The changes to the private pensions system were the big announcements affecting older people in this year’s Queen’s Speech, bringing into effect the shake-up of the annuities regime that was announced in the Budget in March.
While these measures, if done properly, are very welcome, the Government missed a big opportunity to introduce legislation to protect more vulnerable older people from abuse, and to seriously address cold homes, which over a million older people are estimated to find themselves in every year.
So what was good?
The Government announced two new Pensions Bills for the coming parliamentary session.
The Pensions Tax Bill will give effect to the changes announced in the Budget around the liberalisation of the annuities market, while the Private Pensions Bill will facilitate Collective Defined Contribution pensions.
Both these measures are welcome, but the most pressing issue must be to ensure the Pensions Tax Bill – the biggest shake up in private pensions for generations – delivers a system of robust, independent guidance to empower people to make informed choices on their pensions throughout later life.
But what was missing?
The issue of abuse of older people has been brought into sharp focus in recent years, due to high profile cases of disgraceful abuse and mistreatment – as highlighted by investigations such as Panorama’s report into maltreatment abuse in care homes which was broadcast in April.
Age UK estimates that up to 500,000 older people in the UK are abused each year. This equates to roughly 5% of the older population.
Given the scale of abuse, how deeply it impacts on individuals’ lives, and the public outcry around the maltreatment of older people, it’s difficult to see why a Bill on this issue was not part of the legislative programme for the last year of the Coalition Government.
In particular, Age UK is keen to see the Government legislate to make it an offence to neglect a vulnerable adult, and to ensure that directors of organisations that provide health or care services can be held accountable for neglect or abuse.
Not enough to address Fuel poverty
Finally, we saw some interesting proposals for ‘zero-carbon homes’ and plans to build new garden cities. These are welcome, but fall far short of the level of ambition which is needed, especially to address fuel poverty.
There are over 1m older people living in fuel poverty in England and the UK has the highest rate of fuel poverty and excess winter deaths in Europe.
To stop this, we need to see full-scale retrofitting of existing housing stock, starting with the poorest and most energy inefficient homes, many of which are inhabited by older people.
All in all then, there are some very welcome proposals for future pensioners in yesterday’s speech. But there were also big missed chances, especially to improve the lives of more vulnerable older people today who may be at risk of abuse or living in fuel poverty.
Photo by Michael Garnett licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.