United Kingdom
Selected Issues

This Selected Issues paper of the United Kingdom analyzes the official projections of public pension spending and risks, as well as the strategy to increase private pension provision. It provides a comparison of stylized facts regarding business cycle developments in the three economies, and an analysis of how these cyclical differences reflect the way monetary policy changes impact the three economies. It analyzes the policy on Economic and Monetary Union membership; and also the interest rate changes in the United Kingdom and the United States compared with that in the euro area.


This Selected Issues paper of the United Kingdom analyzes the official projections of public pension spending and risks, as well as the strategy to increase private pension provision. It provides a comparison of stylized facts regarding business cycle developments in the three economies, and an analysis of how these cyclical differences reflect the way monetary policy changes impact the three economies. It analyzes the policy on Economic and Monetary Union membership; and also the interest rate changes in the United Kingdom and the United States compared with that in the euro area.

I. Aging and the U.K. Pension System1

A. Introduction

1. The U.K. population is expected to age significantly over the next few decades. Although cross-country comparisons show that the U.K. is subject to less demographic pressure than other major EU countries, the aging of its population is still substantial. In particular, the U.K. old-dependency ratio—defined as the ratio of the population aged 65 and over to the population aged 15 to 64—is set to rise by about 60 percent over the next five decades.


Population Aged 65 and Over as a Percentage of Those Aged 15 to 64 in Selected Countries

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2004, 055; 10.5089/9781451814132.002.A001

Sources: GAD; UN

UK Public Pension Spending

(as a percent of GDP)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2004, 055; 10.5089/9781451814132.002.A001

Source: HM Treasury

2. In spite of this demographic shock, the government’s projections show no commensurate increase in the public spending on pensions as a percent of GDP over the next fifty years. For instance, the December 2002 Pensions Green Paper published by the Department of Work and Pensions states that “...total public pension spending is projected to remain relatively stable over the next five decades, fluctuating around 5 percent of GDP.2

3. The purpose of this paper is threefold. First, it analyzes the official baseline projections of public pension spending and their assumptions. Second, the paper assesses the main risks and uncertainty surrounding these projections. Third, it discusses the key elements of the government’s current approach to tackling the demographic challenge to the pension system.

4. The rest of the paper is organized as follows. Section B outlines the main features of the U.K. pension system and their implications for the current and future levels of public pension liabilities. Section C details the government’s projections of long-term pension spending presented in the December 2002 Pensions Green Paper and their underlying assumptions.3 Section D quantifies the risks to these projections related mostly to the expected growth of private pension income. Section E assesses the government’s strategy to increasing private pension provision. Section F concludes.

B. Features of the U.K. Pension System

5. The U.K. pension system has a very complex structure, evolving from decades of reforms. A full description of the U.K. pension system is beyond the scope of this paper, although a brief overview is provided in Box 1. Instead, the focus is on features of the pension system that are relevant for the long-term pension liabilities of the state.

6. The private pillar plays an important role in the U.K. pension system. The U.K. has a long tradition of private pension provision, with the first pension scheme (for Royal Navy Officers) dating back to the 1670s. Even after the introduction of a state pension in the late 1940s, it was understood that people who wished to have a level of retirement income above subsistence had to purchase additional private insurance. At present, more than half of U.K. employees have a private second-tier pension. This private pension could be occupational, personal, or stakeholder (see chart, Box 1). Occupational pensions can be done either on a defined-benefit or defined-contribution basis. Personal and stakeholder pensions are defined-contribution schemes only. Not surprisingly, U.K. private pension wealth—held in self-administered pension funds and life insurance companies—is very high by international standards. For example, the pension assets held by U.K. self-administered pension funds exceeded 70 percent of GDP in 2001, despite the fall of equity markets.


Percentage of Employees with Different Types of Second-tier Pensions

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2004, 055; 10.5089/9781451814132.002.A001

Source: Family Resources Survey 2001/02

Pension Fund Assets

(as a percent of GDP)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2004, 055; 10.5089/9781451814132.002.A001

Source: ONS

The Three Tiers of the U.K. Pension System

First-tier pensions

The first tier consists of two types of state benefits—the Basic State Pension (BSP) and the Pension Credit (PC).

