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Insights from the UK and beyond

The reform that breaks the camel’s back?

Trade union leaders have been warning for some time now that it would be pensions reform — not pay freezes or job cuts — that could prove the trigger for widespread public sector strikes this year.

Now activists, eager to punish the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, have all the ammunition they need in the Hutton pension review.

Few can argue that pensions do not need to be reformed. People in Britain are living longer, making it more expensive for the government and taxpayer to fund pension payments.

And private sector workers have long grumbled that the public sector has it too good when it comes to retirement.

Raising the pension age

BRITAIN/The Conservatives say they plan to raise the retirement age for men to 66 from 65 by 2016 if they win power, a measure that could raise 13 billion pounds to help plug the huge shortfall in the public finances.

They would also hold a review of the retirement age that could speed up further rises – potentially ushering in a state pension age for both men and women of 68 as early as 2020.

Equitable Life: another nail in the coffin for retirement savings?

Nine years after the near collapse of Equitable Life, pensioners and savers are still unsure if they see any compensation despite the long-awaited report by the parliamentary ombudsman, described by commentators as a “damning indictment of UK financial regulation.”

The victims may still be in for a long wait to get their estimated 4 billion pounds in compensation. Prime Minister Gordon Brown earlier this week indicated that he would not allow billions to be paid out automatically and maintained that Equitable Life’s “culpability” in the case had been proved.

Think pensions to get one up on Chancellor


darlingblog1.jpgTax: it’s all getting a bit of a drag. The number of people paying the highest level of income tax has almost doubled since Labour came to power, according to recent statistics.

“Fiscal drag” — a fancy name for failing to uprate tax thresholds and allowances in line with wage inflation — has meant that many hundreds of thousands of middle earners (such as higher-paid teachers, nurses, police officers and many civil servants) have been trapped into paying 40 pence to the Exchequer for every pound on some of their earnings.

Why life doesn’t begin at 40…


pensioners.jpgThink you’ve got plenty of time to save for retirement, boost your bank balance or achieve the level of wealth you’ve always aspired to? Think again.

While it might be said that life begins at 40, this is far from the case on the financial front: wage growth stalls 30 years before the average retirement age, according to personal finance website

Level the playing field to bring back ‘girl power’


sex-and-city.jpgWhatever happened to “girl power”? The phrase became a cultural phenomenon after the formation of the Spice Girls pop band in 1994, and was adopted as the mantra for millions of girls, even making it into the Oxford English Dictionary.

But, it seems that many fans — now grown women — are relinquishing this ideology in favour of that portrayed in a later cult classic: Sex and the City. Today’s generation of single women are relying on finding their “Mr Big” to fund their future and are investing a significant amount of time, effort and money in pursuit of the Carrie dream, a survey shows.

Long life? It could be seriously bad for your wealth


pensioners.jpgLong life: it might be seen as a blessing, but increasing longevity poses one of the biggest risks to our financial wellbeing.

A person aged 55 today has a one in two chance of living to 90 and a one in four chance of living to 95, according to acturial consultancy Watson Wyatt. By 2010 the number of pensioners will, for the first time, exceed the number of children in the population, according to the Office for National Statistics, and by 2031 there will be 40,000 people aged 100 or over, compared to just 300 in 1951.

The pensions runaway train gathers speed


Few people are more on the pensions money than Scottish Life’s Steve Bee. And he has some strong views in his latest “BeeHive” post following publication of our exclusive story on the soaring costs of setting up “personal accounts” — the government’s brainchild aimed at solving a looming pensions crisis.

Reality seems to be kicking in early on in the dream, says Bee, who finds the whole thing “really depressing”. A chink of light amid the gloom came in this week’s Budget, he says: the extension of the ability of pension fund managers to allow trivial commutation of small pension pots should make things easier and cheaper for occupational pension schemes. But, sadly, such rights are not to be extended to personal pension schemes, a move that only serves to “drive a horse and coaches through the whole idea of our having one simple set of pension rules for all types of pension scheme”.

Consumers go it alone as storm clouds gather


storms21.jpgThe dust has settled on Alistair Darling’s first Budget and consumers have been given little reason for celebration. The Chancellor, though announcing various measures designed to increase housing affordability, has done nothing to help the masses.

There were no moves to give a helping hand to hard-pressed householders, already struggling amid rocketing mortgage, food, fuel and tax costs, to ride out an impending recession. Darling did pledge to introduce a savings scheme targeted at low and moderate earners, often least able to save: the “saving gateway” will attract government matching for savings over the duration of people’s participation in the scheme. This has the potential to introduce up to eight million people into mainstream savings in the UK who otherwise might not make thrift a priority.