Discussion on Radio 4 – Decision Time Nick Robinson – Pension Provision in the UK

I listened with interest to the latter part of the debate on Wednesday 9th January with interest. I found the debate very interesting but I wonder in this world of RDR (Retail Distribution Review) and the demand by the Financial Services Regulator for qualifications for those who engage in public debate in advising clients: what qualifications were in evidence on your panel?

Dr. Ros Altmann showed antipathy to the notion of means tested pension benefits and I can only agree with her standpoint as does my colleague Eleanor Downie, a Fellow of the Chartered Insurance Institute and Chartered Insurance Practitioner who has dealt in pensions for over forty years.

A number of your speakers intimated that State Benefits were “arbitrary” but I believe where State Pensions are concerned, the clue is in the name of the fund that is used to provide those pensions – National Insurance. The principle of insurance, and Lord Beveridge used that principle in its purest sense, is that benefits should be directly related to contributions received. When Eleanor Downie and I read the first “Turner report” on pension we applauded its observations. When we read the definitive report which was geared to a political outcome that suited the government in power, we were dismayed.

We do not operate from some ivory tower. We work with pensioners and pensions at “street level” engaging with those who contribute and receive benefits from Pension Schemes. The notion that commercial pensions are ‘dead in the water’ as portrayed in some of your orators discourse is entirely misguided. Indeed much of what was said I found to be misguided.

Radio 4 is, to my mind, a provider of authoritative debate rather than a discourse of “bar room perceptions.” It is unfortunate that your listening public were given the impression, which Dr. Ros Altmann highlighted on several occasions, that saving for pension was a futile gesture. It certainly is not. It is a financial necessity.

Contributions to the National Insurance Scheme contain ‘rights’ which should be inalienable. Benefits cannot be changed at the whim of a Politician any more than a major insurance company can alter the benefits under a contract of insurance once it is in place.

The politically motivated shift from forty nine contributions to secure full State Pension benefits to thirty contributions in terms of years paid were brought about by the female lobby headed up by Baroness Hollis. This has deprived the National Insurance Scheme of contributions and has resulted in benefits being paid to those who are certainly not ‘entitled’ to them, many of whom elected to avoid paying National Insurance contributions in the 1970s and 1980s.

I enjoyed the programme. I enjoyed the debate. The topic is certainly one necessary for discussion. It was just a pity that the underlying principles of pension provision were so blatantly ignored.

This is a highly technical subject currently used as a political football by Politicians who it appears, have little to contribute to the debate other than perception and misunderstanding. That can only be to the detriment of those who elect them. The political bias in the debate was only too obvious. Please ensure a better balance should such a debate occur in the future, it will make for an even more entertaining and enlightening experience.

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