The BSP is a contributory benefit, paid from the National Insurance Fund. If a person is above the state retirement age and has a full contribution record (44 qualifying years for men and 39 for women), he is entitled to receive the standard, flat-rate weekly BSP rate of £77.50. People with incomplete contribution records receive the BSP on a graduated basis. Since 1980, the (standard and graduated) BSP rates have been uprated annually in line with prices.

The PC has two components—the guarantee credit, providing a minimum income (greater than the BSP) of £102.1, and the savings credit, paying a proportion of any qualifying income between £77.50 and £139.10. The PC is a non-contributory benefit, paid from general taxation.

Second-tier pensions

Participation in some component of the second tier is mandatory for most of the employed. Since 1978, all employees (earning above a specified lower earnings limit) have had to enroll in a second-tier pension, either the additional earnings-related state pension (SERPS until April 2002 and Second State Pension thereafter) or a private pension scheme. Originally, SERPS was designed to provide a maximum addition to the BSP of 25 percent of a person’s earnings (between a lower and upper earnings limit) over the best twenty years of an employee’s career. Subsequently, its generosity has been reduced significantly. If an employee contracts out of SERPS into a private second-tier pension, she pays a reduced National Insurance contribution or gets a rebate paid into her private pension. The second-tier private pensions can be occupational, personal, or stakeholder. While the majority of occupational pensions are defined-benefit, personal and stakeholder pensions are defined-contribution.

Third-tier pensions

The third tier comprises of additional, mostly tax-privileged, contributions to private pensions beyond the compulsory element of second-tier provision. The Individual Savings Accounts (ISA) are an example of such pension vehicle.

7. At present, private pensions are a significant source of pensioners’ income. Recent household data suggest that 29 percent of average pensioner’s income comes from private pensions. Other private sources of income are investment and earnings, which contribute 20 percent of the average pensioner’s income. The state provides the remaining 51 percent of the average pensioner’s income.4


Sources of Pensioners’ Income

(£ per week, 2001/02 prices)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2004, 055; 10.5089/9781451814132.002.A001

Source: ONS

8. In spite of a well-developed private pillar, the state continues to be the largest source of income for the average pensioner. In particular, the state system offers a universal basic pension, an additional earnings-related pension, and means-tested pension benefits.

  • Basic State Pension. Traditionally, the Basic State Pension (BSP) has been the main element of the U.K. social insurance system for old age. The National Insurance Act of 1946 introduced it as a contributory state pension for all. Given a full contribution record, the BSP is paid at a flat rate, unrelated to past earnings.5 In 1948, the standard BSP weekly rate for a single pensioner (with a full contribution record) was £1.30. In 2003, the corresponding rate is £77.45. Interestingly, the retirement age set in the original legislation—65 for men and 60 for women—is still in effect today. The current government policy is to increase the BSP rates each year in line with RPI inflation, subject to a minimum increase of 2.5 percent. The payments for the BSP come from the National Insurance Fund, operated on a pay-as-you-go basis.

  • Additional earnings-related state pension (SERPS/State Second Pension). Introduced in 1978, the State Earnings Related Pension Scheme (SERPS) is a second-tier pension (see Box 1), replaced in 2002 by the State Second Pension (S2P). Since 1978, employees have been able to opt out (“contract out”) of SERPS and into second-tier private pensions. For example, in 2001/02 about 34 percent of the employees were contracted out into defined-benefit occupational pensions and about 20 percent into defined-contribution occupational, personal or stakeholder pensions (GAD, 2003). In return for contracting out of state provision, employees pay lower National Insurance Contributions (NIC) or receive NIC rebates. As in the case of the basic pension, entitlements under the SERPS/S2P are paid from the National Insurance Fund, also on a pay-as-you-go basis.

