemes are closed and Government needs proper planning for members in future years
  • Burdens of Defined Benefit schemes will increasingly put younger workers’ pensions and jobs at risk
  • Using annuity costs as a yardstick is unreasonable, unaffordable and unsustainable for most schemes

Complacency based on short-term view: The DWP has today produced its long awaited Green Paper on the affordability of Defined Benefit pension schemes. The document is a wide-ranging roundup of the issues impacting employers and pension scheme trustees in light of large deficits in most UK DB schemes. The overall tone of the paper is based on an assumption that there is no real crisis in pension affordability and that employers can generally afford the liabilities they are sponsoring. This complacency reflects short-term thinking, whereas this Green Paper should be an opportunity to plan for the longer term outcomes for members of such schemes.

Government should be planning for medium-term risks now as schemes in run-off: From a medium-term perspective, it is clear that the Government needs to put plans in place to manage the run-off of Defined Benefit pension schemes. Nearly 90% of all schemes are now closed to new members, more are closing all the time and once the scheme has closed to new members, it is effectively in run-off. It is only a matter of time before it closes to new accruals too. If we wind forward a few years, it is clear that fewer and fewer workers will actually be in these pension schemes and employers will be sitting on a legacy liability that has nothing to do with their business at all. It relates to people who will no longer be working for them and they will have little or no business interest in supporting the scheme. This will entail greater risks to the PPF. Any period of economic weakness is bound to lead to greater sponsor insolvency and we should be planning for such problems now, as it will take some time before arrangements can be agreed and established. Ongoing support for DB schemes will increasingly damage younger workers’ pensions and job prospects.

Younger workers’ pensions and job prospects damaged: The ongoing Defined Benefit pension schemes will also increasingly make workforce rewards inequitable, with the older, longer-serving workers who may still be in the DB scheme having far better pension benefits than the younger, newer employees who will have DC pensions with lower contributions. The Green Paper suggests the cost of pension accrual for a typical UK DB scheme has risen from around 24% of salary in 2009, to around 50% of salary in 2016. Average contributions to DC schemes are nowhere near these levels. The greater the cost of supporting the legacy DB scheme, the lower the resource potentially available to pay into younger, newer workers’ DC schemes. This is bound to lead to tension, with employers looking for ways of removing responsibility for these legacy liabilities. It is highly likely that employers will simply not be willing to support such schemes in the longer term, so a plan is required for managing the pension payments in the longer term.

Consolidation is one solution that makes sense: Establishing a Central Discontinuance Fund or ‘SuperFund’ that can pool many schemes together, reduce running costs and take advantage of more diversified asset allocation would cut costs and enhance potential benefits. Local Authority schemes are already being required to merge their investment allocations – such models could be used for private sector schemes in future too.

Broader asset allocation is still needed – Myners Review called for this in 2000!: The Green Paper is right to call for broader asset allocation strategies and greater exposure to alternative asset classes. It is rather ironic to see this discussed today, in light of the fact that I first wrote about this when helping set up the Myners Review for the Treasury in 2000. Pension changes seem to take an inordinately long time.

Relaxation of annuity requirements would help: The Green Paper does not sufficiently explore the need to relax the requirement for schemes to buy out benefit in the annuity market. Annuity purchase is punitively expensive for most schemes, the current interest rate environment had increased the costs significantly and there is simply not enough volume in the annuity market for all schemes to buyout anyway. It is time to set up an alternative self-sufficiency regime, that does not require annuity purchase.

Overall, the Green Paper will generate useful debate, but the need for action is greater than suggested by this paper. Many employers are struggling with DB scheme costs and as we leave the EU, British businesses will have many other issues to deal with. A system that helps them manage legacy liabilities is needed for the coming years.

February 20, 2017   1 Comment

Help people use pensions and savings to fund social care

8 February 2017

  • Care crisis is worse than pensions crisis – but pensions and savings could help fund social care
  • Many baby boomers have pensions and ISAs but no incentive to retain money for care
  • Chancellor’s Budget could consider tax-free pension withdrawals and IHT-free ISAs for care savings
  • Such incentives would let people know they need to prepare for care costs  
  • Have to get real about the scale of care challenge – need combination of public funding, national insurance, private savings and integration with healthcare

The UK crisis in social care is potentially far worse than the pensions crisis:  Both issues are a function of our aging population, which is a good news story.  But, because successive Governments have failed to properly prepare, it is turning into a disaster.

