Recently, a rather agitated Tory MP came to me and asked why on earth his party wasn’t talking more about pensions. It was an important message to voters, he argued, managing to stay agitated about an issue that normally sends people off to sleep.
This MP thought that highlighting the importance of a sound economic policy to public sector workers’ pensions would be a good way of persuading them that the Conservatives are on their side. He has a good point: the Tories could do with working out how to talk to public sector employees, given their current tendency to vote Labour, and given the importance that many of those workers place on their pensions. But there could be a much bigger problem involving pensions that the Tories should – if they are as responsible as they like to claim they are – have a good think about.
As Katy reported today, the dream of home ownership is receding for many young people, with the Resolution Foundation predicting that one in three Millennials will never own their own home. There are political implications, which Katy explores in her post. But there is also a long-term policy implication, which is that if a large number of people are going to retire without owning a property, then they will be lacking a vital part of the security that the current generation of pensioners enjoy. This will mean that people’s pension pots are even more important, which the government may argue it agrees with, given it has introduced auto-enrolment and is increasing the level of contributions into pension schemes, but those pension pots would have to be very big indeed for someone to be able to afford the cost of renting through retirement on top of the costs of living that pensions currently only just about cover.
How will Millennials afford to live in retirement if they are still having to cover their housing costs? It’s the sort of question with an answer that involves both more housebuilding and bigger pension pots. The former enjoys a lot of debate but little action, while the latter tends to attract less interest. Both are also the sort of long-term problems that governments tend to try to avoid solving. If you want to see an example of what then happens after successive administrations have ignored a growing problem, you just need to look at the state of social care. That doesn’t inspire much hope, does it?