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Tom Kean: Politicians are suffering from ‘detail fatigue’ over pensions


I am not sure this is a universal law of life but I am pretty confident many will empathise with me when I suggest that, after 20 or 30 years of work, one starts to form strong opinions based on actual experience rather than the “folly of youth”.

As you accumulate experience (and, regrettably, it is perhaps some of the more negative elements that stick) you finally begin to understand that even the most impressive entities can get things completely wrong.

Standing in the inspiring £4.3bn Heathrow Terminal 5 building this summer, my mind started wandering to matters of a less-than-critical nature, namely the enormous graphic display indicating the waiting times to get through security checks.

Both North and South had three characters lit standing in line. Now, I guessed the physical dimensions of the sign might indicate there was enough room for, say, eight people symbols but as the maximum capacity was not marked it could have been anywhere between three or 10 for all I knew.

I asked a bored-looking “person with no discernible purpose” if they knew how many characters constituted a full house, and they did not know either. Three hours early for our flight and somewhat bored meant it had little impact on our party but if you were late for a flight I suspect it might add to your woes. It seems £4.3bn cannot buy decent signage.

If T5 can get such a simple thing wrong and deem it unimportant what hope do we have in our overly complex and confusing world? I am not sure what this malaise is called but I am going to call it “detail fatigue”. And it is something that happens quite a lot.

The ever-splendid Ros Altmann’s social media output has given us all an insight into similar phenomena at the highest level of government, which makes for seriously worrying reading.

Against the “keep quiet and it might go away” school of policymaking, Altmann appeared to do her very best to try and advertise the fact certain types of pension schemes do not (or cannot) always facilitate basic rate tax relief to some low earners. She also made valiant efforts to bring to light the inequities of the new state pensions scheme to an unsuspecting public.

I particularly liked the way it took many months for the penny to drop about the new flat rate pension not being quite flat rate if you had previously contracted out. Her pained accounts of what happens in the higher echelons of power has been a real eye-opener and simply compounds the belief that we are all just pawns in a big game no one really understands.

I would rather believe it was just widespread apathy and ignorance in particular government departments, because the conspiracy alternative is really unpalatable. But from what Altmann is saying, it actually seems to be mostly deliberate with a smattering of detail fatigue. I can imagine that as a collective everyone assumes everyone else understands these things, when in fact they probably do not. Fearful of appearing stupid, such matters are only then mentioned in muffled tones with knowing nods and grunts until someone like Altmann comes along and exposes things for what they really are.

Unlike ergonomic disasters at T5, misunderstandings with certain elements of public finance can have devastating consequences that should be making the FCA squirm with discomfort.

Tom Kean is director at Thameside Financial Planning


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There are 6 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. When we have persons such as senior ministers at the Treasury stating that they don’t have a clue about pensions, coupled with our own experience of just how complicated they can be. Then add in the “unintended” consequences caused by legislation pushed through. Is any of this even slightly surprising?

    I have often felt that any MP who oversees any “technical” department, should be required to have skills/qualifications/experience in that area. Or be subjected to an intensive training regime when they take office.

    We should also then have all MP’s who might vote on such measures being required to be trained enough to understand the implications of their vote, or being barred from voting on that subject, simply because they don’t have a clue what they are talking about.

    We might than actually be able to properly overhaul the pensions system, simplify it and make it fit for purpose in the longer run.

  2. Financial Conduct Authority seemingly cannot deal with misconduct by Government who use discrimination in the Pension Act having placed section 20 into it which denies just a minority 4% of pensioners their rightful annual uprating which is part of the contract with the pensioner and an entitlement not an unpaid benefit to be withdrawn on a whim.
    So a useless quango that should be scrapped to save money.
    The Government had the perfect Pensions Minister with Baroness Ros Altmann but on placing her there they promptly gagged her to hide there own ineptitude, mores the pity for the pensioners and the Frozen State pensioners in particular who have yet to have their fraudulent position debated properly.
    Anyone following the Pension Bill through parliament would have read of the travesty of a scrutiny phase passed off without any reasonable discussion possibly due to the ignorance of those debating it especially Lord Freud and the change of support by Steve Webb and David Cameron who was aware of the issue.
    Oddly enough there has never been any justification for this policy but it is defended with obtuse statements even using longevity as a excuse. Pathetic by any standards and condoning discrimination is seen as appropriate even though it contravenes the Code of Conduct of MP’s.

  3. Andy Robertson-Fox 19th October 2016 at 8:27 am

    It did not take 20 to 30 years for 4% of all UK pensioners to understand that that most impressive of entities – the combinatıon of Treasury and DWP – had got it completely wrong. The trouble is that after sixty-five years those august bodies still do not recognise the injustice of the frozen pension policy…or if they recognise it are too incompetent to rectify this illogical and irrational discrimination.

  4. Politicians are always interfering with pensions usually to make pensioners worse off while their rich buds get special treatment with tax loopholes etc. So no sympathy for their detail fatigue from me, they just need to butt out. What should be top of the list as far as unfairness is concerned is not the WASPI women, they need to join the queue behind the frozen state pension victims who have been demanding justice for decades. These seniors, because of this scandal, have been cheated out of thousands over the years and yet this injustice is just allowed to go on year after year, I thought discrimination was illegal but the Teflon coated UK government it would seem are above the law.

  5. “Politicians are suffering from ‘detail fatigue’ over pensions”.
    Well whose fault is that one may ask ?
    It seems to me that the politicians have brought it upon themselves
    because they do not answer our questions which means a repeat letter.
    Problem solved – no because the recipient has a wad of replies that are identical and a
    further reply does not answer the question !

  6. It’s not just politicians, it’s EVERYONE.

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