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On opposite sides of the means street

Pensions minister James Purnell and Scottish Life’s Steve Bee have been having a ding-dong argument about means testing and planned pension accounts in a series of blogs on the Guardian newspaper’s website.

Just last week at a Money Marketing/Cicero Summit, Purnell argued that the Government’s intention was to retain some means testing but that despite this, Personal Accounts were going to be a good deal for savers when Government tax relief and employer contributions were considered.

The crux of Purnell’s argument is that you will still be better saving than not saving.

Bee accepts that people may be better off but that they will view means testing as a tax on thrift. This week, Bee argues that the effective 8 per cent contribution level is a myth by converting the means testing at the end of the plan into effective contributions at the start. He says the sum that a poorer saver may get back effectively lowers their contribution levels.

In all this discussion, we can see that the minister has a point about people being better off but we still feel means testing would be better done away with, if at all possible.

Money Marketing is very much in the Bee camp, particularly when considered alongside the faith placed by ministers in generic advice. Yet it is clear that this Government believes abolishing means testing is not politically possible. At least Purnell should be applauded for strongly arguing his case and for mastering his brief But we hope that Bee’s views prevail eventually.

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