No money aside to cover the inevitable costs of aging:  There is no money at Government level – it’s all left to cash-strapped councils who cannot cope.  There is no money at private level either, because most people have not seriously considered this issue, wrongly assuming the NHS will look after them or their loved ones.  This is short-sighted policymaking at its worst.

Advanced old age usually entails extra spending: With increasing numbers of much older people in this country, it is inevitable that more money will be needed to look after them in later life.  This should be no surprise.  An aging population is bound to need money for this but so far all the Government incentives and preparation for later life income have revolved around pensions, with nothing to pay for care.

Current cohort of older people is small, but will rise sharply in coming years:  The fact that the social care system is so poorly understood and that there are no incentives to help people plan for such costs just in case it is needed, has led to a complete lack of preparedness.  The cohort of older people needing care now is actually relatively small, but in 20 years or so the huge demographic bulge of baby boomers will increasingly need looking after as they reach their 80s.

Pensions could be adapted to help fund care:  However, pension income is not designed to cover the extra costs of care.  Nevertheless, pensions could be adapted to provide some help, as could other savings products, with a little extra incentive from the Treasury.   There is an opportunity to encourage baby boomers to set money aside in advance, in case they need care.

Millions of older people do have pensions and savings but they may spend them soon:  Of course, the majority of older people are not hugely wealthy but millions do have savings and pensions built up over the years.  The pensions crisis for future retirees is being addressed, belatedly, with a reformed state pension and auto-enrolment.  But for today’s sixty-somethings there is much more to be done.  With the new flexible pensions landscape, there is an opportunity to encourage them to keep some capital sums for later life, rather than planning to spend them straight away – and indeed for those who have ISAs, it is important to encourage them to consider keeping some of those funds unspent as a ‘Care Fund’ in case they need it.

New incentives in the Budget urgently needed to help fund care:  But an important part of the mix should be new incentives to encourage people to use their pensions and savings for care.  Here are some suggestions for the Chancellor.

Allow people to take money out of their pension funds tax-free if they use it for care:  Doing this would give people a further incentive not to spend all their pension fund too soon.  If they have money in their pension, but don’t think about using it for care, then by the time they need care the money may all be gone.  Signalling the importance of not exhausting pension funds too quickly would give an additional behavioural incentive for people to leave money aside in their tax-free pension wrapper as a potential ‘care fund’.  If they don’t actually need it, then the fund passes to their loved ones tax free, so it could form a care fund for a partner too.  Care costs are much higher for women than for men, because they live longer.  With a traditional pension, widows do not receive a capital sum to help them fund care and, under the old pension rules, once their husband had bought an annuity (the vast majority of which were single life) the pension died when they did.  Even if they had a joint life annuity, the widow only inherited a part of the income and no capital sum.  With the new freedoms, if the husband keeps money in his pension fund and does not spend it all on care for himself, the money will be available to his widow for her care if needed.

Relax the regulatory attitudes to transferring money out of Defined Benefit pensions: The current regulatory attitude strongly discourages transferring money out of Defined Benefit final salary-type pensions into a Defined Contribution (DC) arrangement.  This should be relaxed.  With the new freedoms for DC pensions, there could be many people who would benefit from such transfers.  Giving up a relatively small, guaranteed pension income might be the optimal decision for a family, particularly if they have other pension income and this is just one smaller deferred pension that will not make a dramatic difference to their lifestyle.  As an example, a £50 a week final salary-type pension could be worth around £100,000 as a transfer value.  If a husband and wife were to take a transfer of this size into a Defined Contribution pension, they may not miss the £50 a week, but they could hugely benefit from the £100,000 fund in coming years to help pay for care.  Transferring small deferred pensions can both help pre-fund care costs -and the surviving partner can inherit that sum in full, rather than just receiving a fraction of their deceased partner’s pension if it were still in the DB scheme.

