Sam Dunn: Turner has come up with a winning pensions strategy

It could be just the push millions need to save for retirement
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The Independent Online

Rather than congratulate myself, I should thank Adair Turner for my score. I had seen the chairman of the Pensions Commission, tasked with finding a way out of the UK's pensions crisis, giving a television interview just hours before the game.

I recalled his insistence on waiting until the end of November before making his recommendations. After all, he said, he and his commission had already been labouring on their proposals for nearly a year, so it was worth holding on.

His resolve stuck in my mind, and I owe him nearly 40 points. But it seems Lord Turner's own gameplan has come unstuck.

Details of his commission's recommendations have leaked out two weeks early, and three main proposals have emerged.

The first is to raise the state pension retirement age from 65 to 67 from 2020. That proposal is controversial, since public sector workers recently wrested a concession from the Government to retire earlier at 60 or 65 (depending on when they started work). It risks creating a double standard that discriminates against workers in the private sector.

Second, Mr Turner wants to see rises in the basic state pension linked to growth in average earnings (as in the past) instead of inflation. Margaret Thatcher's government broke this link 25 years ago but it is understood that Lord Turner believes it can be reintroduced provided we all agree to work longer.

Third - and here's a bold step to be loudly applauded - it's expected that the commission will back the introduction of a national private-pension savings plan. In its basic form, it would work like this: anybody joining a company would be automatically enrolled into a giant savings scheme - managed by hired fund managers - with monthly payments deducted at source. Only those who actively chose to pull out of the scheme would miss out on the benefits.

This "soft" version of compulsory saving for retirement could be just the push millions of people need. Poor pension provision is often the result of apathy; but if the reform goes ahead, even the laziest of workers would have at least some funds.

Raising the basic state pension age is never going to have widespread public support, but a new national savings scheme is a different matter. To make it worthwhile, the system would need to be cheap to run (its size should cover that) and simple to understand. It should also offer flexibility to workers.

If you think this sounds familiar, it does: think "stakeholder", the low-cost government-backed savings plans that have so far spectacularly failed to win over the public. For this, blame lack of support from the financial services industry, and the Government's failure to properly promote stakeholder products. But, with fresh impetus, a new national savings plan might work as a "son of stakeholder" and be of genuine value to millions.

I won the game of Scrabble, by the way. Let's hope Lord Turner wins the argument on private pensions.

s.dunn@independent.co.uk

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