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Pension Schemes Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:38 pm on 30th January 2017.

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Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Pensions) 9:38 pm, 30th January 2017

I will endeavour to skim away, Madam Deputy Speaker. You made the point that this is a narrow Bill, which is exactly why it would have been impossible to amend it to take account of the WASPI case. The right hon. Gentleman should know that an attempt to kill the Bill would have done exactly that, and we do not solve the problem faced by WASPI women by defeating this Bill, which is so necessary to protect pension savers. Frankly, he should be thoroughly ashamed of himself; he does no justice for the WASPI women with his campaign and the remarks he is making.

Let me conclude the remarks I was making. The sheer fact that the Cridland review is currently looking at the state pension age, without looking at the existing problems, limits the ability to learn and develop a more progressive outlook, which could safeguard dignity in retirement for pensioners. Generally, the threat of pensions scams and transfers from pensions to high-risk schemes needs to be urgently addressed. [Interruption.] I have got to the bits I am not allowed to say any more. [Laughter.]

We reiterate our call for the establishment of an independent pension and savings commission to look holistically at pension reform, focusing on existing inequalities and paving the way for a fair, universal pensions system. The entire pensions landscape is in need of fundamental reform, particularly with a pressing need now to review and enhance auto-enrolment. The Government are set to review auto-enrolment this year, but reports seem to suggest there may not be substantial changes from the review, and with many missing out on auto-enrolment we need to ensure that this policy is moved forward. Although 7 million workers have been auto-enrolled, a further 6 million workers have missed out. The Pensions Policy Institute revealed that 3.3 million of the people excluded from auto-enrolment had been excluded because they earned less than £10,000 a year. It also found that three quarters of the employees earning less than the auto-enrolment trigger were women.

We believe that lowering or removing the auto-enrolment trigger would significantly increase the number of people saving through auto-enrolment and in master trusts. It would also go some way to alleviating some of the historical inequalities women face, whereby their occupational pension savings are already well below those of men. There are clear disadvantages here, particularly for part-time and the low-paid workers. For example, somebody earning £10,000 per annum will not benefit from the 8% contribution; they will benefit by only 3.4% because over half the earnings are excluded. Although self-employed workers are growing vastly in number, they have fewer incentives to save. If the Government were to review auto-enrolment sufficiently, they could consider moving to a flat rate of pension tax relief and allowing self-employed people to deduct pension contributions from profits to end the disparity.

Looking at the age at which auto-enrolment is triggered could also be more progressive. Just on 26 January, Zurich Insurance called on the Government to take

“a steady approach to increasing minimum auto-enrolment contributions above 8%”.

While there is an acceptance that the levels need to rise, it must be done in a way whereby workers do not opt out.

In conclusion, I welcome this Bill. It contains much we can support and we will work constructively with the Government to enhance it further. I hope that when the Minister winds up he will join with us in that spirit of consensus.