Experts and unions at loggerheads over pensions

Oct 07 2005 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Compelling employers and the public to save more towards their pension would be a disaster for the UK, pensions experts have warned.

But, in a sign of the widening gap between employers and workers on how to plug Britain's pensions' black hole, the TUC has argued that compulsion is in reality the only credible solution.

The Association of Consulting Actuaries has called on the Government to instead develop a three-pronged approach: raise the state pension, extend retirement ages and bring in more incentives for people to save.

At the association's annual dinner, ACA chairman Adrian Waddington stressed the country could not afford any more mistakes when it came pensions' planning.

"The number of employees covered by any form of occupational pension scheme is in rapid decline – this is not disputed," he said.

"The policy-mix must be wrong for this to be happening. Sixty eight per cent of employers say present policies to promote occupational pensions are not moving in the right direction," he added.

"For the public's sake, the Government simply cannot afford to make any further mistakes in its approach to pensions," he continued.

"There is considerable agreement across the pensions industry on what needs to be done to improve state and private pensions.

"Consolidation of the state pension at a higher level, a move over time to later retirement ages and new incentives to boost private pension saving are policies voiced by many organisations," Waddington recommended.

The Pensions Commission, which is due to report at the end of next month, needed to bring all these threads together and come up with a common sense approach, he stressed.

"New incentives to boost private savings on top of a better state pension will be essential – we believe this is a much better approach in a free society than compelling employers and people to save," he said.

Any move by the Government towards compulsion, scathingly dismissed by Waddington as a "half-baked pet idea", ahead of the commission's report would be disastrous, he stressed.

A survey of employers by the association has found nearly nine out of 10 support a higher level of state pension, with 72 per cent saying contracting-out of the state pension should be abolished.

Nearly two thirds back measures to promote lower-cost defined benefit schemes, it added.

The TUC, in its report, however, has taken completely the opposite tack, arguing that the Government should not increase the billions of pounds it already spends on tax incentives to encourage individuals and companies to make proper pensions provision.

Increasing incentives will simply increase inequalities by providing extra help for the well off and switch cash from other savings vehicles, it suggested.

If the Government is serious about increasing savings it would have to introduce compulsion, as voluntarism – even with the current high level of incentives – had failed, said the TUC.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "We already have huge incentives to save for retirement, but they are not working.

"Instead of the further help for the better off that new incentives would provide, the Government should phase in compulsory savings for employers and employees," he added.

Without the need for extra incentives, ministers could instead look putting more money into the state pension.

"A better state pension would give everyone a firm foundation on which to build a pension," he said.