Leading article: The real issue has been lost amid the politicking

Share

The dispute at the heart of government over how to reform our state pension system shows no signs of approaching a resolution. A White Paper is due next month, but we now learn that any announcement is unlikely before the summer. The reasons for this deadlock are not economic or party political, as one might expect. They are strictly personal. We are told that Gordon Brown resents the Prime Minister's interference in his domain and has interpreted it as part of an attempt by Mr Blair to cling to power longer. As for Mr Blair, he is apparently minded to show his Chancellor who is boss and stamp on what he suspects is a plot to squeeze him out of Downing Street before he is ready to go. Pensions reform has become little more than a proxy battleground for the power struggle between these two titans of the British political scene.

This is deeply unfortunate, not least because the question of how Britain should respond to the challenge of a population that is living longer and saving too little is being neglected amid the backbiting. The Government-commissioned Turner report on pensions, published late last year, has not prompted the kind of serious and open discussion on pensions that is required. If anything it has had the opposite effect. And, sadly, the Turner commission's final statement yesterday - an attempt to chivvy the Government into action - is unlikely to have much effect. The two camps in this dispute appear to be digging in for a long fight.

Yet it is painfully obvious to everyone else that the state pensions system cannot be allowed to continue in its present state. There is certainly no cheap solution on offer to the looming crisis. We can have a degree of sympathy for the Chancellor and, in particular, his concern that the Prime Minister will saddle him with costly promises that will prove hard to keep in the future. Mr Blair has a bad habit of making decisions without sufficient attention to detail or regard to long-term consequences.

Nonetheless, we support the basic thrust of the Turner report. The proposal to boost the value of the state pension, by restoring the link with average earnings, is sensible. Without this we will drift towards a situation where pensioners receive only a pitifully small state pension. The expansion of means-testing that will inevitably follow such a mass impoverishment will result in even more disincentives to save. If the status quo prevails, the Turner commission estimates that 70 per cent of UK pensioners will end up reliant on means-tested benefits by 2050. This is not a prospect to savour - even for Mr Brown.

The Turner proposal for a national pensions saving scheme, in which employers and workers both make contributions, also has its merits. The fact that it would require members to opt out, as opposed to opt in, would guarantee a substantial increase in pension saving in Britain. Such measures do not add up to a panacea for the pensioners of the future, of course, but they would at least move us in the right direction.

A substantial amount of technical details will need to be agreed upon by various Whitehall departments before this White Paper is published. Tough questions of how the system will be funded need to be hammered out. And there is still a huge amount to be done by the Government in other areas to cultivate a savings culture. These are the sort of discussions that ought to be taking place in Whitehall and the Cabinet. Instead we are faced with the depressing sight of two squabbling politicians who, at the moment, seem more concerned with securing their own futures than those of the people they were elected to serve.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executive - OTE £37,000

£16000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The ideal candidate will want t...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician / Helpdesk - 2nd / 3rd Line

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician is requir...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron has reiterated his pre-election promise to radically improve the NHS  

How can we save the NHS? Rediscover the stiff upper lip

Jeremy Laurance
 

Thanks to Harriet Harman, Labour is holding its own against the Tory legislative assault

Isabel Hardman
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada