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Pensioners have never had it so good, says IFS

More than 40% of pensioners are in the top half of the income scale compared with just 25% 20 years ago, according to the IFS.


by Michelle McGagh on Jun 29, 2012 at 12:02

Pensioners have never had it so good, says IFS

Rich pensioners who have enjoyed the fastest-rising incomes over the past decade should contribute more to their own long-term care costs, according to a new report.

Although there has been little in the way of good news for pensioners this year, with low interest and annuity rates and poor investment returns hitting them hard, a report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies claims they shoulder less of a burden than working people.

One of the key factors for retirees' strong position is the increase in their income over the past 10 years. Since 1999 pensioner income has risen 29.4%, while non-pensioners have seen a rise of 26%.

More than 40% of pensioners are in the top half of the income scale compared with just 25% 20 years ago.

Pensioners have benefited from boosted state and private pensions and Labour benefit changes, but have not had to bear the brunt of coalition cuts and tax increases; despite the ‘granny tax’ brought in as part of the March Budget, pensioners still lose out less than working-age households.

In the paper, Pensioners and the tax and benefit system, the IFS said that means-testing fuel allowances and free TV licences would bring in £1.4 billion a year.

It also recommends scrapping the 25% tax-free lump sum pensioners can take on retirement, which would raise £2.5 billion a year, and said other areas should be looked at, including the fact that pensioners pay no national insurance and the forgiveness of capital gains tax on death.

The IFS said these savings could be used to fund long-term care for the elderly, as set out by the Dilnot Commission.

Paul Johnson, IFS director and co-author of the report, said: ‘Should government choose, there are ways of raising money to pay for the changes from relatively well-off pensioners, the group which will benefit most from the [Dilnot] proposals.’

However, Malcolm McLean of consultancy firm Barnett Waddingham was wary of using statistical averages.

‘There is no doubt there are many comfortably off pensioners at the present time who are benefitting from the proceed of generous final salary schemes… But there are also many more who are certainly not in that position and are bumping along at or only slightly above the poverty line.

‘Membership of expensive golf club and three foreign holidays a year is definitely not how they spend their time – rather it is a continual struggle how to feed and clothe themselves and heat their homes.’

20 comments so far. Why not have your say?

Ian Phillips

Jun 29, 2012 at 12:49

"Since 1999 pensioner income has risen 29.4%"......" benefited from boosted state pensions"

Whoopee! an increase of 29% has given me a pension of £100 a week, now I really am well-off...........what twaddle!!

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Altogether now

Jun 29, 2012 at 12:55

In a May article we were told...

"When income from company, private and state pensions are added together, the average pension income is £15,500 a year, according to Prudential. This figure has fallen from £18,600 five years ago owing to rocky stock markets and poor rates from annuities, which are the type of policy most people buy to convert their savings into an annual income, or pension."

So what figures are the IFS using????

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Jun 29, 2012 at 13:10

STOP LUMPING ALL PENSIONERS TOGETHER!!!!!! Anyone purporting to be an 'expert' should be more explicit or SHUT UP!!!!!!!!!

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2nd class citizen

Jun 29, 2012 at 13:18

Ian I totally agree. "twaddle" sums this statement up absolutely. Since retiring my pension has increased annually by a minimum of 25p and a maximum of £5.30

My "boosted" state pension now pays me £107.45 per week. Now that makes me seriously well off.

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Jun 29, 2012 at 13:42

And I bet that the IFS have final salary index linked pension funds too !!

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Ron Ball

Jun 29, 2012 at 14:06

When producing all this rubbish about just how wealthy pensioners are, it should not be forgotten that the state pension in the UK is almost the worst in Europe — where the average state pension is of the order of 50% of average wage. Here it is about 20% — less as a percentage than when it was introduced by Lloyd George. Perhaps the average wealth of that top 40% — above — has been boosted by the state subsidized guaranteed pensions of doctors and other state employees?

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Jun 29, 2012 at 14:08

All this talk, 'scrap this or that allowance/exemption' and we will raise £x, quite forgetting that they are talking about people who have paid in for others and now want their due in their turn. In many instances they are going after people who were prudent and provided for their twilight years (on top of the pittance paif by the state) and, gee whiz, on top of the 40% IIHT (after £325000) they want to add CGT. What are they going to do, allow IHT to bite and then take another bite with CGT, and perhaps even on the home of the deceased? After all, this goes to those who didn't contribute to those assets and it is better for the State to have this as they are far better at squandering the money so raised.

