“Pensions that are no more”

Cardinal O’Brien Scotland‘s most senior Catholic, has been very specific in his comments on social inequality. Ostensibly they are aimed at David Cameron, but if the pensions industry think they are absolved, they should think again.

(Cardinal O’Brien) said:

“When I say poor, I don’t (only) mean the abject poverty we see sometimes in our streets.

“I mean people who would have considered themselves reasonably well-off.

“People who have saved for their pensions and now realise their pension funds are no more.

“People who are considering giving up their retirement homes that they have been saving for, poverty affecting young couples and so on and so on.

“It is these people who have had to suffer because of the financial disasters of recent years and it is immoral. It is not moral, just to ignore them and to say ‘struggle along’, while the rich can go sailing along in their own sweet way.”

What interests me is the very careful positioning of the remarks. Yesterday I wrote a blog on poverty in which I made the same distinction. Poverty is not just about destitution, it is about the difference between expectation and delivery.

You don’t miss what you never had but to have your dreams ripped from you is properly emotive.

So the wave of pension strikes we are witnessing do not involve the people who have no pensions but about those whose pensions are being reduced in value.

The people who are striking are often articulating their loss in terms of having to give up golf memberships, second homes and overseas holidays.

Cardinal O’Brien refers to “Pensions that are no more”, very few people will actually lose their pension (the safety nets are in place for all but the true Ponzi Schemes), what is “no more” are many of the dreams and aspirations of middle (aged) England.

These people are articulate and as well as Cardinal Brien they have many powerful friends. I spoke at a Unite Conference during the week and spoke with senior union officers. Again and again , the grievance was about that which had been promised, being taken away.

I have lost count of the number of threads I have seen on pension websites asking what needs to be done to restore confidence in Britain’s pensions. The simple answer is to “pay up on the promises”. But the perception of middle-aged Britain is that of Cardinal O’Brien.

In the absence of proper information on what is happening and why, educated people will take polarised positions (as the quote that forms the title of this blog suggests).

Over the past month, 60 members of my company conducted nearly 3,000 interviews with members of a large pension scheme (at no inconsiderable cost to the sponsoring employer).

What became obvious was that the disillusion that had led to the members going on strike had arisen from a mistaken belief that their pensions were “no more” or at least so damaged as to cause a real drop in their retirement expectations.

My answer to those  who ask the question “what do we need to do to restore confidence” comes in three parts;-

  1. We need to help people understand what they’ve already got and the protections that now surround these rights.
  2. We need to properly explain the real improvements in state benefits that we should  all experience.
  3. We need to overhaul the arrangements we have put in place to get people pensions in the future- frankly the public are right in pointing to the inadequacy not just of the contributions to these “DC” plans, but the DC plans themselves.

Cardinal O’Brien’s points resonate with those we have met. The anger that the Church feels with politicians and their cronies (principally the financial services industry) is on behalf not just of the abject poor (who by implication he accepts will always be with) but with middle-aged Britain who sit in their pews.

In as much as he articulated the fears (rather than the hopes) of his churchgoers, those who pull the levers on their retirement plans, need to pay heed.

Middle-aged Britain will put up with plenty so long as its not at the expense of their pensions. 


About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
This entry was posted in Church of England, Consolation, dc pensions, defined aspiration, pensions, Public sector pensions, religion and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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