Academic journal article Capital & Class

From Beveridge to Turner: Laissez-Faire to Neoliberalism

Academic journal article Capital & Class

From Beveridge to Turner: Laissez-Faire to Neoliberalism

Article excerpt

Introduction

The real and current pensions crisis is relatively simple to express: not only are there currently too many people in poverty in old age, but that number is set to increase if current government spending policies continue (Davies, 2003: 9). The cause of the 'pensions crisis' is debatable: is it simply the case that individuals are not saving enough? Or have people been let down by pension schemes? How many workers earn enough to contribute meaningfully to a pension fund? In the UK, the Pension Commission was established by the government in 2002 to investigate the current pensions crisis.

There have been two Pension Commission reports, both of which were chaired by Lord Turner. The first, published in February 2005 and entitled Principles for Reform: The National Pensions Debate (PC 1, 2005), outlined a number of issues connected to pension provision, but did not offer much in the way of proposals for change. A second, more detailed report that would make recommendations for future government policy was therefore commissioned. The focus of this article is the second and most recent Pension Commission report, Security in Retirement: Towards a New Pensian System (PC 2, 2006), which will be referred to throughout this article as the Turner Report, published in May 2006.

This second report, whilst being different in scope to the 1942 Beveridge Report, whose recommendations formed the basis for the post-war inception of the Welfare State, is similar to it in other aspects. If we look at the contribution of both reports to the field of pension provision, we can recognise that both the Turner and the Beveridge Reports were concerned with examining and recommending changes to pensions systems that were seen as being in need of reform. Indeed, John Hill, who was a member of the Pension Commission, has written of how the Pension Commission compared its findings to Beveridge's, and agreed with some of the key principals of the Beveridge Report (Hills, 2006: 13).

This article will argue that the types of reform suggested by the respective reports reflects the political economies of the eras and climates in which they were produced. It will suggest that the Beveridge Report was produced in a climate in which there was a willingness to consider a number of potential pension systems, and that whilst some of Beveridge's proposals were blocked or restricted by Treasury officials and indeed by the financial realities of post-war Britain, the report that was published reflected one aspect of a wider pensions discourse--a discourse that had not yet become standardised or indeed hegemonic. It argues, however, that the Turner Report, which had similar objectives to Beveridge's, was not produced in a climate of similar discursive freedom. The Turner Report was tied to the conclusions of the first Pension Commission's report, and both of these reports seemed clearly aligned to New Labour's 'Third Way'. The Turner Report, for example, cherry-picks certain aspects of Britain's legislative pensions history to include in the report, and underplays the impact of pension mis-selling and employer contribution holidays, whilst at the same time placing an emphasis on greater personal responsibility. This is important, since it suggests that a significant cause of the current pensions 'crisis' is individual reluctance to prepare for retirement, which, if true, can only be partly to blame. An emphasis on the responsibility of the individual also suggests that the state is not and should not be responsible for this. John Hill's article argues that the Turner Report was torn between two extremes:

At one end, some have argued that the State's role should or can only be that of poverty relief. At the other, people argue that it is the State which should organise and provide earnings-replacement for all or nearly all. (Hills, 2006: 14)

It is difficult to find evidence of this turmoil in the actual report. …

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