Fairness in Pension Provision

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:15 pm on 8th April 2014.

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Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 4:15 pm, 8th April 2014

A zero-hours contract is a contract. If someone has a contract of employment, in the weeks or months—whatever the period is—when they are above the earnings threshold, money goes into the pension. We will not insist on pension contributions being made in weeks when people do not earn any money. How would they put money in?

I think the zero-hours contract argument is greatly overdone, in the sense that the typical person on a zero-hours contract does 20 hours a week, on average. It may vary—when they earn a lot in a good week, they will put a lot into the pension; when they earn less, in a bad week, less will go in. As long as they get work through the contract they will be in a pension, possibly for the first time. I think that many people on zero-hours contracts will do better, because employers would not generally have put them in a pension at all. We are making that happen.

As to people with multiple jobs, a small number of people have jobs that, taken together, would put them into the system, but, taken separately, do not. Sometimes they will have children, and if they do they are credited in the state system anyway. Only 35 years of contributions are needed for a full pension, so someone might not make contributions for a number of years and still get a full pension.

The House of Lords, in about half an hour, I think, is going to talk about the issue in the debate on the Pensions Bill. We will gather more data on it. We think the issue is small, but clearly we need to ensure that we know what is going on. The number of women, for example, doing multiple part-time jobs went down in the past 12 months, so we do not think that the assumption that the numbers are all going up and that it will all get worse is borne out by the data. However, it is a serious point and we will look into it.

The hon. Gentleman is right that people often do not have a clue. It would be lovely to think that one letter from Downing street would fix things. I have two views on the matter. We need to make sure that pensions work for people who do not get it and never will, because with the best will in the world, expecting tens of millions of people to understand all this stuff is a heck of an ask. For me, we have to make sure that the system works for people who do not understand it and do not make active choices. That is where the state pension reforms come in.