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Navigating the challenges of workplace pensions in an inflationary environment

Join our Client Director, Daniel Taylor, as he considers the knock-on impact of the current high-inflation environment on pensioners and the value of their occupational pensions.

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Author: Daniel Taylor, Client Director
27 March 2024
In recent times, the financial landscape for pensioners has become increasingly challenging, especially when considering the impact of rising costs against the backdrop of limited pension increases. The ‘triple lock’ mechanism provides some solace for state pensions, ensuring payments rise in line with inflation, wages, or 2.5%, whichever is highest. This safeguard helps protect state pensions from being seriously eroded by inflation. Unfortunately, this protection doesn’t extend to private and workplace pensions, where increases are often more modest and commonly fail to keep pace with inflation, diminishing the real value of these pensions over time.

For pensioners looking to enhance their income and mitigate the impact of increasing expenses, there are several strategies to consider. Extending employment years to postpone pension withdrawals can provide a significant boost to future pension income. Engaging in more aggressive investment strategies within pension pots may offer higher returns, although this comes with greater risk. Additionally, honing budgeting skills can help maximise the value of existing funds. For those facing severe financial pressures, reducing pension withdrawals, re-entering the workforce, or liquidating assets are also options, albeit tough ones.

The topic of the state pension age is particularly contentious, especially given the recent ombudsman report on the WASPI women case. The state pension age, a political hot potato, hinges on what governments think they can sell to voters, despite the looming shadow of unaffordability. The plan, as it stands, is to increase the state pension age from 66 to 67 between 2026 and 2028, followed by a further leap to age 68 between 2044 to 2046 – targeting those born after April 1977.

Yet, rumours suggest in an effort to save billions, the Treasury wants to bring forward the rise to age 68 to 2035. This shift would give the UK one of the highest state retirement ages in the world – a move laden with political dynamite, especially on the eve of a general election. With the Treasury cornered by the escalating costs of the triple lock, it’s a fair bet that sheer financial pressure might drive the next government to fast-track this rise to 2035, directly impacting anyone currently under currently the age of 54.

Furthermore, the conversation around the state pension age is intrinsically linked to life expectancy. If life expectancy keeps rising, the state pension age may very well need to increase too.

However, there’s a significant issue for retirement ages – although we’re living longer, our health isn’t improving at the same pace. It means we’re all going to be spending more years in poor health rather than having more productive years allowing us to work and cope with increasing retirement ages. Raising the state pension age without accounting for health quality means more people will face their final years in bad health, without a retirement income, straining healthcare and welfare systems to breaking point. It’s a clear sign of tough choices ahead in balancing longevity with quality of life.

In summary, while the state pension provides some relief through the triple lock, many pensioners with private or workplace pensions face the significant challenge of their savings not keeping pace with inflation. Strategies to enhance income or reduce expenditure are essential, yet difficult choices lie ahead, particularly concerning the state pension age and its implications against the backdrop of life expectancy and health quality.
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