A call for inclusion from the pension elite?
The NAPF have launched a call for an Independent Retirement Savings Commission. I went to hear the arguments yesterday morning and came away with a nice booklet but without much more enthusiasm for the idea than when I went in.
The trouble is that the people within the room and the people on the panel were the usual suspects. The contributors to the booklet were the usual suspects, there were no dissenting voices from the pension orthodoxy that has prevailed for years.
It was from these same offices that Joanne Segars spoke some weeks ago with her opening salvo “with auto-enrolment almost over”. Mike Cherry of the Federation of Small Business was at hand yesterday to make sure she didn’t say that again, but for the NAPF and for most of its members, auto-enrolment is now a matter of re-enrolment, the NAPF can get back to discussing knitting patterns.
If you want to see what was said from the audience search #IRSC on twitter.
The voice of the excluded? Not in this room
Before coming over, I had been engaging with the concerns of middle aged women who are concerned, confused and angry about how the state second pension might be introduced.
If you want to do the same you can by following this link . You may agree and sign the petition, you may want to look at what a group of campaigners are doing for soldiers who are losing rights to their Army Pension, over 55,000 people have signed that petition.
If a pension commission were to be inclusive and consensual, it would be to listen to the arguments of those who were doing badly out of our pension system, not those who were doing well.
My impression after 90 minutes of debate, was that an independent retirement savings commission could not do this and should not do this.
I was nearly convinced by Nigel Stanley.
Nigel Stanley and Mike Cherry nearly talked me round…
Thankfully, Nigel Stanley was on the panel. Nigel announced he would be retiring soon as the TUC’s senior spokesperson on pensions . I wish him the happy retirement he has helped so many people to. Nigel spoke eloquently and passionately about the need to protect ordinary people from pension policy.
Most importantly he pointed out that you cannot take politics our of pensions, how we treat our elderly and how we help people prepare for later years is at the very heart of politics.
Nigel’s idea for a Pension Commission was a means of holding politicians to account, not as a means of collecting data to aid political decision making to be evidenced basis.
He likened his vision for a Pension Commission as something akin to the Low Pay Commission, ensuring fairness for all. He rejected the idea of it being a pension equivalent of the Office of Budget Responsibility.
He called for it to make policy or even to lobby for policy. As a democrat, I can understand where he is coming from.
But while I agree with the need to provide protection for all those for whom the occupational pensions of the NAPF and the insurance policies of the ABI, I cannot see a need for a low paid pensions commission.
Mike Cherry spoke well on behalf of small employers staging auto-enrolment.
For a fleeting moment I toyed with the idea of a commission to oversee the ongoing workings of auto-enrolment, but as I asked the question of Mike Cherry, I realised that this did not work either.
Another Government body, the Government doesn’t listen to?
As I left, I wondered what was wrong with what we’ve got. Anthony Hilton of the Evening Standard had asked whether such a Pensions Commission might not be just the latest Government body the Government didn’t listen to.
It was then that I walked away from this idea. What we need is a democratic process that ensures that pensions policy gets created in the right way and is maintained by the right people. We need good civil servants, good politicians and a good process. We have to accept that we will sometimes get bad politicians making bad policy in a bad way.
But the answer to the problem is not to create an unelected pensions commission or an unelected independent retirement savings commission. The answer is for ordinary people to stand up for themselves and those around them, as those who run the campaigns for fairness for our troops and for woman’s rights to the state pension are doing.
Let’s have a debate that stars the audience
Yesterday finished for me with a great debate where the good people of Leeds launched into Cameron, Clegg and Milliband with questions that were searching- sometimes to the point of being rude. That’s how people talk in their lounges, that’s how they talk on MSE and in the comments columns of our financial websites.
As Jonathan Freedland wrote in the Guardian, the audience was the star.
These voices are not going to be heard by any pensions commission populated by people in the room I sat in yesterday morning. Their voices will be heard through the ballot box and through the ongoing engagement with Government that keeps them honest. You can hear the noise of what Bernard Levin called the silent majority, because they are no longer silent. They are more and more vocal as technology gives them a voice.
We have an apparatus of Government that is highly sensitive, look at the way the Pension Regulator is engaging with auto-enrolment through the various interest groups that are springing up. For goodness sakes, tPR runs a highly successful linked in group! We bombard Steve Webb and Gregg McClymont with our suggestions via twitter, email and face to face.
Ultimately , we have the means to get our point across. The NAPF and ABI have doors open to them in Government, so do the TUC, the FSB and all the other interest groups represented at yesterday’s meeting.
Our political process is strong and we have open Government. We do not need Independent Retirement Savings or Pension Commission. We need good more good Government.