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Govt criticised over ineffective pensions policy

Jenna Towler
Written By:
Jenna Towler

Government policies aimed a reducing the liability of the state for supporting people in retirement could fail due to being managed across different departments, auditors say.

A report from the National Audit Office (NAO) has found there is “no overarching programme or single accountability” for encouraging people to save for retirement.

It said the Treasury leads on overall savings strategy, and the Department for Work and Pensions on workplace saving but, without a whole system view “there is a risk that individual, but co-dependent interventions may not be effective in increasing saving for retirement”.

National Audit Office head Amyas Morse said: “The government is implementing a range of individual measures to help reduce the future cost for the state of people living longer and not saving enough for their retirement. But these measures are being managed by a variety of departments and public bodies and there is not enough coherence and accountability.

“What is needed is for the government to take a more holistic view of its portfolio of interventions, how they interact and their relative costs and benefits.

“It should be more active and effective in influencing citizens to save more and plan more effectively for retirement, and in seeking to change the negative attitudes of some employers towards older workers.”

The report highlighted the significant consequences for the taxpayer as people live longer and spend longer in retirement in addition to having higher social and healthcare needs.

Spending on the state pension and pensioner benefits increased from 5.5% of GDP in 1990 to 6.9% in 2011-12, in part because of the growing pensioner population, but also because of increased spending per capita on pensioner benefits, the report found.

The government expects to reduce the potential long-term spending liability by increasing the future state pension age, introducing automatic enrolment into workplace pensions and changing the state pension.

However, the investigation found that the existing initiatives to manage the problem “face challenges”.

Government is working to change employers’ attitudes towards older workers and has broken down some of the barriers to a longer working life by abolishing the default retirement age, but it does not have a formal published strategy to influence employers.

The success of encouraging saving for retirement through automatic enrolment into a pension, which began in October 2012, also depends on the responses of individuals, pension providers and employers – in particular on the proportion of employees who remain with the schemes.

The value of the UK state pension, as a proportion of pre-retirement earnings, has historically been low compared to other developed countries, and projections for future spending on state pensions and pensioner benefits as a share of GDP may prove too optimistic.

The report added the long-term costs for government remain highly uncertain.

The actual residual liability on the state created by lack of saving for retirement is not known and will be determined by such factors as trends in healthy life expectancy, inflation, GDP growth, investment returns, migration and house ownership and the outcomes of measures to increase saving and extend working.

Hargreaves Lansdown head of pensions research Tom McPhail said: “We would like to see a stronger savings culture in the UK. We believe there is an opportunity for the Treasury to take a lead in coordinating efforts between public bodies and the financial sector, to increase savings and to reduce our collective reliance on borrowing our way out of successive financial crises.”