Pensions gap deeper and wider

17 July 2013

The number of active members of occupational pension schemes is at its lowest level since the 1950s, according to the latest findings in the Office for National Statistics' Pension Trends series.

And since that time, the UK population has grown by more than five million.

The ONS report on the situation in 2011 paints a gloomy picture of the occupational pension landscape in the UK.

It found that in total there were 8.2 million active members of occupational pension schemes in 2011 (down from a peak of 12.2 million in 1962). And while public sector numbers held fairly steady at just over 5 million, private sector membership declined to 2.9 million.

Just 34% of self-employed men had a personal pension – the lowest percentage since the early 1990s. Meanwhile, the proportion of employees in defined benefit (final salary) schemes has fallen from 46% in 1997 to 28% 15 years later.

Average contributions by employees in defined contribution (money purchase) schemes is just 2.8% of salary, with employers adding a further 6.6%.

"What's clear from this disturbing data is that auto-enrolment couldn't come soon enough,' says John Fox, managing director of Liberty Sipp.

"That just 46% of UK employees actively contributed to a workplace pension scheme in 2012 – the lowest proportion since records began – shows that auto-enrolment is well overdue."

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Yet, as Fox points out, many people are saving less, or nothing at all. "People are between the rock of weaker income now and the hard place of an impoverished retirement in the future," he says.

Stephen Lowe, director at retirement income specialist Just Retirement, is equally concerned about the low levels of contributions.

"These figures show us that people are still contributing far too little of their salary to pension savings, though government schemes like auto-enrolment should help improve savings levels," he says.

This article was written for our sister website Money Observer

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