Just a few general thoughts..
I like the idea of automatic and compulsory enrolment but I think it should be a contribution into the state pension pot rather than into a private workplace pension. It should be compulsory because, when people opt out, albeit often with the intention of making other arrangements later, if/when they do not do so, or their plan simply fails, we all have to pay for him or her anyway as ill-prepared public insurers. I’d rather a state pot (let’s pretend for a moment that there has been some progress in the competency of the State! There could be if we insisted on it..) – a state pot because that is collective ownership of an essential public service. A workplace pension doesn’t sound very stable, either for the individual or the country: it reduces people to relying too much on the investment sense and business acumen of their employers. Every generation and all individuals make daily choices and sacrifices between gratification in the present and insuring the future – that’s life – but feeling forced into choosing between one end of life and the other is too horrific. We have to find a way that doesn’t sacrifice our youth and middle age to our last years. Life can be cruelly short or it may be very, very long and we rarely know how long we’ve got. Securing a pension must not be reduced to a choice between either enforced, possibly constant sacrifice and frugality in the hope of a secure old age which might not come or enjoyment and comfort now at the risky expense of a miserable retirement and old age.
However, everyone knows that, in order to have savings – in order to contribute into a pension fund – one needs to have the disposable income in the first place. Either remuneration needs to go up considerably for the bottom half of Society or the obscenely high cost of living must come down. I would say both need to happen. The current state pension is already inadequate, else there wouldn’t be the need for such top-ups as a winter fuel allowance. We can measure how inadequate it is now, so it surely cannot be beyond our wit to measure more realistically, the individual contributory cost of a decent basic pension. Of course it feels as though it is unaffordable, but ‘they’ tell us this about nearly everything. We can’t afford not to afford it, can we, because, despite the love in a so-called Libertarian to pronounce on choice, self-sufficiency and independence, it is clearly only currently possible for a few. Because of our uneven socio-political structures; our unnecessary and insidious class fixations; the disparities in opportunity; notions of deservedness etc, ‘choice’ ‘self-sufficiency’ and ‘independence’ sound like the doubletalk of crass ideology. A neoliberal attitude towards common need and healthy environment invariably costs us more money in the end. In fact, does not a false economy actually cost us all a whole lot more than just money..?
So, the rest of us – you and me: if we want a whole life, with decent pension included, we obviously need very decent wages. Wages we can not just live well on but which can sustain a taxable contribution. That means a wage that more than sustains, even if and when the employment that’s available (or perhaps desired) is the most menial and simple of labours.