Fairness in Pension Provision

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:58 pm on 8th April 2014.

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Photo of Brian H Donohoe Brian H Donohoe Labour, Central Ayrshire 3:58 pm, 8th April 2014

My hon. Friend has focused on an issue that was dear to my heart and about which I argued forcefully when a previous Administration allowed people to contract out of their company’s superannuation scheme. I was a joint secretary of the Scottish Transport Group when, for the first time in about 1982, people were given the opportunity of opting out of its pension fund and going private. I argued forcefully with everyone and anyone that that was a big mistake, that they were leaving themselves open and that when they eventually retired they would find themselves in a different situation. We had what was recognised at the time to be the best pension scheme—perhaps not as good as that for MPs, but certainly a very good pension scheme. Some people are now in a worse position because they were pounced on by supposedly independent financial advisers who told them that they would be far better off in a private scheme, when the truth was the exact opposite.

Many years ago, I was a convener and shop steward in a shipyard where the blue-collar workers were not in a pension scheme. I argued with the employer and succeeded in persuading them to introduce a scheme. That company is still in my constituency and I still have people telling me, some 40 years later, that it was the best thing that was ever done and that they have never been better off after taking advice and voting overwhelmingly to join that scheme. I do not know whether I am an anorak in terms of pensions, but I believe that making provision for a pension is more important than anything else in life. People should understand that, and do so earlier.

I seek clarification on one or two points, but I want to make a plea to the Minister. How widely defined are “employees” and “new arrangements”? Are the self- employed, carers and the unemployed included? They exclude zero-hours contracts and people who may have two part-time jobs. That is unfair and should be looked at.

I have grave reservations about the new scheme because people will be able to take out money and go on a world cruise or buy a Ferrari. That worries me. It will send the signal to many people who do not understand pensions that they can draw on that money, but at the end of the day they will be a lot worse off. I want an assurance that they will be protected. Financial advice is important, and that must be stated clearly.

A business man came to me and said that every business man in the UK received a letter from No. 10 Downing street telling them about the advantages of the latest Budget proposals on national insurance from 6 April. Will the Minister have a word with No. 10 Downing street to see to it that every single person in the country is sent a letter telling them how fundamental it is for them to look after their old age, and telling them that if they were to die in service, that would be looked at as far as their families are concerned? If I get that assurance, I will go back to my constituents and tell them that the debate has been worth while. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.