Keen to dispel the impression that the DWP does absolutely nothing with its time, its new Secretary of State , David Gauke has promised that the Government “will not shy away from taking decisions on pensions“.
This statement was made nearly two months after the legal deadline for announcing the DWP’s decision on the future of the state pension age (SPA) and two years after the start of the consultation on the future of tax-relief on pensions – initiated by Gauke’s former department – the Treasury. We are still awaiting any tough decisions on either.
If Gauke is after advice – there is plenty for him on Twitter this morning.
Scrap tapered AA
Restrict relief to 20%
Ban Unregulated investments held in SIPP
— Dominic Thomas (@solomonsifa) July 4, 2017
And what of our new Pension Minister?
I attended an audience with our new Minister for Pensions and Financial inclusion yesterday and got the shake the hand of Guy Opperman thanks to our friends at the Pensions Advisory Service.
I like Opperman’s background as a campaigner for social justice and he told us that along with Steve Webb , he is one of only two Pension Ministers who has actually asked for the job. He will have to work a lot harder than his predecessors to get things done but the tenor of his short speech yesterday suggests that that’s what he’s good at.
Sources that know tell me that the Minister would be well-advised to make a statement on the SPA that links any decision to the latest data being collected by the Office of National Statistics. These are eagerly awaited by the actuarial profession. If they confirm the data from Club Vita and from the professions own CMI unit then what seems an inexorable rise in SPA may just be delayed.
Morale in his section of the DWP must be low for it to admit to the FT that recent policy on auto-enrolment was based on assumptions made in 2009
“These figures are based on outdated estimates which were made before automatic enrolment was introduced,”
Women at the gates – women to the rescue!
There are two further areas of immediate contention for the Pension Minister. The first is what to do for the women against state pension inequality (WASPI) and the other is how to appease the wrath of Angie Brooks and the legion of the scammed.
It is no surprise that both campaigns are led by women or that yesterday’s event was organised and sponsored by Michelle Cracknell and Jeannie Drake.
Opperman is surrounded by some formidable women, let’s hope that he taps into this resource.
Awkward for Gauke
Exactly why Gauke thinks he has a chance of introducing radical reform with through a minority Government is beyond me. If his boss, George Osborne, could not introduce a radical system of tax-relief for fear of his back-benchers, what chance Gauke, sitting in the DWP with a lame-duck Chancellor and a party that can’t even sing in tune on public service pay.
The pension system is listing towards the wealthy who get the bulk of the tax-relief on private contributions. It is failing those who are on low incomes, many of whom get no tax-relief at all on pension contributions due to the idiocy of “net-pay” auto-enrolment schemes.
While such fundamental inequalities exist within pension taxation, the Pension Minister must concern himself with the reorganisation and rebranding of MAS, TPAS and Pensions Wise through a Bill which is starting its way as we speak.
What hard decisions are left with the DWP?
Gauke and Opperman need to be clear just what these hard decisions are if they are to have any credibility with those in pensions, let alone the wider public
If they are ambitious, they will take on the issues around the funding of long-term care.
They will work with the Treasury to revive the proposals for a fairer form of pension tax-relief.
They will be decisive on the State Pension Age. But I am far from convinced that the junior role accorded the Minister for Pensions and the compromised status of David Gauke (the minister for Treasury failures past) render the brave statements of the past few days much more than rhetoric.
The proof of the pudding
The departures of Richard Harrington who claimed pensions were more important than politics and Baroness Altmann, who dismantled the DA and pot follows member initiatives and then jumped – means we have had no pension champion in Government for over two years.
Meanwhile money is bleeding from our DB schemes into “pension freedoms”, we have no idea how to manage lifetime incomes for the majority of those with DC pots, we have no direction for SPA, we have a pension tax system discredited by the very Government who has ducked reforming it. The WASPI women remain unsatisfied, the legion of the scammed are being horse-whipped by HMRC and the triple-lock is propped up by a bunch of loony-toons from Ulster.
The proof of the pudding for the DWP is in the eating. We are on a diet of austerity in more ways than one. If David Gauke wants to tell us he is as good as his word, he had better come up with something a little more meaty than what we’ve had since May 2015.