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Meaning of pensions

Turner has come up with nothing original and more time has been wasted

Those of you familiar with the work of author Douglas Adams will be aware that the answer to the question, What is the meaning of life, the universe and everything, is in fact 42.

It seems to me that Lord Turner has used exactly the same computer (called Deep Thought) used by the characters in Adams’ novel but instead has answered the question, What is the meaning of pensions, and come up with another numeric answer – 68 – this time referring to the age at which state benefits should start to be paid.

I am not sure what the Pensions Commission has been doing for the past few years but it is disappointing that it appears to have come up with nothing original. Perhaps I have unreasonable expectations of what a consultative body might be able to achieve but it seems to me that yet more time has been wasted.

If you want to go back to the root cause of the current pension crisis, surely 1997 is a pretty good date to start. Another disappointment with the Turner report is that he seems to have failed to grasp that a major contribution to the current and future problem is one of Gordon’s stealth taxes. Since 1997, he has robbed pension funds by taxing the UK equity dividend income.

Literally billions and billions of pounds have been taken from occupational and personal pension funds to shore up the Government’s spend on such diverse issues as a war in Iraq and flying the Chancellor backwards and forwards to Israel.

Bottom line, of course, is that there are relatively few things that can be done to solve a future pension funding shortfall. As every reader knows, it really is one or a combination of save more, work longer, have a lower retirement income. None of them individually or collectively are palatable but unless I am missing something, everything boils down to these simple truths. It really does not take that long to produce a report that states the obvious.

If there is a positive out of the Turner report it is that he is seeking to inform the debate. But for how much longer can we continue to have the debate? Surely one of the things all of us wants from the Government is that they are decisive and clear thinkers?

The reality is that when major change is required, it is best to get on and do it rather than waste even more time pontificating about the best way to do it. You can guarantee no early action and it is captured nicely on page 35 of the executive summary: “We recommend that Government should establish a successor body to the pensions commission charged with presenting every three-four years a report which sets out…” Oh, oh.

Is this a case of the longer a decision is not made, the less likely it is that the current lot will have to make it?

Is the best that Turner can do is come up with a variation on the stakeholder theme but this time run by Government rather than financial services product providers? Stake-holder could not work at a 1 per cent charging cap but the assumption is that the National Pensions Savings Scheme will work at 0.3 per cent a year and a degree of pseudo-compulsion.

With the Government track record on the implem-entation, on time and on budget of complex computer systems, it will certainly be 2050 before this hair-brained new scheme is in place. In fact, we can employ some real joined-up thinking here. Why not employ the projected 50,000 people who will lose their jobs in the financial sector to start work on the systems for NPSS now. After all, most of them would have ended up in public sector employment anyway and it will at least enable them to retire on defined benefits at age 60.

Let’s make everyone retire at age 93 and have done with it. I have to tell you that I reach age 65 in 2020. Phew, that was close.

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