On 6 December 2017, the University of Bristol’s Thatcher’s Pension Reforms research project in association with the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries held a very well-attended ‘witness seminar’ in front of an invited audience at Staple Inn, London at which Sir Nicholas Montagu, Chris Daykin, Sir Adam Ridley and Marshall Field discussed the the Fowler Inquiry into Provision for Retirement and its relationship to the Conservative government’s landmark reforms to British pensions in 1986. The session was chaired by Gregg McClymont, introduced by Colin Wilson, the immediate past President of the IFoA, and began with a paper by Professor Hugh Pemberton (University of Bristol).
A video of the evening’s proceedings is available (the seminar begins 20 minutes in, after the introductory paper, and the subsequent question and answer session begins 1hr and 22.5 minutes in.
A full transcript of the witness seminar and the subsequent question and answer session is also available.
We are pleased to report that Josephine Cumbo, Pensions correspondent of the Financial Times, has joined the advisory board of the Thatcher’s Pension Reforms project.
In 2015 Josephine was the Society of Pensions Professional’s ‘journalist of the year’ for the second year in succession and also won the ‘Personal Finance Education Award’ at the 2015 Santander Personal Finance Media awards (for her investigations into the lack of transparency in the drawdown market — the fastest growing area of the market following April’s pensions freedoms — plus her campaigning work on inequalities in the new state pension). She was also awarded ‘Financial Journalist of the Year’ and ‘Personal Finance Journalist of the Year’ by the Association of British Insurers in 2014 and 2012 respectively. In addition to reporting, Josephine is also involved in the FT pension plan’s governance committee as a member representative.
We are now about 15 months into the project which, following the recent retirement of Roger Middleton and replacement as co-investigator by Dr James Freeman, will now continue until July 2018. Since our last progress report we have found and examined a huge range of documentary material relevant to the pension reforms of the 1980s. We are in the process of making sense of all these documents but here are some highlights of our recent findings:
Portable personal pensions embodied an assault not just on the State Earnings Related Pension (SERPS) but on occupational schemes and insurers.
Occupational pensions had traditionally been viewed with approval by Conservatives but were viewed by the ‘new right’ as paternalistic and antithetical to individual freedom.
The actuarial profession was highly concerned about the government’s proposals to abolish SERPS – warning that the public lacked the necessary financial planning skills and would be at risk of misselling.
The actuarial profession resented the way in which its views were ignored.
The Government Actuary’s Department was pushed to the limit of its preparedness to cooperate in the process of change, often disagreeing with the assumptions on which it was asked to make projections.