Election 2015

Why pensions matter in this election

group of people Image copyright Thinkstock

Pensions cost a significant amount - more than 10% of all government spending in fact, and the sum is rising as people live longer. With a commitment to reducing the budget deficit, is this affordable, or indeed fair to young people?

And with thousands able to access their pension pots more freely after 6 April 2015, what help will there be to make sure they spend the money wisely?

What's at stake?

Pensioners have never had it so good. Thanks to the so-called "triple lock", state pensions are up-rated every year by earnings, inflation or 2.5%, whichever is the highest.

Since 2010, the state pension has risen by 18%. In comparison, weekly earnings for the population as a whole have risen by just 4% (before inflation). And there are plans to freeze working age benefits in the next parliament.

Furthermore, pensioners have benefited in other ways: the chancellor has issued extremely generous pensioner bonds to the over-65s; they are also amongst those most likely to have seen the value of their homes increase.

In the years ahead, state pensions are expected to take up an increasing proportion of the welfare budget.

What are the numbers?

State pensions as a proportion of the welfare budget were 46% in 2013-14, rising to 47.7% in 2018-19, and to 52.2% in 2033. Meanwhile, state pension age is set to rise to 66 by 2020, 67 by 2036, and 68 by 2046.

There are 5.2 million people on automatic enrolment pensions while 5 million men and 7.3 million women are entitled to state pensions. About 300,000 people a year are able to access new pension freedoms.

Sources: OBR, ONS, DWP, HM Treasury, Pensions Regulator



estimated spending on state pension 2014-15

  • £97.65 weekly state pension in 2010

  • £115.95 weekly state pension in 2015

  • 12.2m people expected to retire with inadequate income by 2050


OBR Economic outlook - December 2014

What won't the politicians be saying?

The three mainstream parties have committed to keeping the triple-lock system, even though it will be difficult to afford, and hard to justify.

Behind their thinking may be a worry that, according to opinion polls, UKIP appeals to a disproportionately high number of older people - and older people are more likely to vote.

Given that taxes are likely to rise after the election, it may be that better-off pensioners will be among the first in the firing line. One strong possibility will be an end to the 40% rate of tax relief on pension contributions.

Many in the industry are also concerned that the new pension freedoms have been brought in too quickly, without enough safeguards.

IEA blog on state pension triple-lock

What has changed since 2010?

  • End of compulsory annuity purchase by the age of 75 (2011)
  • Automatic enrolment for workplace pensions (2012)
  • Triple lock on state pensions
  • Rising state pension age
  • New single-tier state pension from April 2016
  • A charge cap of 0.75% on auto enrolment pensions from April 2015
  • New pension freedoms, cutting tax rates on withdrawals from pension pots, and making them easier to pass on - from April 2015
  • Introduction of Pension Wise service, giving free guidance

Pension Wise advice site

What do the experts say?

"There is a big risk that, just as people wasted their pension pots on annuities before, they may now waste them in a different way. You need people to be warned" - Ros Altmann, independent pensions expert

"One of the key concerns we have is about scams and mis-selling. People will have access to large sums of money, and that makes them potentially very vulnerable" - Rachael Badger, Citizens Advice

"Everything has been done in a very compressed timeframe. A lot of the pensions industry will not be ready. I think we need a period of stability and calm." - Tom McPhail, pensions expert, Hargreaves Lansdown