UK Pension Reforms Show Some Promise
Unlike the United States, the United Kingdom has implemented bold reforms to its retirement system over the past decade.
Two of the biggest changes were gradual increases in the minimum age for collecting a pension under the national social security program and requiring private employers to automatically enroll their workers in an employee savings plan.
The goals of the reforms were to keep government spending in check and encourage individuals – who are living longer – to work longer, while helping them build up more private savings through employer-based plans. On balance, the notion is that workers will end up better prepared financially when they retire. Time will tell how successful these reforms will ultimately be.
But, so far, the results have been somewhat promising, concludes an Institute of Fiscal Studies report on workers’ changing expectations and attitudes about their retirement prospects.
In a major reform to private-sector plans, lawmakers started expanding coverage in 2012 by requiring that employers – the largest ones were first – automatically enroll workers earning more than £10,000 (about $14,000) in a retirement savings plan. The total contributions to the plans must now be at least 8 percent of each worker’s earnings, with employers providing at least 3 percent.
This reform seems to have enhanced workers’ sense of financial security. In 2017, 78 percent said in a survey that they expect to get some retirement income from an employer savings plan – up from 63 percent in 2013. And while workers are permitted to opt out of the plans, they are doing so at consistently low rates.
On the retirement front, the minimum age to collect benefits under the U.K. social security system, the National Insurance Scheme, has risen dramatically for women. A decade ago, they could collect a pension at 60, but that had increased to 66 by last year. They are now in line with men, whose minimum age was 65 for many years and also rose to 66 last year. In the future, the increases are expected to continue: a 50-year-old worker would not be able to collect his pension until he is 68.
In response, workers are altering their retirement plans. Between 2006 and 2017, the age at which men in their 40s and early 50s said they expected to retire increased by two years, while women’s expected retirement age increased by 2½ years.
In one way, things haven’t changed during an era of significant reforms. The “low level of self-reported understanding [of retirement finances] has been persistent,” the researchers said.
But while workers may not be fully engaged, more of them are building up savings through employer savings accounts.
To read this study, authored by Rowena Crawford, Jonathan Cribb, Carl Emmerson, and Polly Simpson, see “Retirement Expectations, Attitudes and Saving Behavior: How Have These Changed During a Decade of Pension Reform?”
The research reported herein was derived in whole or in part from research activities performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium. The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA, any agency of the federal government, or Boston College. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, make any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.
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