AXA Life: party leaders are ‘less than forthcoming’

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Following the election debates, political leaders have been accused of not addressing the reform of public-sector pensions properly.
According to AXA Life, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg ‘touched on pensions issues’.

The Conservatives have talked about capping public-sector pensions at £50,000 per year, closing the MPs’ final-salary scheme and asking an independent office of budget responsibility to conduct an audit of public sector pensions.

The Liberal Democrats have discussed setting up a commission to review further reform of public-sector pensions, looking at additional cost-capping and increases to the retirement age.

And Labour is not sending out any signals that further reform is in the air. During his speech to the Royal College of Nurses last week, Brown said he was committed to defending final-salary schemes for state workers.

But after the last of the three live Party Leaders debates on national television, Steve Folkard, head of pensions and savings policy, AXA Life, said: “Disappointingly, after three comprehensive debates the voting public have not heard how the party leaders would deal with the reform of public-sector pensions if they were to be forming the next government.

“The real value would have been in having the leaders debate this key issue in front of the nation. Of course we all want nurses and other public-sector workers to have decent pensions in retirement, but the lack of any real discussion during the live TV debates is a missed opportunity.

‘Recent AXA research showed that nearly six in 10 voters say that pensions are an important election issue, with real concerns over public-sector pensions. Over a third of those we surveyed wanted to hear in the debates how the party leaders plan to tackle the imbalance between public and private-sector pension provision.”

The report highlighted the public’s concerns by looking at the case of a 25 year-old female worker in the private sector who would have to contribute almost 25% of her annual salary every year to receive a pension on a par with her public-sector counterpart -this contribution is more than double the 10% figure generally assumed for private- sector contributions.

Folkard added: “I understand that the reform of public-sector pensions is a sensitive topic that requires consideration of a wide range of issues including the merits of different models of provision, modification in retirement ages and the protection of existing benefits accrued. But there is clearly a strong public wish for the inequalities associated with public-sector pensions to be tackled as a matter of priority.

“Equally, with the cost to the country of public-sector pensions running at more than £45 billion according to 2008 figures (equivalent to around 80% of the budget deficit that year), voters are looking for government to lay out a sustainable way forward for the funding of pensions in the public sector.

“There must now be the fullest possible engagement across the political spectrum with a commitment for action early in the new parliament. Certainly the CBI’s recent call for the next government to set up an independent commission on this topic is something that AXA would support wholeheartedly as a realistic and positive step forward.”



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