Millions sailing towards pension penury

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The Independent Online
Millions of people are heading for retirement penury, according to a detailed Labour analysis of official pensions statistics.

John Denham, Labour's spokesman on pensions, said yesterday: "Tory pension policy is like a pensions Titanic. Millions of people are sailing unknowingly towards a retirement disaster. Information collated from many different surveys shows that millions of people are not covered by employers' pension schemes; others are making tiny contributions to personal pensions, or are making no second pension provision at all.

"Smaller companies are least likely to offer pension schemes, and these are often inadequate. Women are most likely to receive inadequate pensions."

Mr Denham has discovered that almost a quarter of all working adults - nearly 6 million people - have not made any pension provision.

But of the 5.5 million who have appropriate personal pensions, 4.5 million made monthly minimum contributions of pounds 50 or less in 1994-95.

"Low contributions and high charges mean that the pension paid will be very low - investing pounds 50 a month would give a final pension of only pounds 2,000 a year," Mr Denham said.

Yet the average monthly minimum contribution to all personal pensions is only pounds 35 a month, and in 1994-95 more than 1.8 million people with personal pensions made no contribution at all.

According to a Department of Social Security report, Personal Pension Statistics 1994-95, the lowest minimum contributions to personal pensions are being made by people living in the North, Wales and Northern Ireland, where median minimum contributions are less than pounds 30 a month.

Other facts uncovered by Mr Denham include:

A woman who takes a career break of four years to have children - the national average - will retire on a personal pension worth almost a third less than a colleague who takes no break;

Only six out of ten employees in private companies are covered by any employer's pension scheme;

In the 1 million firms with fewer than 100 employees, fewer than four out of ten employees are covered by a pension scheme;

Seven out of ten companies with five or fewer employees do not offer any kind of pension arrangement;

Most employees in small company occupational pension schemes are likely to get about half the employer contribution to their pension that they could expect from a traditional large company scheme.

However, the Labour spokesman last night accepted that while millions were making inadequate provision for their retirement, one of the most widespread complaints was that those who had saved were penalised when it came to means-tested benefits - with those who had not saved getting their basic state pensions topped up with council tax benefit and housing benefit.

Mr Denham said last night that one of a Labour government's first tasks would be to set up an independent body to report and advise on the state of pension provision. It would also establish a value-for- money "stakeholder pension", offering better pensions for the same level of contributions.

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