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Pensions Minister job downgraded… but not far enough

Pensions Minister job downgraded… but not far enough

The summer has been notable for the number of retirements from the political scene.  Gone are the Prime Minister and Chancellor, the Leader of UKIP, and a large swathe of ministers and shadow ministers.  These are off to join the jetsam of ex-Ministers washed up by the last general election, just one year ago.

Politics is a very volatile business and increasingly people are finishing their political careers at a much younger age than heretofore.  This rapid turnover means that people are moving through the departments faster than ever and, if they are to leave a mark, are likely to be focused on policies that make a media splash and/or deliver results in the near-term.

The new government has downgraded the position of pensions minister.   Richard Harrington, Baroness Ros Altmann’s replacement, is the new Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Pensions at the DWP, rather than the Minister of State that she was.  This seems to point to either an intention to keep pension issues low down on the government priorities or to increase the meddling by the Treasury in this policy area.  Either of these is a bad move as the UK needs to focus on the ever growing issue of pensions and long-term-care, areas that are likely to come under further pressure when the UK leaves the European Union and reduces immigration.  The difficulty is that long-term strategic thinking is required whilst the media judgement is based on short-term initiatives and quick results.

The UK government needs to take a step back and re-think the whole retirement landscape as a policy area that should not be subject to the whims of political changes as it requires changes and the only thing twenty year old workers can be sure of now is that there will be numerous governments of different political shades between now and when they retire.

The effect of politicising pensions has been apparent over the last few years as too much of the thinking has emanated from the Treasury rather than the DWP, and the result is a series of short-term initiatives which, coincidentally, just happen to increase the tax take whilst being very popular with recent retirees I.e. those who vote.

Taking retirement out of the political arena into a cross-party setting would be a great start.  The idea that policy covering the old-age should be non-political would allow those responsible to focus on a thirty or even fifty year time-frame instead of reacting to Daily Mail headlines and the latest kerfuffle on Twitter.  More time could be given to devising policies that will truly help those who will be retiring in twenty or thirty years’ time rather than just responding to the issues of those just about to retire or recently retired.

Policies produced by such a body could be openly debated in the House, as there would be no official government stance.  The policies would also stand a much better chance of being long-term as changes of government would not affect them.

But such an ideal scenario would mean that the new under-secretary’s first job would be to push himself out of a job, which is not likely to be a tempting prospect.  After all, given the last few weeks, the rank of ex-Ministers is hardly an exclusive club to join.

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