The first tax is a tax on already taxed assets, and the second is a tax which results from inflation, which is virtually totally controlled by the State, in the current climate, mightily stoked by QE (AKA counterfeiting), but the exemptions have not kept pace with inflation and the State has directed that it's poodle (BoE) keep the interest rates at artificially low levels.

And then there is the tax on SIPP income, when drawn down. It has been taxed (withholding tax on dividends), and more has to be paid on draw down (but the annual charges on the SIPP funds cannot be set off against that part of the tax. Time that these idiots get some joined up thinking, and a brain to remember that tax is legalised theft and not the right of the govt to have, and undeserving leech/hanger on, and a great deal of it is squandered and politicians have total immunity for their incompetence in spending the money so raised.

If you have nothing, they leave you alone, perhaps even give you a pittance, but if you have something, after you have earned your money, by the sweat of your brow, even before you have washed (in taxed water and fuel for heating the water, they come around with the grubby paws out demanding with menaces, and a truncheon behind their back dare you resist.

End of rant

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Simon Taylor

Jun 29, 2012 at 14:16

Pensioners are an increasing proportion of the popluation. Oh, and they tend to vote.

Hence, policies geared towards giving older people universal free stuff such as bus passes and heating money are attractive to politicians with an eye on the main chance.

In younger voters could tear themselves away from their iPhones for the time it takes to cast a ballot, they might be able to save themselves from having to pay for this folly.

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White Stick follower

Jun 29, 2012 at 15:50

As above the 'wealthy' are those pensioners who provided for themselves in retirement, by not spending every penny they received whilst working. Means testing would cost the Treasury money, so the net gain, if any, would be far less. As for voting, yes the Silver Vote is far more diligently applied by older folk, who by & large, consider it their duty to vote as opposed to the 'grab it now' younger people who are "too busy" to bother. I must make it clear that neither group fall exclusively into either camp, but it is a fact, and politicians, especially when elections loom, remember the Silver Vote.

As for IFS I doubt there are many pensioners amongst them, but whilst they bask in their, probably, excessive salaries, they might do well to consider that they too will be pensioners, at some time, if they live long enough. Had I only the State Pension to live on I could not subsist, but I have a contributory pension earned whilst working, and an FSAVC which, of course, I paid in to. Thus it appears that my prudence has placed me in the exclusive group of so-called wealthy pensioners. Percentages and statistics are convenient devices to produce an answer that suits the objective, but, at the risk of stating the obvious a 2.5 % rise against £107 is a lot less than 2.5% of an umpteen thousand pounds pension enjoyed by the 'captains of industry'- and bankers, and probably the IFS members.

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P Williams

Jun 29, 2012 at 17:05

Yes, agree for a very small minority of pensioners. Those on Public sector inflation proofed gold plated schemes such as overpaid NHS Consultants, higher Civil servants and MPs.

Lets be clear the vast majority of pensioners do not fall into these categories and many thousands in private sector schemes have seen their pensions disappear; from being wound up, to the failure of equitable life and are on pitiful private pensions, often as little as a few pounds a week. Add this to their state old age pension and they certainly do not qualify 'as well off'.

So please, do your research and avoid these silly generalisations.

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Jun 30, 2012 at 01:31

Within the private sector, a yawning gap (which will become more evident in the next few years) is appearing as those with DC pensions are forced to retire and be reliant upon pension pots which have been ravaged by QE and longevity, both of which affect the gilt yields and therefore annuity rates, and of course by Gordon Brown's raid.

Those pensioners in the private sector who appear to be well off are those whose contracts were DB pensions. These are literally a dying breed.

It is the latter group which is used for comparison purposes by the public sector in their wage negotiations.

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Jun 30, 2012 at 11:15

Yet again we have a group of "experts" - presumably self entitled - telling the world how the pensioners are better off now and should shoulder some (more) of the responsibility etc etc etc

Perhaps if these experts spent more time actually talking with pensioners instead of juggling figures in their office they might come up with something near to intelligent comment.

