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A tangled Webb. When it comes to changes in the state pension age, Richard Harvey wonders who did what and when?

We all remember the school swot – you know, the goody-two-shoes who never broke the rules, always took the credit and was squeaky clean when the teacher was looking for someone to chastise.

I suspect that little Steve Webb – who grew up to become the government’s Pensions Minister and has recently become Sir Steve Webb – might have fitted that description. And he’s still at it.

Aware that he is the butt of righteous fury from an entire generation of women after their retirement age was hiked from 60 to 65, he is now blaming that decision on the civil service, and says David Cameron and George Osborne should also share some of the opprobrium.

Poor advice

Speaking to the Institute of Government as part of a series of ‘Ministers Reflect’ talks (arguably more appropriately called ‘Mea Culpa’), sad Steve complained that the advice he had received from the civil service was “very poor”.

Warming to his subject, he said there was at least one decision with regard to women’s retirement age that he would have “done differently if we’d been properly briefed, and we weren’t”.

And he dragged Cameron and Osborne into the mire, saying he went to Number 10 to get them to agree some kind of transitional arrangement, to soften the blow for women needing to labour longer before claiming their already less-than-generous State pension, but no dice.

Cover your back

He said that, frankly, everyone had got their sums wrong. They calculated that no woman would have to wait more than an extra year for their pension. In fact, thousands of women would have to wait another two years, or even longer.

Now I might be missing something here, but instead of spraying the blame around, you might query whether Steve Webb should actually have held his hands up, and admitted absolute culpability. He was, after all, Pensions Minister. The clue was in his title.

But then politics and the civil service are the world’s finest training grounds in covering one’s posterior when the going gets rough, and passing the buck when it looks as if a little local difficulty is going to escalate into a crisis.

Public Sector Primary Rules: Never take the blame. Don’t admit responsibility.  And make sure other people end up in the firing line.

Entire careers have been built on this philosophy. Perhaps it is just one of the reasons why disillusioned voters have put Donald Trump in the White House and Theresa May on the fast train to Brexit.

Surprise, surprise?

Meanwhile on a slightly different matter, two new surveys have confirmed what any IFA would deem to be the bleedin’ obvious.

Workplace pensions firm Now:Pensions report that most workers would like to retire at 61, while they are “healthy enough to enjoy themselves”, but don’t think they will be able to afford it.

Meanwhile, finance firm ING reports that a third of Britons have no savings at all, while a quarter have managed to squirrel away less than three months take-home pay.

Quod erat demonstrandum, as that school swot might have said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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