“Now is not the time to change pensions tax relief”. The words of the Treasury’s press release that spelt the end of radical pensions reform (for now).
Oh what an opportunity missed – and for what? To keep a party divided on its view on Europe in order?
And what have we now? A senior cabinet minister and former leader of the party resigning and openly declaring that the policies of the Government (Chancellor) are driven by political expedience, not by a sense of fairness.
We’re all in it together? The £1.2bn pa savings of the PIP reforms cancelled by a £1.2bn give away to higher rate tax-payers and those lucky enough to have CGT to pay?
Whatever your view of Ian Duncan-Smith, he was at heart a conviction politician who chose not to take a promotion to ensure that the Universal Credit was implemented. He presided over a number of policy successes including auto-enrolment and he ran a department which, when not under siege from the Treasury (we hear) appears happy.
The opportunity to take money from parts of the pension system which quite clearly were being disproportionately subsidised was missed. It would seem that the pain that might have been felt in the back-pockets of those the back-benchers relied upon, was worse than the pain that the poorest and most vulnerable in society suffer daily.
Even the threat of the PIP changes caused pain and anxiety. What has the Big Society come to that it can seem so small minded?
I won’t comment further on the disability PIP, I am out of my depth. But I look at the pension system on which we are supposed to advise with great despondency. After a year’s consultation, we are left with nothing but the prospect of the tapered annual allowance, our own ridiculously PIP (Pension Input Period) and the absurd dual tax relief system that grants a 20% incentive to one person and nothing to another – based on the net-pay lottery.
If we had hope that these stupidities were a temporary measure before the implementation of a proper, simple and fair taxation system for pensions, I would be prepared to put up with them. But we have no such prospect. Instead we have the Lifetime ISA, a whole number of technical changes to the Pension Freedoms, a change to the contribution rates of Government Pensions, an army of disgruntled women with no answers to their justifiable grievance about the communication of their state benefits and many half-completed reviews- not least the work on transparency of costs and charges and a proper definition of value for money.
Those few policy advances that have arisen from the FAMR cannot compensate for the complete mess in which the Pensions Regulator finds itself in over workplace pensions.
So long as welfare is considered a liability rather than an obligation, so long will pension policy be a political football. The one thing we know about retirement planning is that it is a lifetime in the achieving. Yet it’s management by the Treasury is not considered as part of an evolving macro-strategy but is subject to whatever political campaign happens to be at the forefront of the Prime Minister’s mind.
I am coming to the conclusion that I will not be able to take a decision on whether Britain should be in or out of Europe but will decide on the basis of which set of arguments are best presented and the degree of trust I have in the honesty of the presentation.
The events of the past month have swung me from grudging support of the Cameron/Osborne line to quite the opposite. I no more trust these two than I trust the protagonists of the Syrian War. I’m not sure I trust Ian Duncan Smith or Boris Johnson either (both of whom appear self-serving to some degree) but on a scale of relative opportunism, the Brexiters win hands down.
I am sure that I am not alone in being thoroughly pissed off by the way in which public policy is being conducted to serve the political ends of a few very powerful cabinet ministers. The Osborne/Cameron access has behaved quite disgracefully over Personal Independence Payments, towards one of their own big beasts and to the DWP. They have toyed and played with people in pensions but more importantly they have done nothing to address the mess that pensions are in.
I speak as I find, and yes there is a current Conservative membership card in my wallet. I do not consider the running of the Government to be in fit and proper hands. Cameron’s latest dirty trick in suggesting that Duncan Smith’s resignation is simply about Brexit makes his behaviour appear even worse.
Let’s have a little humility and the odd apology – not to each other (that can be done in private) but to the British public who are having to witness this whole tawdry scenario when we should be getting on with being productive.
And after all, it was our lack of production that started all this – wasn’t it George?