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

We look at lots of different ways of communicating with people. The thing that we know most of all is that if we opt people in to pensions and they have to opt out, they stay in. We could have hand-printed 1 million booklets—I could have delivered them and sat down for half an hour with each person, and I would not have persuaded them. We have used the power of inertia and what we know about how people behave to get them in as 1 million Government advertising campaigns would never have done.

We are going to include financial education in the national curriculum. That is a good thing. Under the Budget measures that the hon. Gentleman referred to, people will have a guidance guarantee, so before they make their choices, they will have the right to a face-to-face conversation with somebody who is not trying to sell them anything, as he said. It is not independent financial advice—they can pay for that separately if they want; it is just a conversation that they have never had a right to before that will enable them to make informed choices. If they want to spend some of their pension money up-front, it is their money to spend, but we are making sure that there is a state pension system in place, so that even if they underestimate how long they will live—blow the lot, or whatever—they will have that floor of the state pension above the means test that they do not currently have.

I want to mention something else that may be of interest to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents who reach state pension age under the current system. We are allowing people to top up their state pension if they want to. If someone has a bit of savings and they want to pay voluntary national insurance, under a new category of national insurance for people who have already retired, or who will do shortly—we are calling it class 3A or the additional state pension top-up—they can pay national insurance and get an extra pension for the rest of their life. That will be index-linked. There will be survivors’ benefits if they die. We think that will appeal to a set of people who perhaps have very low interest on their savings currently and are getting nothing in the bank. From October 2015—there are helplines, websites and all the rest of it—they can make additional contributions and enhance their pension if they wish. That is another option that we have created for today’s pensioners.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the guarantee credit. The constituent that he mentioned, if I understood him correctly, is above women’s state pension age, so qualifies for pension credit, but has not reached men’s state pension age. Clearly, in that period, we are saying to people who have no other income, “Here is an income that we think you need to live on, but if all you have is half of it, we will top you up to the full amount.” In theory, people could have nothing at all and get the full amount, which I think was the point that he made.

However, bear in mind conditionality on benefits. We do not allow people just to get jobseeker’s allowance for doing nothing all day. In a different debate, his colleagues might be saying to me, “We are far too strict with these folk. We are sanctioning them when we should not be”—and all the rest of it. The rules are pretty tight, so the option of sitting at home all day and doing nothing, and getting credits for a state pension, is one that we are essentially eliminating. People get credits for their state pension and so on only if they are actively seeking work, applying for jobs and doing the things we expect them to do. We do not have the system whereby people can just do nothing and then cash in. There are an awful lot of conditions and requirements on people receiving benefits.

We have tried to recognise that the system has been fiendishly complicated in the past—we accept that—and to simplify it so that it is simpler and fairer, particularly to older women, many of whom have done very badly out of the system. We have tried to ensure that everyone is in a workplace pension as far as possible and that that is good quality and good value, and to put new freedoms and guidance alongside that. I hope that, as a result, we will have a much fairer system in the future than we have had in the past.

Annotations

George Morley
Posted on 10 Apr 2014 6:43 pm (Report this annotation)

In the waffle by the Pensions Minister he said :"they can pay national insurance and get an extra pension for the rest of their life. That will be index-linked".
Is he positive about that ? Why then would he deny those pensioners who he now freezes their rightful indexed pension ? Of because they are in a wrong country which makes a difference ? Never any justification or valid reason for cheating a fully qualified paid up pensioner but they don't matter any more do they ? I suspect that the pensioners he mentioned here will suffer the same discrimination.

George Morley
Posted on 10 Apr 2014 6:43 pm (Report this annotation)

In the waffle by the Pensions Minister he said :"they can pay national insurance and get an extra pension for the rest of their life. That will be index-linked".
Is he positive about that ? Why then would he deny those pensioners who he now freezes their rightful indexed pension ? Of because they are in a wrong country which makes a difference ? Never any justification or valid reason for cheating a fully qualified paid up pensioner but they don't matter any more do they ? I suspect that the pensioners he mentioned here will suffer the same discrimination.