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Charlie Duff

Sift Media


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Are we entering the pensions dark ages?


State pension provision in the UK lags behind its G7 counterparts and needs to be reformed in order to avoid today’s workers living in ‘pensioner poverty’, research from AXA has revealed.

In the UK, the state pension is worth just 31 percent of the nation’s average earnings – less than half that of the Italians who retire with a state pension worth 68% of average earnings. Despite this, research from AXA found that some 64% of UK residents intend to rely on their state pension in retirement as more and more workers move away from occupational pension schemes.

Steve Folkard, Head of Savings and Pensions Policy at AXA said: “There has to be a concerted, co-ordinated effort to make sure that people are adequately provided for, or we will inevitably be faced with a pensions dark age.”
AXA compared figures for state pension provision relative to income for the UK in relation to the other G7 countries and dicovered that the UK is sadly lagging behind all other G7 countries when it comes to providing state pensions for older citizens. Increasingly business and HR is looking to help their employees with these issues by provding in-house advice on financial issues.

With recent research showing that 64%  of people plan to live on only the state pension to support themselves in retirement, there is cause for conern. Meanwhile, almost one in five (18%) of 25-34 year-olds believe equity in their house will support them in later years – something that may not be possible if the stricter lending criteria comes into force and mortgages are harder to come by. With the housing ladder potentially becoming even more difficult to jump on, just seven percent of 18-24 year olds believe they will have any equity to support them in their later years.

The ‘buy now pay later’ culture of the ‘noughties’ has left almost a quarter (23%) of people believing they will still have to pay outstanding debts in their retirement (excluding mortgages) with almost one in five believing they will still be paying for their home (18%). Some 44 percent of people believe they will be able to dip in to savings in their retirement, however with a reduction in average savings seen recently , they may not be left with the financial cushion they are expecting.

Occupational pensions
The number of active members in occupational schemes shows an alarming decline with 10.7 million active members in 1991 slipping to just 8.8 million active members in 2007.  At this time two-thirds of the current working population  were not engaged in any form of occupational pension schemes.

While many believe Personal Accounts may improve this picture from 2012 with full implementation in 2016, there remains a large amount of uncertainty around their implementation and potential impact.

The Pensions Policy Institute estimates that the introduction of auto-enrolment into workplace pensions and the continued shift by employers from Defined Benefit to Defined Contribution pensions in the private sector mean that by 2020 there could be an additional 10 million savers in DC pensions; however, AXA’s research shows that just 19% of people are likely to take part in the automatically enrolled scheme.

In light of the continued decline in occupational pension membership, AXA estimates that by 2020, there could be a rise of just 800,000 members in occupational pension schemes, far from the 10million private member estimations. The lack of political consensus coupled with the ongoing economic situation may yet require a further rethink of future pension reforms.

Figures from ONS show that in 2007, the estimated total number of occupational pension schemes in the UK was 54,110 – only 56% of the total in 2004. Whilst such a drop should always be treated with caution the General Household survey GB also found a worrying gradual decline.

The research completed by AXA supports this trend – highlighting that 10% have already cut back on their pension contributions over the past 12 months and a further 9% are planning to cut back on this in the future.

Steve Folkard, Head of Savings and Pensions Policy at AXA said; “The erosion of the once sound company pensions infrastructure in the UK, which supported the retirement needs of the working population over much of the 20th century presents a future government with a massive challenge. Pensioner poverty is set to grow dramatically over the coming years and current reform measures will take years to implement.

“At AXA, we have two major concerns: firstly around the continuation of means-tested benefits, and how the lack of clarity about what a person might receive impacts negatively on peoples’ willingness to save, and secondly, that automatic enrolment for existing schemes needs to be brought forward to increase take up amongst good existing schemes. This is all the more important now that Personal Accounts will not impact many employers until 2016.

“Our research shows that 64% of people are planning to support themselves in retirement on the state pension and as such AXA is calling for more government messaging around the importance of pension saving. This should encourage individuals to take more personal responsibility in saving for an adequate level of retirement provision.

“We risk heading past the point of no return for many people in this country who may be left living on the very minimum in retirement.”

My Budget Day – ‘Living on a state pension’
As part of its My Budget Day campaign to encourage people to take better control of their finances, particularly when it comes to retirement planning, AXA is launching a UK-wide ‘Living on a State Pension’ campaign. The campaign includes 14 people, including former England rugby captain Kyran Bracken and author and broadcaster Rosie Millard living on the equivalent of the basic single state pension (£95.25 per week). They will record their experiences on video diaries and regular updates at: There are also lots of tools on the site which can be used as a resource for employees on the site to help them budget better.

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Charlie Duff


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