I was shocked to read – as I scrolled though my digital FT this morning – Paul Lewis telling me “employers should pay more into pensions”. He argues that “miserly contributions into defined contribution schemes are storing up trouble”.
I had sat yesterday evening in a meeting where it was explained that the increase in auto-enrolment contributions plus compliance with the new minimum wage, would cause employers either to reduce their workforces or to delay taking people on.
The employers in question, were seeing labour costs rise – but not productivity.
Reading through the article, I realised just how hard it must be to understand workplace pensions , if your workplace is your living room.
Paul, like many people I know, is excited about the possibilities of the Pension Dashboard which will show us for the first time how much our employers are putting into our pensions.
Even more excitingly!
“When (the dashboard) moves beyond its prototype — the aim is 2019 — we will be able to see how completely inadequate our savings are with just a few clicks of a mouse”.
Paul then tells us we can’t see the value of our employer’s pension contributions online. This is the point at which my credulity breaks.
For I am confused. Firstly, my payslip tells me what my employer has contributed to my pension, I have a website that tells me when that money has been received by my workplace pension provider and I can get a state pension forecast by going through my Government gateway. In my case, everything but a few very old scraps of pensions can be found by me online- I just have to remember all the passwords!
The pensions dashboard may tell me how much my employer will be paying into my pension but I know the answer, just as I know my salary.
Paul is self-employed , has no-one paying into his pension and no salary. If Paul is contributing into a pension as a self-employed person, he needs to look to his bank statements.
The myth that employers are paying less into pensions
Warming to his theme, Paul turns his ire on the paucity of employer contributions , quoting a graph that we have seen before, it is an Office of National Statistics production.
The point is that most employers are paying more into pensions than ever before!
Something has changed in the way thinks about work and pensions
Workplace pensions are now the norm – 83% agree with this statement; 80% think workplace pensions are good for us – 79% think that being required to pay more would be good for us.
I could go on and rubbish some more of what Paul is saying , but that would be very foolish and wrong. That Paul is confused is obvious. He is confused in the nicest possible way. He need not feel guilty for being confused as he is coming at workplace pensions as ordinary people do – and ordinary people are much more confused than he is.
Something has changed not just for workers but for bosses.
“what more do you want me to do?”.
The importance of Paul getting it wrong
If Paul can be so wrong about dashboards, and employer costs then what must his readership be thinking?
Paul’s misconceptions are based on good intentions; but pointing the finger at employers as the solution to the pension problem is to miss the point. If employers pay more in pension they pay less in salaries or bonuses or benefits – or they simply cut jobs.
Only increased productivity can drive sustainable real wage growth and no amount of digital dashboards will change that.
The problems of inadequate retirement income cannot be placed solely at the doors of employers, nor can they be solved to giving people easier access to information on their pension rights and savings.
The only way out of the problem we have to day is the one we are employing, a slow nudge into adequacy which will take many years (if not decades) to complete. Employers are incredibly onside with regards auto-enrolment. The vast majority have complied and will continue to comply with what they have been asked to do. Many have done more.
Employers need guidance as to what to pay and that’s what they are getting. It may not be enough yet -we are not Australia, but we’re getting there.