Most of us working in the UK these days are heading for a period of great worry and uncertainty later in life when we become pensioners.
Despite the fact we have had a thriving pensions industry for more than 60 years, and a state pension system for over a century, the nation seems unable to provide any real peace of mind for its citizens as they leave the workforce and enter the last phase of their lives.
At the most basic level, our attempts to provide our older citizens with financial and emotional security have failed. Old age should not be a time when people are wracked with worry.
Our state pension system has been in turmoil for as long as I can remember. Now, what was certain yesterday is no longer certain today, and will be completely unlikely tomorrow.
There are just two certainties we can count on with our state pension. First, we are never likely
to know how much it will be.
Second, we will not know for sure when, or even if, we will get it. It seems its provision will always be tied to the political winds blowing at any time.
Our company pension schemes that have sustained the hopes of almost half the UK work-
force for over half a century are now crumbling in slow motion. And all we can do is stand by and watch.
The financial and political storms raging around them mean we can no longer count on such schemes living as long as we are likely to. We are already being conditioned to expect lower pensions or lower compensation as the flagship defined benefit schemes of the past founder on the rocks of today’s fiscal realities.
That those new realities – which have fundamentally changed the nature of the promise made between the Government, employers and employees – are restricted to the private sector and the provision of the state pension, and do not seem to affect the generous bargain struck between the government and its employees, is bizarre.
Surely the winds of change will soon have to be felt by our massive unfunded public sector schemes too?
For the half of the workforce that has never had access to a company pension scheme, the Government’s ill-conceived 1960s experiment of providing a second earnings-related state pension has proved to be a real disaster.
The dismantling of that system and its replacement with enforced savings through automatic enrolment is unlikely to provide much in the way of financial security for the millions excluded from the process (and little enough even for those who are included).
As the spread of private pension coverage goes wider it seems set to become ever more shallow as a consequence, leaving more of us ill-prepared for the trying times we will encounter as our lives draw to a close.
It speaks badly of us all – but, in particular, those in the pensions industry and the Government –
that this is the best we can do.
Steve Bee is director at Jargonfree Benefits