I have been working in the pensions industry for almost five decades now. In that time, I have been witness to a great deal of upheaval in what seems like an unnecessarily ever-changing sector.
That said, I honestly do not think I have ever encountered such a strong feeling of hopelessness as that which currently engulfs the subject of pensions provision in our country.
Everyone I talk to, everything I read in the financial press and almost everything I see on social media points to negativity on the issue. To me, this paints a very bleak future. It feels as if we are nearing the final days for pensions:
- Days in which we are far more likely to hear of pension schemes closing than opening; when advisers feel unable to advise on the freedom and choice regime
- Days when the certainties of the state pension promise evaporate before our eyes
- Days when ever more effort is concentrated on stopping a few people from saving too much; when hardly any is expended on helping the vast majority save at all
- Days when rival products to pensions are devised by those who should really know what is best for us
- Days that will never be looked back on as a golden age for pensions; when looking out for yourself has overtaken the natural urge to look out for others.
Over the course of the past few years, a national pension protest movement has grown in towns and cities up and down the land. It is known as the Women Against State Pension Inequality, although its Waspi acronym has become so familiar it is no longer necessary for most who talk about it to explain what it is.
Will pensions prevail?
The poorly-communicated increases to the state pension ages towards the end of the 20th century left a whole generation of women with little or no time to readjust their already fragile retirement plans, and the most vulnerable among them have been left with no contingency in place.
A generation of women who, by and large, had not been well served by the pension system of the 60s, 70s and 80s anyway were laid low by the quiet changes of the next decade.
That the same generation was subjected to further increases in their pension ages in 2011, when many of them were already grandmothers – another kick in the teeth for them.
These millions of women have many valid complaints. Their complaints fall on deaf political ears but they are being heard loud and clear by the many millions of children and grandchildren who bear daily witness to their plight.
What kind of message about the pension system in this country does this send cascading down the generations? It is certainly nothing positive, only adding to the general negativity surrounding the sector in these dark times.
Steve Bee is director at Jargonfree Benefits