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Former UK minister elected chair of pensions committee

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Frank Field, a former UK minister and outspoken supporter of pension reform, has been elected chairman of the parliamentary committee on work and pensions.

Field, a Labour MP since 1979, was minister for welfare reform within the now-defunct Department of Social Security in former prime minister Tony Blair’s first Cabinet in 1997.

He replaces Anne Begg, who lost her seat at the recent election.

It remains unclear whether he will champion any of the previous committee’s more recent recommendations to review the rollout of auto-enrolment. 

While campaigning for the chairmanship of the committee, which scrutinises the work of the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP), he argued that his job would be to ensure pension savers would not harmed by the new freedoms to draw down their pension from 55, which were “safely delivered” in April.

“But there is now a real danger that groups, similar to those who have already ripped off pension savers so consistently over the latter post-war years, will be at it again,” he said.

The committee has previously called for a number of significant reforms to the pensions sector, including the abolition of the Pensions Regulator and a regular review of the current 0.75% charge cap on auto-enrolment default funds.

During his brief tenure as junior minister, Field was seen as a radical reformer and pushed for workers to provide for their own pension “when they are in a position to do so” – seen at the time as an ultimately failed push for mandatory pension savings.

However, Field resigned in 1998, laying the blame at the feet of then-chancellor of the exchequer Gordon Brown, implying he did not enjoy the support of the full Cabinet for his pension proposals.

He subsequently founded the Pension Reform Group, campaigning for the reform of the state pension similar to the now-implemented flat-rate state pension.

In 2003, he urged the government to introduce a system of pension protection in the years before the launch of the Pension Protection Fund.

After the Pensions Commission proposed the launch of auto-enrolment and creation of the National Pension Savings Scheme – which eventually became the National Employment Savings Trust – he argued that critics of the idea should be ignored, as they were “just vested interests scared stiff” of the idea they would lose business.

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