  • Means-tested pension benefits (Pension Credit). Income support for pensioners has a long history in the U.K.—in 1908, the Old Age Pensions Act introduced a means-tested pension for people aged 70 and over. In present times, income support to pensioners is provided with the Pension Credit (PC), which is paid from general taxation and operated by the Department of Work and Pensions. The PC has two components—the guarantee credit and the savings credit—that operate as follows (see chart). The guarantee credit ensures a minimum income of £102.1 for all single pensioners aged 60 and above, topping up their (pre-PC) income from other sources. (Note that the current level of the guarantee credit is above the BSP level). The savings credit rewards any additional saving (i.e., income from a private pension) above its starting point (“the savings threshold”), which currently coincides with the BSP rate. While the current government has committed to uprating the guarantee credit in line with earnings and the savings credit in line with prices for the remainder of this Parliament, there is no commitment beyond that, i.e., the future uprating of these thresholds is uncertain.


How the Pension Credit Works

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2004, 055; 10.5089/9781451814132.002.A001

9. A number of past reforms reduced the generosity—and thus the cost—of the current state pension system, while encouraging growth in private pension provision. These reforms were partly motivated by the aging of the population, which started earlier in the U.K. than in other major countries.6 The key changes to the U.K. pension system were as follows:

  • A change in the indexation of the BSP. The 1980 Social Security Act established the current indexation of the BSP to prices, abolishing the previous indexation to earnings or prices (whichever was more favorable to the pensioners) between 1975 and 1979.7 Nevertheless, discretionary (above-inflation) increases in the BSP rates—as in 2001 and 2002—are still allowed under current legislation. In historical context, the implications of the indexation of the BSP to prices can be easily demonstrated (see chart). After the link to earnings was broken in 1980, the value of the basic pension8—relative to average earnings—declined from 24 percent in 1981 to about 16 percent in 2002.

  • Reductions in the generosity of the additional earning-related state pension and changes in its contracting-out rules. The 1986 Social Security Act reduced significantly the pension benefits of SERPS and encouraged individual employees to opt out of SERPS and into defined-contribution private pension schemes.9 The 1993 Social Security Act renewed some of the incentives to contract out of SERPS into private pension schemes.10 The 1995 Pensions Act took a further step in reducing the generosity of SERPS by changing the calculation method for entitlements as of April 1999. In addition, the legislation relaxed the requirements on occupational pensions allowed to contract out of SERPS, providing another boost to private provision.11

  • A hike in the female retirement age from 60 to 65. The 1995 Pensions Act announced that the BSP’s retirement age for women would rise gradually from 60 to 65 (the retirement age for men) between 2010 and 2020. As a result, the overall old-dependency ratio for the BSP is set to increase by about 35 percent—rather than 60 percent—by 2050, reducing substantially the cost12 of the pension.


Basic State Pension and Average Gross Earnings

(£ per week)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2004, 055; 10.5089/9781451814132.002.A001

Sources: ONS and DWP

Basic State Pension Dependency Ratio

(with and without a hike in female retirement age)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2004, 055; 10.5089/9781451814132.002.A001

Source: GAD and staff calculations.

10. More recent reforms of the pension system have increased the generosity of the state to low-income pensioners, while aiming to promote further private pension provision. The most significant change has been the rise in means-tested benefits for pensioners with the introduction of the Minimum Income Guarantee in 1999 and its successor, the Pension Credit, in 2003. As discussed above, the current level of the means-tested benefits exceeds that of the BSP. Another reform has involved increasing the generosity of the additional earnings-related state pension to its low-income members with the introduction of the State Second Pension in 2002.13 While providing a safety net for the poor, the government also committed to foster private provision among the middle-and high-income pensioners. In particular, the 1998 Pensions Green Paper stated that “by 2050, the proportion of pensioner incomes coming from the State, now 60 percent, will have fallen to 40 per cent, and the proportion coming from private pension provision will have increased from 40 to 60 per cent.” The introduction of stakeholder pensions in April 2001 was part of this reform agenda. The main elements of the government’s current strategy to increase private pension provision are discussed in detail in Section E.