So you experts when I retired my full basic pension was set at £95.25 per week; I should by now have had it increased to the full £107.45 per week,.

but I don' is still £95.25 because I am one of the 4% of the total UK pensioner citizenship world wide whose pension is frozen. If you live in the UK, EU or a select group of countries like USA or Turkey or Israel the same annual uprate is applied each April but if you are in Canada, Australia or even the Falkland Islands your pension is frozen at the rate first payable in the host country. No logical reason; no legal, moral, financial or administrative justification just crass government intransigence...which Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and Pensions Minister Webb all vowed to abolish when in opposition. Short memories and cowardice now of course as "we're in government"

But as it is pensioners we are talking about include a picture of a couple of deck chairs on some sun drenched beach and then produce the lies, damned lies and statistics and, what the hell, if it makes a good story what has truth and fact got to do with it?

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George Tynesider

Jun 30, 2012 at 13:10

I wish that these Èxperts`would do a little research before making such sweeping, inaccurate, and downright foolish statements..

Certainly SOME pensioners may be comfortably off, but the writer of this drivel should talk to some of the forgotten 4%. I`m referring of course to the approximately 600,000 `Frozen` ex pat pensioners whos pensions are not indexed. If the writer of this article can show me how to live in reasonable comfort, on the same wage as they earned even 10 years ago, I will apologise, and publicly eat humble pie.

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Jane Davies

Jul 01, 2012 at 17:20

What has a sundrenched beach got to do with this article? It seems there is resentment by the authors Michelle McGagh and Paul Johnson that pensioners "shoulder less of the burden than working people". What do they think pensioners have done all their working lives? Forty odd years of "shouldering the burden" for goodness sake. Forty odd years of paying taxes and NI contributions, those NI contributions payed for the state pensions of the pensioners of the day, that's the way the system works. If any pensioners are well off it's because they worked hard and saved towards their retirement why should today's government "raise money" from their hard work and thrift?

As for the frozen state pensions...this is nothing but theft. All the while one pays mandatory contributions for 40 years to guarantee a state pension at no time was it ever hinted that if one decides for whatever reason to retire abroad and you happen to go to a "wrong" country that your rights would be withdrawn. Your right to annual increases is frozen, not everywhere, just certain countries. I stupidly thought we as UK citizens had freedom of choice, was that not why we fought in and won two world wars? When I was working and paying my dues one never heard anyone whinging about how "pensioners no longer shared the burdon" it was a given that they had done their fair share and deserved to enjoy the last years of life. So stop pensioner bashing and use your influence to stand up for those being robbed by the government and demand an end to frozen state pensions, after all a private pension provider would soon feel the full force of the law if they treated their policy holders in this way so why should ministers get away with it.

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Jul 02, 2012 at 12:55

Scapping the 25% tax free lump sum on Final Salary schemes will put an increase burden on the liability of the funds over the longer term, therefore quicken the demise of any schemes that are left - last one out turn off the light!!

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Anonymous 1 needed this 'off the record'

Jul 02, 2012 at 13:56

The better off earners use their AVC's as their tax -free cash lump sum in retirement, therefore preserving their Final Salary Pension in full. So, presumably the £2.5 billon to be saved each year comes from those on lower incomes whose only savings might be their 25% tax free lump sum on retirement?

The IFS report does not suggest that AVC's are under consideration.

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Jul 02, 2012 at 14:03

"Scrapping the 25% tax free lump sum":

- final salary private sector - Will cease to exist shortly. There will be nothing to scrap.

- final salary public sector - I can feel a strike coming on.

- dc pension private sector - Will have no access to their own money, after all the negative effects of demographics, QE and GB?

I agree that much talk on pensions is over generalised.

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Jul 02, 2012 at 15:09

Anon 1:

I guess you are talking about the private sector, with their AVCs for cash and final salary for income.

The tax free lump sum received by (some?) public servants is ... in addition to full final salary pension, isn't it? In this case, the final salary pension would be unaffected, they would simply (!) lose a 25% tax free lump sum if the scrapping applied to them. Please correct me if I am wrong.

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Jul 02, 2012 at 17:12


Yes, I am refering to the private sector.

In Para 2 the tax free lump sum is part of the total pension package. If you were unable to receive the tax free lump sum I presume there would be 2 options:

Take the 25% and pay tax on it or

Have no lump sum, then your monthy pension would be re-calculated upwards to maintain the total entitlement.

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Jul 02, 2012 at 17:52

Thanks for that.

What concerns me is the suggestion by the IFS that only one section of society should lose the 25% tax free lump sum, though this isn't clear in the article so I would be happy to be corrected.

I suspect that there will be more and more people like those described by Malcolm M in the article as the final salary schemes close down.

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