David Gauke: I will not shy away from big pension decisions

Secretary of state promises retirement policy that ‘works for all’

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Pensions reform is anything but a short-term game. By their very nature, pensions are there for the long term and changes have to be implemented very carefully.

In the past, successive governments have sometimes “tinkered around the edges”, making layers and layers of small changes, rather than making fundamental reforms.

But since 2010 the government has worked hard to address this, making substantial reform where it is needed and thinking long term about how we can ensure that tomorrow’s pensioners can have the retirement they deserve.

Take the state pension. Years of small-scale reforms had led to a very complex system which was almost impossible fully to explain and very difficult for individuals to understand what they could expect from the state in retirement.

But in April 2016, the new state pension was introduced, bringing much-needed clarity to the system, helping people to know what to expect. For people close to state pension age, the transitional arrangements mean that it is not quite as straightforward to understand as it is for younger people, but we are well on our way to a much clearer system where everyone can plan ahead.

Of course we all know that the reality is that most people will need private savings in retirement to have the lifestyle that they would want. I firmly believe that in 50 years, when we think about the most significant reforms that actually changed people’s lives, automatic enrolment into occupational pension schemes will be high on the list.

When the government first introduced this idea that people would have to opt out of a workplace pension, we estimated that as many as one-third would do so. The reality has been quite different: fewer than 10 per cent are walking away from a workplace pension and in years to come, thanks to this reform, there will be whole generations of retirees enjoying the benefits of a private income they would otherwise not have enjoyed.

It is also worth reflecting on the benefits that this policy brings to the pensions and financial services industry in this country. By bringing in millions of new savers and investors, there is a real opportunity to create new and engaging products for those who simply would not have crossed the industry’s path before.

However, there is still more to be done to make sure that automatic enrolment fulfils its true potential. This is why we are continuing with our review, considering how we build on our excellent start and how we make sure that consumers are engaged with their savings. As we set out in our manifesto, we simply cannot ignore the changing nature of employment. With the rise of the gig economy, it would be wrong to overlook the savings needs of the 4.8m self-employed people in this country.

It is likely that many in this sector are wondering what the future holds and what my priorities are and today, as the new secretary of state for work and pensions, I will be addressing an audience at the Association of British Insurers pensions conference to outline just that.

My message here is that I will not shy away from the big decisions and where change is needed, it will be made. As the election highlighted, how we live in later life is very much on everyone’s minds, both young and old; and that is why we must continue to build on pensions provision that works for all. We need a state pension age that is both fair and sustainable and we need people to approach retirement feeling confident, including in the security of their pension.

These are just two of the challenges that we face and over the coming months we will continue to work closely with the industry to achieve positive results for both consumers and financial services.

David Gauke is the secretary of state for work and pensions. Twitter: @DavidGauke

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