C. Long-term Public Spending on Pensions: The Government’s Projections and Assumptions

11. The government’s projections show that total public spending on pensions will remain relatively stable around 5 percent of GDP over the next five decades, although its composition will change.14 Pension spending is defined as the combined cost of the BSP, SERPS/S2P, the Pension Credit, and other pension spending.15,16 The composition of public pension spending is projected to change significantly over the same period, as the decreasing cost of the BSP is offset by the rising cost of the PC and SERPS/S2P.17

12. While the projections of BSP, SERPS/S2P and PC are based on common macroeconomic and demographic assumptions, they also reflect several important assumptions specific to each scheme:18

  • The gradual decline in the cost of the BSP—from 3.8 percent to 2 percent of GDP—is driven mainly by the assumption that the BSP rates are indexed to prices rather than earnings. The prospective hike in the retirement age (see Para. 9) also plays a role, although the increasing number of pensioners and the growing share of women entitled to a full basic pension act as countervailing factors.

  • The steady rise in the cost of the additional earnings-related state pension—from 0.6 percent to 1.3 percent of GDP—is related to the growing entitlements to SERPS19 and the increasing number of pensioners (GAD, 1999).20

  • The continual increase in the cost of the Pension Credit21—from 0.4 percent to 1.5 percent of GDP—mainly reflects three important assumptions. First, the guarantee credit is assumed to be indexed to earnings, while the savings credit threshold is assumed to be indexed to prices. Second, on average, the pensioners’ income brought to account in the Pension Credit is expected to increase with earnings. Third, the take-up of the Pension Credit is assumed to be 80 percent.


Public Pension Spending by Component

(as a percent of GDP)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2004, 055; 10.5089/9781451814132.002.A001

Source: 2002 Pensions Green Paper

13. Since the projections in the 2002 Green Paper, the Government Actuary’s Department (GAD) has produced new long-term projections of the BSP and SERPS/S2P. While the main assumptions used to calculate the cost of these schemes (outlined above) are unchanged, their combined cost is now projected to be somewhat higher (by about 0.5 percent of GDP) in 2051/52. This is mainly due to the introduction of S2P and the lower number of employees assumed to contract out.22 As these new projections are the most current and broadly similar to the previous ones, they will be used in the discussion throughout the rest of the paper.

D. Risks to the Long-term Public Pension Projections

14. Examining the effect of a “full aging pass-through” on pensioners’ income is a useful starting point for discussing the risks to the above projections.23 At the aggregate level, full aging pass-through captures the necessary increase in total pension income (as a percent of GDP) that keeps the “replacement rate” (i.e., the income of the average pensioner relative to the income of the average worker) constant. Given a projected increase in the old-dependency ratio of about 35 percent and an estimate of total pension income of 8.5 percent of GDP in 2001/02,24 the total pension income consistent with a full aging pass-through is 11½ percent of GDP in 2051/52. A caveat to these simple calculations—and a potentially important mitigating factor—is that the effective retirement age and the labor force participation of people above state pension age are likely to rise as the dependency ratio worsens.25 Abstracting from this effect, if the income of the average pensioner is to remain stable relative to the average earnings, the aging of the U.K. population will require a rise in total pension income of about 3 percent of GDP over the next five decades.26

15. In this context, the government’s projections for public pensions imply that private pension income would have to double as a percent of GDP, if the average pensioner were to maintain his current pension income relative to average earnings.27 Estimating the exact increase in contribution rates to private pensions required to double the income from such schemes in fifty years is virtually impossible, given the involved institutional arrangements in the U.K. private pension system.28 Nonetheless, the growth of occupational schemes during the second half of the 20th century provides a useful benchmark. Aggregate data on self-administered pension funds reveal that the funds’ assets quadrupled as a percent of GDP from the early 1980s to the late 1990s (see Para. 6). Over the same period, the income paid to fund members rose by about 1 percentage point of GDP, while contribution rates declined in the early 1980s, possibly owing to the growth in the funds’ equity income and the shift to personal pension schemes.


Pension Income Under a Full Aging Pass-through

(as a percent of GDP)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2004, 055; 10.5089/9781451814132.002.A001

Sources: ONS, GAD, FRS, and staff estimates

Payments to Pension Fund Members

(as a percent of GDP)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2004, 055; 10.5089/9781451814132.002.A001

Source: ONS

Employers’ and Employees’ Contributions to Self-Administered Pension Funds

(as a percent of GDP)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2004, 055; 10.5089/9781451814132.002.A001

Source: ONS

16. If the increase in private pension income does not occur, the replacement rate for the average pensioner will decline, which could lead to significant public pressure to revive the earnings indexation of BSP. This possibility is reinforced by the fact that the replacement rate for public pensions (BSP and SERPS/S2P) is already at a low level (about 18 percent of average earnings), both in historical and international context. However, the projected decline in the replacement rate shown below is likely to be dampened by the growing benefits under the PC.

