Planet Stakeholder braces itself for reform
As we rush headlong into the second half of 2005 and the pension reforms that we’re promised will be unveiled by the end of the year, it’s worth remembering that there are momentous changes afoot on Planet Stakeholder too. The characters of that strip from a world almost completely detached from reality are constantly wondering what is in store for them as their pensions system too undergoes complete reform.
As I reported in a BeeLine just after the recent General Election, the appointment of David Blunkett to the position of Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and of Stephen Timms to the role of Pensions Minister, marked the 11th and 12th ministerial changes on the pension front since Labour first came to power. The previous incumbent in Mr Blunkett’s job, Alan Johnson, only lasted for eight months, hardly long enough to reform our entire pension system. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Luddite railing against constant change, it’s just that sometimes I happen to agree with the cartoon characters I’ve created. When you draw them every week they begin to seem real to you and you worry about their problems…..
Not that our own problems aren’t something of a worry though. Almost as soon as the new ministers were in place here on Earth we were presented with the notion that the State Pension system might no longer be regarded as a safety-net any more. Fair enough if that means people won’t be able to rely on the State I guess. That’d give a clear message to everyone about the importance of saving. But no, that’s not what was being said. What might happen is that the safety net will be replaced by a trampoline or even an escalator! (I promise I’m not making this up.) Now that’s a new concept that will need a bit of selling if we’re to get our heads around it, but maybe there’s something in it that doesn’t jump off the page at you. On Planet Stakeholder, of course, the physical reality is that the DWP stuff just isn’t joined up with Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (formerly the Inland Revenue) stuff…..
Mind you, it’s not just ministers who call the shots these days. We’re all eagerly awaiting the outcome of the Pensions Commission’s deliberations I’m sure. They’re expected to report their findings and recommendations on St Andrew’s Day on 30th November this year, but leaks and rumours have started to come out already. A lot of people got hot under the collar about the supposed prospect of university graduates being compelled to work longer than everyone else. This is something the Commission says it has not spent one second considering, and even refers to the notion as being ‘silly’. But the idea has entered the national consciousness. We’re going to see a lot of this type of panic-inducing stuff as the reform bandwagon trundles onwards and upwards, but we’re used to it and have learnt to take much of it with a big pinch of salt. On the other hand, to the sensitive souls on Planet Stakeholder these kinds of things seem very real…..
Mind you, even they aren’t quite taken in when they hear ministers saying that in the quest for reform ‘nothing has been ruled out’.
In real life, of course, it’s quite likely that all the good outcomes have been ruled out and it’s simply a question of us eventually settling on the least bad of the less palatable outcomes. Sometimes I think the black and white nature of life on Planet Stakeholder has a lot going for it!
14 June 2005
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