Watch out older people, Booth and Taylor are coming….

Alan Collins

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If asked about my political views, liberal is not a word that would ever feature in my response. No subscription to the Guardian newspaper here.

However, on reading the discussion paper from Philip Booth and Corin Taylor for the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) on “How the older generation should suffer its share of the cuts”, I have had to reassess my thoughts on the virtues of beard growing and sandals.

In short, the paper recommends the abolition of a number of benefits currently provided to older people, namely

  • Certain non-cash benefits (free bus travel, free TV licences and the winter fuel allowance);
  • Married couples allowance for older people;
  • The age adjusted tax-free income allowance; and
  • The earnings link to state pensions (which hasn’t even been re-introduced yet!);

The paper also recommends the state pension age is increased to 66 in 2015, a reduction in public sector pension contributions and an accrual rate of 1/45th for future build up of state pension entitlement. Wow – don’t hold back now guys, say what you really think!

Given the need to reduce the national debt, it is right that ancillary benefits paid to pensioners such as free bus travel and free TV licences come under scrutiny. However, it is unlikely that a government of any persuasion is likely to threaten the winter fuel allowance.

I welcomed the proposal in October 2010 to consider a universal state pension of around £140 per week and so would view the proposed use of an accrual system to be a retrograde step.

The comments on the triple lock of increases applying to the state pension seem flawed. Firstly, the price inflation element of the lock changes to CPI from 2012, which is expected to be less valuable than RPI. This fact seems to have been missed, though it does not appear to affect the estimated cost saving.

The estimated cost saving on excluding the link to earnings also assumes wage growth of 2.5% per annum above inflation, which is certainly higher than I would expect – therefore the saving is likely to be significantly less than the reported £5.6 billion per annum.

Some of the other figures seemed to have been produced like a rabbit out of a hat. For example, apparently a conservative estimate of the annual saving on increasing the state pension age to 66 by 2015 would be about £5 billion – this figure is provided without any justification.

The paper does make some bold suggestions in the pensions arena which are certainly worthy of further consideration. Firstly that the full costs of all pension promises should be revealed. I agree that the current cost is being pulled down by over optimistic assumptions about future investment return and await with interest the release of Lord Hutton’s report on 10 March. The removal of final salary linkage is not enough to stem the tide of rising costs and any move to Career Average accrual is only postponing more difficult decisions for a later date.

Secondly, the paper recommends that individual organisations and councils are allowed to negotiate individual pension arrangements with their employees. This would certainly test the value of pension provision – how much more salary would a public sector employer be prepared to offer in return for lower pension contributions? If NEST is enough, then why shouldn’t organisations be allowed to offer more salary in return for lower pension contributions?

In times of economic difficulty, it would seem that suggestions on how to save money are becoming more aggressive. And I am all for a bit of debate, I just think the debates surrounding some of the more outlandish ideas contained here are likely to be short.

Alan Collins

Post by Alan Collins

Head of Trustee Advisory Services at Spence he provides actuarial, funding and investment advice to trustees and sponsors of ongoing defined benefit schemes.

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