Pensions and healthcare explored at party conferences

Pensions are one issue that will come under the spotlight at the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat party conferences in September and October this year, at least on the fringes. Although most of the parties were keeping the proposals that will be debated under wraps as Employee Benefits went to press, a number of organisations that will be campaigning on the conference fringe have said that the issue that they most want to see tackled is pensions.

The subject is touched on in the Liberal Democrats’ new policy document, Fairer, Simpler, Greener, which will be debated at its conference in Brighton between 16 and 21 September. The document proposes to reduce the 40% tax relief given to higher-rate taxpayers on pension contributions. Instead, it suggests it would be fairer to have one rate of tax relief set at the basic income tax rate, which currently stands at 22%. A spokesman for the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), which will be represented in conference fringe meetings, said the organisation will also be raising pensions. "The costs of running occupational pension schemes have increased significantly. We need to make sure the level of bureaucracy that is associated with all of the requirements is streamlined and kept to the minimum," he said. Steve Folkard, head of pensions and savings policy at insurer Axa, who is speaking in fringe sessions hosted by The Work Foundation at all three conferences, said: "While we fully support the need to increase the number of savers in the UK, what ministers and government need to be careful of is that they don’t increase the number of savers at the expense of savings."

Folkard is particularly concerned that personal accounts, as proposed in the government’s white paper on pensions reform, will result in a levelling down of contributions by employers which currently have a good existing pension provision for staff. He suggests an incentive scheme should be introduced for employers which enrol large numbers of staff into generous company schemes to stop firms cutting back on their established provision. Michelle Lewis, pensions officer at the Trades Union Congress, which will be lobbying on the side-lines, said the organisation wanted to see the state pension age kept at 65 years, rather than increased to 68 years by 2044, also proposed in the white paper. "[Employees should be] allowed to take the state pension at [age] 65. If they want to go on [working] beyond that or they want to defer it, that’s fine, but [it’s] not [fine] to force everyone to work longer to draw their state pension."

Healthcare isses will also be explored at the fringe meetings. Dudley Lusted, head of corporate healthcare development at Axa PPP Healthcare, will suggest to politicians that firms which provide an "approved best practice" healthcare scheme should be given a reduction in National Insurance. "We need to have a debate on what would constitute a reasonable programme," he added. This could include preventative measures such as educational programmes to prevent obesity, as well as, corporate healthcare, he said.