Too busy to listen

As the general election draws closer, the temptation for politicians to duck important decisions grows ever stronger

The run-up to an election can be a dispiriting time for those pushing for changes that could have real benefits for the UK population. Politicians’ minds are firmly fixed on the general election, and on the hot stories that will give them the best column inches. Top of their agenda is what the pressure groups think, and not necessarily what is best for the country. Take, for example, the issue of the age 75 annuity rule. While the case for change is a good one, it is not the most pressing issue facing the majority of voters.

Yet deep-pocketed financial companies can afford to create enough noise to make sure it is right at the top of the political agenda, and both opposition parties have it in their manifesto. Crucially, the age 75 argument comes with a classic soundbite – a Labour tax of 82 per cent. The fact that virtually nobody will ever pay this rate, and only a fraction of the population will ever have to worry about paying it in the first place, is by the by.

Yet in the corporate benefits arena, there are several policy areas that would lead to a positive impact on a far greater number of voters that will never see the light of day because the media is not interested.

The government’s lack of acknowledgement of the money our industry saves it in the field of rehabilitation is a case in point. If Whitehall wants employers to take over the state’s role of looking after sick staff and getting them back to work, surely it should encourage it fiscally.

I am similarly disappointed to find political understanding of the effect that applying the RDR to group pensions will have on coverage amongst low to middle earners. Quizzing government, the Conservatives and LibDems on the issue in the last seven days I have yet to come across anyone who is even contemplating the possibility that choking off distribution through a ban on commission could actually reduce the number of good schemes put in place.

That is not to say we, as an industry, should stop putting the argument for the benefits we put in place to support tens of millions of Britons. Politicians are a bit busy right now, but they may be more in listening mode after the election.

John Greenwood, Editor