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Source: GAD (2003)

Nevertheless, the support for the earnings indexation of the BSP may be strong given the universal nature of this pension.29 If implemented, this indexation will raise the cost of the National Insurance pensions by about 3 percentage points of GDP in 2051/52 (see table). Under this scenario, the joint (employee and employer) contribution rates required to balance the National Insurance Fund are projected to rise from about 19 percent (of earnings) in 2001/02 to over 26 percent in 2050/51. However, the overall cost of the public pensions may increase by less than 3 percentage points, as the implied cost of the PC will be lower by about 0.5 percentage point of GDP in 2050/51.30 This suggests that the additional cost imposed by the earnings indexation on public pension spending is likely to be about 2.5 percentage points of GDP in 2050/51.

article image
Sources: GAD (2003) and staff calculations

17. Another risk to the long-term spending projections, arising from the cost of the PC, is also linked to the prospective growth in private pension income. Even if the risk discussed in the previous paragraph never materializes, the long-term cost of public pensions could be higher than currently projected. According to Department of Work and Pensions estimates (confirmed in staff’s analysis), if average pensioner income from non-PC sources increases with prices rather than earnings, the cost of the PC could be higher by about 2 percentage points of GDP in 2050/51.31 While this is an extreme assumption, it is not the only one that produces higher long-term estimates of the PC. Staff analysis32 suggests that the cost of the PC is quite sensitive to the assumption that the distribution of (pre-PC) pensioner income remains constant over time. Given the projected (below-earnings) growth of the BSP and the relative importance of this pension in the first three quintiles of the income distribution (see chart), the long-term cost of the PC could exceed its current estimate by about 1 percentage point of GDP, if private pension income does not grow sufficiently fast to offset this effect.


The Composition of Single Pensioners’ Gross Income by Quintile of the Net Income Distribution in 2001/02

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2004, 055; 10.5089/9781451814132.002.A001

Source: ONS

18. Aside from the risks stemming from the increase in private pension provision, the long-term projections are subject to considerable uncertainty related to demographic assumptions. Over long horizons, the estimated cost of public pensions depends heavily on demographics. But long-term population projections are inherently uncertain, and they tend to surprise on the downside. For example, the Government Actuary’s Department recently released a new set of (2002-based) population projections—not incorporated in the long-term pension projections discussed in this paper—indicating a more significant increase in the state pension dependency ratio than in the previous (2001-based) projections. This upward revision is mostly due to a higher life expectancy assumption and a higher estimate of the 2001 base population aged 16 to 44. If these latest demographic projections are taken into account, public pension spending could be about ¾ percent of GDP higher in 2050 than currently envisaged.


Impact of Revised Population Projections on State Pension Dependency Ratio

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2004, 055; 10.5089/9781451814132.002.A001

Sources: GAD and staff calculations.

E. The Government’s Strategy

19. The government has formulated a strategy to address the demographic challenge to the U.K. pension system. One aspect of this strategy has been to make it clear that individuals are expected to take responsibility for their pension savings. In particular, the 2002 Pensions Green Paper states that:

“…the Government provides the foundation of support for retirement income through the BSP and the Second State Pension. The amount that individuals should save in addition will depend on their circumstances and preferences… The Government has no specific objective on earnings replacement. The state system, through the MIG and the Pension Credit, guarantees a level of income rather than a specific replacement rate. It is the responsibility of the individual, where possibly supported by their employers, to determine the level of income in retirement they want over and above that provided by the state system.”

