Guy Opperman has left his post as the UK pensions minister this morning, a second time following his previous resignation in early July announced in a letter addressed to the then UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as the UK’s government fell apart.
Opperman then announced his return to the job one day after he had resigned following Johnson’s own resignation, who at the time said that “clearly now the will of the parliamentary Conservative Party that there should be a new leader of that party and so a new prime minister.”
This time, however, Opperman is leaving his post of more than five years and claimed he will focus on his constituency, his duties as a backbench Member of Parliament (MP) and his new baby, he said in another Twitter post.
“Now mourning is over [referring to Queen Elizabeth II’s recent death] I wrote a letter of thanks as departing after 5 years as Minister at DWP. New PM and @Conservatives will continue to have my full support,” he twitted this morning.
In the letter to his fellow MPs, Opperman said that it had been “the honour of my life to serve as a government minister”, adding that “my successor, and the new government team, will have my full support”.
He thanked Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) officials “who have worked tirelessly to ensure UK pensions are secured for the future”.
Opperman added, however, that much more is left to do: ”There remains much more for my sussessor to do from expanding automatic enrolment, to professional trustees, proper measurement of value for money, expanding Superfunds, illiquid investment and CDCs [Collective Defined Contribution], and ensuring that we have a much better system for individual defined contribution (DC) retirement planning.”
Helen Morrissey, senior pensions and retirement analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “After something of a revolving door policy at the DWP the five-year stint of Guy Opperman brought much needed stability to the pensions brief. He helped shepherd auto-enrolment through its first decade with enormous success – more than 10 million people have been brought into workplace pension saving.”
Tim Middleton, director of policy and external affairs at the Pensions Management Institute (PMI), said: “Guy Opperman has been longest-serving pensions minister since the post was created. As minister, he has overseen a number of important regulatory reforms, but his greatest legacy will surely be the Pensions Dashboard. Whilst we have not always agreed with all of his ideas, we have never doubted his energy, determination and enthusiasm for the role and his clear desire to improve pension provision within the United Career. We would like to offer him our very best wishes for the future.”
Pressure is on
Morrissey noted, however, that “the pressure is on” as to where auto-enrolment goes next. She said Opperman was under pressure to put forward a timetable for implementation of the 2017 Auto-enrolment Review. This aims to bring more people into auto-enrolment by lowering the minimum age from 22 to 18 and allowing them to start saving into a pension from the first pound of earnings.
Morrissey added: “The timing of this also needs to be balanced against sky high inflation putting pressure on people’s pockets today […] Any new minister needs to look at these short-term issues while ensuring long-term savings are properly incentivised.”
Steve Webb, partner at LCP and former pensions minister, said: “After years of a revolving door for pensions ministers, it has been good to have a period of stability under Guy Opperman. And he has made progress in some key areas, laying the groundwork for CDC schemes to be introduced in the UK, moving us five years nearer to pensions dashboards and getting pension schemes to focus more on how their funds are invested from an ESG perspective.
“But regrettably there has been no progress in the last five years on the key area on boosting DC savings rates, with the 2017 review still gathering dust. There are also serious questions about whether the new DB [defined benefit] funding regime is fit for purpose. The new minister will have much work to do to get these key areas moving again.”
DWP has also been under increasing pressure with widespread issues of people not receiving their state pension on time or being underpaid. Some underpayments run into many thousands of pounds and stretch over several years, Hargreaves’ Morrissey said. ”Whoever succeeds Opperman will be under pressure to fix these issues fast.”