Introduce special ISA rules for Care ISA funds – free of Inheritance tax:  Many older people already have ISA savings, but they do not think of retaining that money until much later life, as a potential ‘care fund’ to help them pay for care.  Some will spend the money on holidays, new cars, house refurbishment or for other needs but if there was a clear reason not to spend it, then there could be more money set aside for care within families.  Earmarking some of their ISAs for care, in a newly-created ‘Care ISA’ environment, could benefit many people in years to come.  The Chancellor could consider allowing people to transfer some of their existing ISAs into a ‘Care ISA’, or could allow an additional ISA allowance for care.  Indeed, the money currently spent on the Lifetime ISA as a 25% bonus would be much better spent on incentivising saving for later life care.

There is no one silver bullet that will solve the care crisis: A crisis is already upon us and there is no one magic solution.  However, a range of measures, when added together, can at least make a start in preparing the nation for care.  Savings incentives need to be part of the mix.  In addition, broader reforms could include a national insurance system to improve publicly available funding.  Better integration of health care and social care is also urgently needed, so that older people’s needs are specifically addressed in the most cost-effective way, instead of being artificially separated between wholly inadequate council funding and hugely expensive NHS care.  This could include keeping small local hospitals open as ‘convalescent homes’ where older people can be safely discharged and encouraging GPs to ‘prescribe’ preventive measures such as homecare, handrails, telehealth or personal alarms.  Funding for meals-on-wheels could be restored and better information and advice for families whose loved ones need looking after could alleviate some of the pressures too.

Government must get real about the scale of the challenge:  I urge the Government to act swiftly on this issue.  The system is already in crisis and is much more difficult to solve than the pensions crisis.  With pensions, ultimately, the Government has decided to make people wait longer and to pay them less.  Such options are not realistic for care.  Once people need care, you cannot make them wait longer without causing harm.  And we are already forcing people to accept less care, which is part of the crisis.  Now is the time for action, no more waiting and hoping.  One mark of a decent society is how it treats its older, vulnerable people.  We must not fail our aging population.

February 8, 2017   2 Comments

Lower immigration post-Brexit makes retaining older workers more vital than ever

5 February 2017

  • Wake-up call to business to use home-grown skills and experience of older workers
  • Over 50s women need specific help as they’ve been badly disadvantaged
  • Rethinking retirement can increase economic activity and national income short-term and long-term
  • 3’R’s vital to rethinking retirement – ‘Retain’, ‘Retrain’ and ‘Recruit’ more over 50s

In March 2015 I produced a Report as Business Champion of Older workers explaining the benefits of encouraging and enabling more people to work longer if they wish to. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/411420/a-new-vision-for-older-workers.pdf

I am pleased that the DWP has finally responded.  Two years have gone by and the importance of encouraging and enabling older people to keep working if they wish to, has increased significantly.  Much more work needs to be done. The new Business Champion for Older Workers is aiming to ensure many more older people can stay in work – that is to be applauded.

Brexit makes longer working life even more vital: As we prepare for Brexit and face reduced immigration, retaining more of our own older talent is more important than ever. We must make more use of British workers and increase support for later life working. With dramatic increases in life expectancy in recent years, plus the huge bulge of baby boomers reaching their 60s now, the opportunity to rethink retirement is urgent.

Longer working lives can be a win-win:  Helping more over 60s work part-time and facilitating flexible work, will enhance productivity and growth.  It’s a win-win, better for the economy, better for business and better for the individuals themselves, giving more people higher lifetime income and bigger pensions.

Older workers have valuable skills: Employing more older workers in an aging population will ensure the skills and experience of older British citizens are used more effectively, while also better meeting the needs of an aging customer base in many industries.

Older women face particular disadvantages: The Government also needs to recognise the particular position of older women.  The current cohort of women in their 50s and 60s has been particularly disadvantaged throughout their lives in terms of both earnings and pensions. These women were not included properly in the state pension system so they have lower state pensions than men – and their state pension age has been increased significantly without adequate warning. Many were excluded from workplace pensions, so they have lower private pensions too. When they had children they often lost out in terms of earnings and pensions. In addition, large numbers of these women are caring for older relatives and need more flexible work opportunities to enable them to keep earning. More flexibility, more support for women and closer monitoring of unconscious bias as well as outright age discrimination is needed to help overcome such disadvantage.

Big tax burdens on young if older workers retire too soon: Failure to facilitate fuller working lives will place a much bigger tax burden on younger generations and consign more older people to poverty. The best determinant of better off older people is whether or not they are still working. The aim of getting one million more over 50s to stay in work is important and the sooner we achieve it, the better for all of us.

