Historical take on pensions crisis
Press release issued: 10 June 2005
The pensions issue will be given a historical perspective when experts from the UK, Europe and the US meet at the British Academy next week to discuss the past, present and future of British pensions.
The pensions issue will be given a historical perspective next Wednesday [15 June] when experts from the UK, Europe and the US meet at the British Academy for a symposium entitled Why has it all gone wrong? The past, present and future of British pensions.
The symposium, run in collaboration with Bristol University, the Centre for Contemporary British History and Warwick University, will bring leading experts on the past and present of pensions together with policy-makers, representatives from the financial services sector, think-tanks, pressure groups and trade unions to debate the nature of the current pensions crisis and the way forward.
The issue of pensions and pension security is one of the most urgent political issues in Britain today and the fact that Britain is facing a major crisis seems now to be generally accepted.
As the Turner Commission has noted, the present position is the outcome of decisions, both public and private, made over the past hundred years. History, therefore, has an important contribution to make to the current debate, supplying answers to fundamental questions about how the present situation has been created, and how it might be improved.
Dr Hugh Pemberton, Lecturer in Modern British History at Bristol University and one of the convenors of the symposium said: "History is vital because pensions policy is very long term. Decisions made now will continue to shape policy until after we are all dead. Similarly, the present landscape of British pensions and present policy choices have been shaped by decisions taken in the past, sometimes a very long time ago.
"One example is the fact that Britain's pensions system profoundly disadvantages women who tend to have much less complete contribution histories than men. That this is the case is the product of the past - of a world in which the 'family breadwinner' was assumed to be male. Yet, although that world has largely gone, the product of those old assumption have shaped the present position.
"If there is one key lesson we can learn from history it is that the short-term horizons of British politics are profoundly unsuited to crafting pensions policy. It is not that past policies have not lasted; the long-term nature of pensions automatically makes for enduring decisions. The problem is that those policies were all too often designed with an eye to the next election rather than to the needs of future generations. It is therefore essential that the present Labour government be held to their professed desire to craft a national consensus on the way forward."The symposium is sponsored by Zurich Financial Services, B & CE Benefit Schemes and the British Academy.