Policy and Politics: Coalition to fight for pension reform

Francois Le Goff

A new body aims to let the voice of pension contributors be heard.

Four organisations, including Help the Aged and Age Concern, have formed a coalition to prevent the burden of future pensions contributions forcing staff to work into old age.

The People's Pension Coalition, which also includes the TUC and consumer association Which?, was launched last week, ahead of the Pensions Commission's seminar on the future of UK pensions.

It aims to lobby the key stakeholders involved in the forthcoming pension reform before the publication of the Government's Draft Pensions Bill early next year.

"There is change in the air," said Mervyn Kohler, head of public affairs at Help the Aged. "The debate has so far focused around pensions professionals, such as insurance companies, that look at how the economics work out.

We felt that the voices of users and contributors should be heard too."

The coalition wants to convince the Pensions Commission to scrap the principle of voluntary contributions and get employers to make more comprehensive provision for workers to enable saving. "We are trying to work with them to get a consensus," said Kohler. But this might seem too radical for the commission, which sees the way forward as a mix of voluntary contributions, state system reform and compulsion.

The coalition plans to lobby behind closed doors instead of running a public awareness campaign. "Polls show that people already understand that change is needed," said Kohler. "We are targeting the 80 people we met at the commission's seminar. We will send them regular e-mails."

However, coalition members differ over what extent contributions should be made compulsory. "Many in the coalition believe that employers and employees should contribute to a scheme that would provide an additional pension on top of that provided by the state," said an Age Concern spokeswoman.

"We believe that if increased compulsion is necessary, the fairest way to achieve it would be through the state system."

Kohler added: "We have different nuances of opinion. The important thing is that we all want the future reform to be fair to workers."

The coalition is also calling for a new state pension system that is fairer to women.

It argues that the current law does not recognise that women spend less time in the workplace because they might take long career breaks to bring up children or have to care for someone, because most carers are women.

Set up in December 2002, following the Government's pensions Green Paper, the Pensions Commission is expected to publish its final report, which will contain policy recommendations, in November.

KEY POINTS

- A new body, the People's Pension Coalition, is campaigning to prevent the burden of pensions contributions forcing staff to work into old age - It will lobby main pension reform stakeholders before the Draft Pensions Bill is published next year

- It wants the Pensions Commission to drop the principle of voluntary contributions and get bosses to make more comprehensive provision for workers.

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