A scathing attack has been launch-ed on the UK government's pension policies by former minister of state for social security, Frank Field, the latest in a string of outbursts which have rebuked the government for stifling his pensions reform programme and focused attention closely on the social security agenda of the new government regime.
Speaking at a seminar by the right-of-centre think tank the Social Market Foundation, Field heavily criticised the government for failing to implement an extension of compulsory pension contributions, after its recent announcement of a pension guarantee to enhance benefit levels for the UK's poorer pensioners.
This, he said, would 'play havoc' with the economy and wider society: If this guarantee is offered without extending compulsory pension savings for those in work, then the most powerful and disturbing of signals will be sent out to today's workforce. It will be 'don't worry, don't bother saving, spend all you can today for tommorrow's taxpayer will look after you through the new guaranteed pension."
In July's government reshuffle Field along with former secretary for social security Harriet Harman were demot-ed and replaced by former pensions minister John Denham and Alistair Darling.
Bill Birmingham, head of research at the UK National Association of Pension funds (NAPF) says although the lack of any concrete announcements so far from the new ministers is keeping everyone guessing, Field's government critiques are fuelling pension industry expectation of reforms to come. "We are expecting Alistair Darling to produce something fairly quickly in terms of the green paper on pensions policy we have been waiting on. Field's announcements seem to suggest that either he is pursuing a line of interrogation he knows to be part of the government's policy discussions, or that he is trying to push them along a certain line by making these issues prominently public," he says.
For the moment however, Birmingham says it is a question of 'wait and see' before the autumn, when he expects to see some government movement.
Tom Ross, chairman of the Pensions Provision Group, which recently produced a government advisory paper on pensions, is equally sure there is still much debate to come in the pensions arena. " Despite Alistair Darling's claim that the time for action not talk has arrived, Frank Field has raised issues such as the need for in-creased pension compulsion of some sort for people on lower income which desperately need addressing.""