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All change for UK government pension policymakers post-election [updated]

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Prime minister Theresa May has appointed a new secretary of state for work and pensions as part of a cabinet reshuffle following last week’s general election.

David Gauke (pictured), the former chief secretary to treasury, has been appointed cabinet minister in charge of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

He replaced Damian Green, who has been promoted to first secretary of state and cabinet officer minister, effectively functioning as deputy prime minister.

Guy Opperman has been confirmed as pensions minister, with the additional brief of “financial inclusion”. 

He replaced Richard Harrington, who was appointed pensions minister last summer. Harrington has been assigned to the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy.

Gauke is viewed as bringing welcome pensions expertise to the role.

Sir Steve Webb, director of policy at mutual insurer Royal London and a former pensions minister, said: “There are few ministers who could have been appointed to this role who know as much about pensions as David Gauke. 

David Gauke DWP secretary of state

David Gauke, Department for Work and Pensions

“In his five years at the Treasury during the Coalition he played a key role in developing the detail of the pension freedoms and was a keen supporter of automatic enrolment.”

Kevin LeGrand, president of the Pensions Management Institute, also said that Gauke brings knowledge and experience to the role, with pensions tax relief one of his particular areas of expertise.

He said it was particularly important for the secretary of state to have pensions knowledge after the role of pensions minister – who reports to the secretary of state – was downgraded to parliamentary undersecretary last year.

The reshuffle of government pension roles was bemoaned by several in the industry.

Malcolm McLean, senior consultant at Barnett Waddinham, said: “Ever since the post of pensions minister was established, we have seen constant change – up to the appointment of Steve Webb, who remained minister for a full five year term.

“Pensions is an important area for so many people and continues to suffer from constant change and increased complexity.”

LeGrand said that if there had to be change in officeholders then there must be policy continuity. 

The to-do list for the incoming pensions minister is significant. The future of the triple lock, which guarantees an annual increase to the state pension of at least 2.5%, was a major point of debate between political parties during the election.

In addition, the DWP earlier this year began a wide-ranging discussion with the industry about changes to defined benefit pension regulations, while a bill bringing in tighter rules for defined contribution master trusts was put on hold during the election.

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