20. Nonetheless, the focus of the government’s strategy has been to promote voluntary private saving for retirement. The 2002 Pensions Green Paper reports that about 3 million people are seriously under-providing for their retirement, while a larger group of 5 to 10 million may need to save more or work longer. Having identified this sizable “savings gap,” the paper highlighted a number of initiatives to boost saving, with an emphasis on encouraging private pension provision and extending working lives:

  • Implementation of informed choice program. Given the complexity of the U.K. pension system, the goals of this broad program are to help people understand their choices, increase financial literacy, and provide personalized (state and combined) pension forecasts. The desired effect of the informed choice program is to prompt people to save more for retirement. While this is an interesting and innovative idea, it is still largely untested. If people do not save because they are liquidity-constrained, there is little reason to believe that the availability of more information will change their savings pattern, although they may still choose to work longer.

  • Simplification of pension taxation. This overdue initiative proposes a radical simplification of the tax treatment of pensions, replacing the current eight tax regimes with a unified system of pension taxation. The immediate implications of this change for individual savers are unclear. In the long run, however, the simplification of the tax regime will make it easier for people to compare different pension products. The government has proposed replacing the existing regimes by a single regime with a lifetime allowance on the amount of tax-privileged pension saving.

  • Protection for occupational pension holders. Specific proposals in this area include the appointment of a new pensions regulator, the establishment of a clearing house for defunct pension schemes, and the amendment of the creditors’ priority order. The purpose of this initiative is to address some of the problems experienced by members of occupational pension schemes in recent years. However, the increased protection of existing pensions could jeopardize the emergence of new schemes.

  • Implementation of stakeholder savings products. This initiative follows up on the proposals of the Sandler Review (2002) to provide simple and highly-regulated savings products and pensions, which offer better protection for consumers.33

  • Introduction of better incentives to work. In this area, the primary objective is to increase further the labor market participation and employment rates of older people (including those who are past the state pension age) and to raise the effective retirement age, which is currently lower than the state pension age. The planned increase in the qualifying age for the guarantee part of the PC from 60 to 65 between 2010 and 2020 is complementary to this objective, as it would mitigate any possible adverse effect of means-testing on labor supply. New proposals put forward in the Green Paper include increasing the qualifying age for state pensions, creating financial incentives for people to defer receipt of the BSP, and more generally, helping older workers to remain or return to work. The paper rejects firmly the idea of raising the state pension age from 65 to 67, although it discusses the merits of using an individual-specific retirement age, possibly linked to past labor market participation.

21. A final (and crucial) part of the government’s strategy has been to monitor the progress made under the current system. For this purpose, an independent pensions commission—established at the time of the Pensions Green Paper in December 2002—issued its work plan in June 2003. The remit of the commission is to evaluate the performance of the existing voluntary approach to saving, focusing on the adequacy of private provision. The members of the commission are expected to review the current system and make preliminary policy recommendations in mid-2005. In principle, the commission could propose a shift towards compulsion if it concludes that private provision is unlikely to increase sufficiently.

F. Conclusions

22. The discussion in this paper leads to the following conclusions:

  • Over the past thirty years, the U.K. pension system has undergone structural reforms that consistently fostered the growth of its private pillar. As a consequence, the overall cost of the U.K. public pension system is currently lower than in most other EU countries.

  • Still, the aging of the U.K. population presents a significant challenge to both the public and the private pension pillars. While providing a more generous safety net for the poor, the government’s response has been to encourage people to increase their private savings for retirement. So far the government’s approach to achieving this increase in private savings has been purely voluntary. Key elements of this strategy include streamlining the tax treatment of pensions; introducing simple and regulated (“stakeholder”) private pensions; providing personalized pension forecasts; increasing the protection of occupational pension holders; and improving the incentives for people to work longer before and during retirement.

  • If this voluntary strategy succeeds in increasing private pension saving and in extending working lives, it will provide a “first-best” solution to the aging problem. However, many of its initiatives are new and untested. At this point, it is too early to tell if they will achieve a tangible increase in private retirement saving.

  • Nonetheless, the outlook for the government’s spending on pensions depends critically on the desired increase in private pension and other income. If this outcome is not attained, the U.K. public pension system could be exposed to contingent liabilities of up to 2½ percent of GDP in 2050.

  • These risks to the long-term public spending on pensions will be substantially mitigated if the government considers other, more forceful, options to increasing private pension savings. Clearly, this is a “second-best” solution to the aging problem. The appointment of an independent pensions commission—to monitor the implementation of the current strategy and make recommendations about its future, including a possible shift to compulsion—is very sensible, as it will allow a change of course if the current voluntary approach does not work.


