UK – The UK government has called new figures on the take-up of stakeholder pensions “encouraging” - though the opposition disagrees.

The state tax office, the Inland Revenue, said that 63% of total stakeholder sales in the first year since launch went to people earning less than 20,000 pounds (28,400 euros) a year and who not have access to a company pension scheme. The figures also revealed that 68% of the sales were to those in work.

The Inland Revenue said that most stakeholder pensions sold were to people under 45. More than 30% were bought by women.

Pensions minister Malcolm Wicks said: "The statistics demonstrate the encouraging start that stakeholder pensions have made in offering people a new opportunity to save for their retirement.

"Key groups such as workers who may not have access to pension provision through their employers or women who have previously struggled to find a product that fits with their work and lifestyle patterns have been utilising the opportunity stakeholder pensions present.

The opposition said the figures were “shamelessly spun”.

The Conservatives’ pension spokesman David Willetts said: “Today's stakeholder figures have been shamelessly spun by the Government. They say that 63% of sales went to those earning less than 20,000 pounds a year. This is true but it is certainly not the whole truth.”

He said that many stakeholder pensions were taken up by people moving out of the construction industry pension scheme. And that many children and non-working spouses have had stakeholder pensions bought for them by “affluent and well-advised relatives”.

Stakeholder pensions were introduced in April 2001. The government is now saying they are aimed at “moderate and higher earners who can afford to save but do not have access to a company pension scheme”.

The statistics are collected by the Inland Revenue from information from pension providers and from pay as you earn and self-assessment returns. According to the Association of British Insurers, 1,549,329 had been sold up to the end of June 2003.