Employers recognising benefits of older workers – using 3’R’s: The Government is building on the three ‘Rs’ concept introduced in my 2015 Report. Employers are increasingly recognising the benefits of ‘Retaining, Retraining and Recruiting’ older people in their workforce. The Business Taskforce that I established has continued its work and is now trialling initiatives that can help extend working life for those who want it, as well as helping older workers combine working with caring responsibilities, as will increasingly be required.

This is nothing less than a social revolution – and it’s already underway. More older people are working now than ever before, yet there is still much further to go. Even though life expectancy has risen by more than ten years in the past couple of generations, average retirement ages have fallen. What a waste of resources.

Working longer can boost pensions too: If more people keep working, perhaps increasingly on a part-time basis, they will still be earning money and many will be able to save more in their pensions as well as drawing on their private savings later, so they will last longer.

More initiatives needed: This is great news but there is still much to do. Whether it is more older worker specialists in Job Centres, or greater support for self employment, or mature apprenticeships and mid-life career reviews, we must do more to ensure older workers are engaged in the world of work for as long as they want or need to. The Government needs to recognise the importance of this agenda. Changing social norms is never easy, but it is vital to the future success of our nation.

I am delighted the new Business Champion for Older Workers team will be increasingly engaged with employers to promote this important agenda and wish them every success.

February 5, 2017   Leave a comment

Pensions are in mortal danger – beware

4 January 2017

  • UK private pensions are in mortal danger – their huge benefits seem under threat
  • Anyone who cares about pensions should be very, very worried
  • Latest Treasury info doesn’t mention pensions when educating the public about retirement saving
  • Future generations face worse later life income if Treasury succeeds in undermining pensions
  • ISAs are sub-optimal way to provide for later life and will saddle future Government with rising pensioner poverty – pushing more costs onto the young
  • Now is the time to promote the benefits of pensions so people understand 

The Treasury has just released an infographic for the public, which shows how to save throughout the lifecycle, but doesn’t mention the word ‘pension’. This is further evidence of the concerns I have expressed before about Treasury attitudes to pensions.  It suggests that our private pension system is under existential threat.

Treasury sees pensions as a cost, but they are a real benefit to millions of people:  During my time as Pensions Minister, there was clearly a difference of view between Treasury and DWP about private pensions.  The Treasury sees them as a cost to the Exchequer.  DWP sees them as a benefit for people to give them a better later life standard of living.  That is how most people see them and why they are so important.

Treasury trying to promote ISAs but who is promoting pensions?:  Having battled against the Lifetime ISA, it is deeply troubling to see the latest public information from the Government, talking about ‘ISAs and other savings options’ which omits to mention pensions when saving for retirement.  The huge advantages of pensions are totally ignored.

Anyone using a Lifetime ISA, instead of a pension, is likely to end up with less in later life:  Private pensions are far better than ISAs in terms of their behavioural design.  Using a pension, instead of a Lifetime ISA, should ensure you have more money in later life.  Future Governments will have to deal with the consequences of more poor pensioners, and greater strains will fall again on younger generations.

Pensions have many advantages over ISAs:  Pensions can give you free money from your employer, more Government contribution to your savings, controls on the charges, better investment options for long-term growth and behavioural nudges to stop you spending the money too soon.  The pension can pass on tax-free to your loved ones, or can keep growing as you get older and provide a fund to help pay for care if you need it as you get older.

Using ISAs will mean less money in later life:  ISAs are more likely to be held in cash (giving lower long-term returns), have no controls on charges and encourage you to take all the money as soon as you can, unlike pensions which have incentives to stop you spending the money too quickly.

The big problem with pensions is that many people do not appreciate their huge benefits:  It is time for the pensions industry to start promoting the advantages of using pensions to provide for later life.  We need an advertising and marketing campaign to tell people why pensions are so valuable, we can’t assume everyone knows.  Just saving in cash in an ISA is not a good way to provide for later life.

If you care about private pensions and believe they are worth fighting for, now is the time to stand up and shout about their benefits:  Before it’s too late and they are supplanted by an inferior product because of short-sighted policymaking that will leave long-term dangers.

January 4, 2017   1 Comment