  • Department of Social Security, 1998, A New Contract for Welfare: Partnership in Pensions—the Pensions Green Paper, December.

  • Department of Work and Pensions, 2002a, The Pension Credit: Long-term Projections, January.

  • Department of Work and Pensions, 2002b, Simplicity, Security and Choice: Working and Saving for Retirement—the Pensions Green Paper, December.

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  • Government Actuary’s Department, 1999, Government Actuary’s Quinquennial Review of the National Insurance Fund, July.

  • Government Actuary’s Department , 2003a, Occupational Pension Schemes 2000: Eleventh Survey by the Government Actuary, April.

  • Government Actuary’s Department, 2003b, Government Actuary’s Quinquennial Review of the National Insurance Fund, October.

  • HM Treasury, 2002, Long-term Public Finance Report: An Analysis of Fiscal Sustainability, November.

  • HM Treasury, 2003a, Long-term Public Finance Report: Fiscal Sustainability with an Aging Population, December.

  • HM Treasury, 2003b, Government Response to the Consultation on Sandler “Stakeholder” Product Specifications, July.

  • Jaeger, A., 2003, “Aging and the SGP,” mimeo.

  • McKay, S., and D. Smeaton, 2003, “Working after State Pension Age: Quantitative Analysis,” DWP Research Summary (available at www.dwp.gov.uk/asd/).

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  • Miles, D., and J. Sefton, 2002, “Optimal Social Security Design,” CERP Discussion Paper, April.

  • Sandler, R., 2002, Medium and Long-term Retail Savings in the UK: A Review, July.

  • Turner, A. 2003, The Macro-economics of Pensions,” Lecture to the Actuarial Profession, September.


Prepared by Petya Koeva.


More recently, HM Treasury (2003a) also mentions that “publicpension spending is projected to remain stable over the next 50years, fluctuating between 4.9 and 5.4 percent of GDP’” Note that public service pensions are not included in these projections.


The Long-term Public Finance Report (HM Treasury, 2003a) provided more recent aggregate estimates of the long-term public pension projections. However, as these estimates did not include a breakdown of the components of pension spending and were broadly similar to those in the 2002 Pension Green Paper, the discussion in Sections C and D focuses on the latter.


For a single pensioner, the breakdown is: 21 percent from private pensions, 16 percent from investment and earnings, and 63 percent from state benefits. For a pensioner couple, the corresponding figures are: 30 percent from private pensions, 24 percent from investment and earnings, and 45 percent from state benefits. Note that some of the private pension income comes from contracted out SERPS/S2P rebates, and so in effect is state support.


This paper refers to the BSP as a flat-rate benefit for presentational purposes. References to the BSP rate are to the standard weekly amount received by a person with a full contribution record. Strictly speaking, the BSP is not paid at a flat rate, but depends on each person’s National Insurance Contribution (NIC) record. To qualify for the standard weekly BSP rate, men need to have 44 qualifying years (39 for women). If a person does not have a complete contribution record, he receives proportionately less.


The old dependency ratio for the Basic State Pension increased by about 40 percent between 1950 and 1990 (see GAD (2003b)).


From 1946 to 1974, the indexation of the Basic State Pension was done on a discretionary basis.


For a single pensioner under 80.


In particular, the SERPS benefits were reduced—over a ten-year transition period—from 25 percent of average revalued band earnings (i.e., between the lower and upper earning limit) over the best 20 years to 20 percent of average revalued band earnings over the entire working career. At the same time, the 1986 Social Security Act proposed to decrease the spouse’s benefits to 50 percent (rather than 100 percent) of the member’s pension. In addition, it encouraged employees to contract into a personal pension scheme by:(i) providing an extra two percent National Insurance rebate if a member contracted out of SERPS between April 1988 and April 1993; and (ii) allowing members of occupational pension schemes to join personal pension schemes.


The 1993 Social Security Act provided a one percent National Insurance rebate for members of contracted-out personal pension schemes aged 30 and over not to contract back into SERPS between April 1993 and April 1997 and continued (but less generous) National Insurance age-relate rebates after April 1997.


