Executive Leader Cllr Kieran Quinn

Kieran Quinn's Blog  

Councillor Kieran Quinn

Talking Sense About Pensions

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

As many of you may already know, as well as being Executive Leader of Tameside Council I am also the Chair of the Greater Manchester Pension Fund and the national Local Authority Pension Fund Forum. I don’t get the opportunity to talk about pensions much in this blog, but every so often something comes up that I feel needs to be commented on.

Like, for example, the report by the Financial Conduct Authority that came out last week. The “Financial Lives” survey, which asked 13,000 people about the state of their pensions, revealed the disturbing fact that 31% of people have no private or occupational pension provision and will have to rely entirely on the state in their retirement. The full state pension currently stands at £159.55 per week, but is only available to those with a complete record of National Insurance contributions.

In a lot of ways this isn’t new information. The question of how we can provide a comfortable and dignified retirement for all in the 21st century has been asked for over 20 years. Put broadly, there are two issues with the way we do modern pensions.

Firstly, while “auto-enrolment” (the requirement to automatically sign people up to a pension when they start a job unless they specifically opt out) has brought millions of people into pensions for the first time, there are still many self- or casually-employed individuals who fall through the cracks. With the growth of the “gig economy”, it unfortunately looks like this group is only going to expand over the next few years unless action is taken. Secondly, pensions are expensive and are only going to get more so as people start living longer. A good rule of thumb is that the percentage of your income you should put in to your pension is equal to half your age, but there are auto-enrolment pensions that require as little as a 2% contribution. The simple fact is that most people underestimate how much they need to put aside for their retirement.

All pension funds, public and private, are facing those issues. A particular problem for local government pensions, however, is the pernicious myths which have been spread around by people with an axe to grind. I’m sure you’ve heard some of them, “gold plated” public sector pensions and the like. In fact, most public sector pensioners leave their jobs with pensions worth less than £6,000 per year. Neither are public sector pension funds unsustainable. Compared to other pension schemes, the Local Government Pension Schemes remain relatively sustainable, and as a fund we’re always looking for innovations and investments that will help us meet our obligations to members in the medium- and long-term.

The people who complain about “gold plated” pensions are also usually the same people who say that public sector workers are “overpaid”, despite the Treasury’s own figures showing that public sector worker’s pay is now less than that of their private sector counterparts. If there’s a conversation to be had about pay and pensions, it needs to be conducted on the basis of hard facts and numbers, not myths and baseless public sector-bashing.

In the meantime, what can you do to make sure that your pension is there for you when you need it? The advice I can give you is simple, all pensions’ savings are good savings, and it’s never, ever too late to start. Many pension schemes also run their own helpline or advice service for those who want more in-depth help, and failing that there is the government-run Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS) as well.

Let’s treat the FCA report as a wake-up call. A wake- up call to the government to tackle the current shortcomings and myths in pension provision, and a wake-up call to ourselves to make sure we’ve doing everything we can to prepare for our own retirement.  

Posted by: Kieran Quinn

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