The 1995 Pensions Act abolished the requirement that occupational schemes provide Guaranteed Minimum Pensions (GMPs), substituting it with a less stringent “reference test” requirement. However, it required occupational schemes to pay the full cost of inflation indexation of their pensions (up to 5 percent), ending the state’s commitment to pay for part of the indexation cost. In addition, the legislation introduced age-related rebates for contracting into a defined-contribution (personal or occupational) scheme as of April 1997. A new rebate schedule, which revised upward the rebates for personal pensions and downward the rebates for defined-contribution occupational pensions, was introduced in April 1999 (GAD, 2003b).


Using the interim 2001-based population projections.


Starting in April 2002, no new SERPS rights could be accumulated. Instead, rights to the S2P began to accrue. People who retire between 2002 and 2050 with contributions to both schemes will receive a pension that is a mixture of the two.


See 2002 Pensions Green Paper.


Other pension spending comprises Winter Fuel payments and TV licenses for people aged 75 and over.


This is the definition of aggregate pension spending used in the 2002 Pensions Green Paper and the 2002 Pre-Budget document Long-term Public Finance Report: An Analysis of Fiscal Sustainability. An alternative definition includes two additional components—the housing/council tax benefit and attendance/disability living allowance—amounting to about 1.1 percent of GDP in 2001/02. In 2050/51, the combined cost of these benefits is projected to be 1.2 percent of GDP (GAD, 2003b).


The projections of BSP and SERPS/S2P are produced by the Government Actuary’s Department, which is responsible for estimating the contribution rates required to meet the long-term expenditures of the National Insurance Fund. The projections of the PC are calculated by the Department of Work and Pension (see its 2002 publication, The Pension Credit: Long-term Projections).


The demographic assumptions are based on the interim 2001-based projections. In all years after 2007/08, inflation and productivity growth are assumed to be 2.5 percent and 2 percent, respectively, while employment growth is driven by the demographic projections.


As new pensioners with higher entitlements replace older pensioners with little or no entitlement.


The earnings limits of SERPS/S2P are assumed to increase with prices.


See DWP (2002a).


See Table 5.15 (GADb, 2003).


Jaeger (2003) uses the concept of a full aging pass-through to evaluate the effect of aging on public finances.


This estimate is obtained using information from aggregate data (on state spending on BSP, SERPS/S2P, MIG, other state benefits) and household-level data (the sources of income for the average pensioner discussed in Para. 7). For the sake of consistency and given the emphasis on pensions, income from earnings, investment, and housing/council and attendance/disability benefits is excluded from the calculation.


Indeed, recent empirical evidence suggests that maintaining living standards is one of the main motivations for working past the state pension age (McKay and Smeaton, 2003).


This rise becomes significantly larger—to about 4 percent of GDP—if one uses the projected increase in the dependency ratio implied by the recently released 2002-based population projections.


This is also a point made recently by Adair Turner, the head of the independent pensions commission, in a lecture to the actuarial profession entitled “The Macroeconomics of Pensions.”


The U.K. private pension system comprises thousands of different defined-benefit and defined-contribution schemes, whose assets are held in various pension funds and life insurance companies. There is limited information about past contribution rates and current liabilities.


In a paper on the optimal design of public pensions, Miles and Sefton (2002) illustrates that voters have a preference for a flat rate pension system over a means-tested system, unless the generosity of the means-tested system is considerably higher. However, the authors find that the optimal public pension scheme has some degree of means testing, although the scale of its benefits is very low.


The top-up benefit under the PC will be lower, given the higher income received as a result of the earnings indexation of BSP.


See answer to parliamentary question of June 3, 2003 (http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk).


The staff’s projections are obtained by estimating the costs of the PC across the quintiles of the income distribution for single pensioners and pensioner couples. The initial income distribution is based on household data from the 2001/02 Family Resources Survey. Productivity (and earnings) growth is assumed to be 2 percent, and employment growth is consistent with demographic trends. The assumption about the indexation of the PC parameters is the same as in the 2002 Pensions Green Paper.


See HM Treasury (2003b).

United Kingdom: Selected Issues
Author: International Monetary Fund