What would Thatcher think of auto-enrolment?

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Margaret Thatcher I wonder what Margaret Thatcher would have made of the current state of our pension system as it harks back to the 1980s with semi-compulsion.

In her time as prime minister she famously scrapped compulsory occupational pension scheme membership in 1988 and brought in personal pensions. It was all part of her ideology of individual rights and responsibilities.




Fast-forward to today and we have a Tory prime minister who is pushing through auto-enrolment, a kind of semi-compulsion, which means every UK worker will be placed into their workplace pension scheme but with the chance to opt out.

Personally I believe that auto-enrolment is just the first step in reverting back to compulsory pension membership, and a reversal of Thatcher's political ideology. It has been 25 years since Thatcher placed the responsibility for retirement savings in the hands of the individual and with hindsight it hasn't worked.

The number of people saving into a workplace pension has been falling steadily since 2008, and the number of people actively saving into their pension scheme has dropped from 8.3 million in 2010 from 8.2 million in 2011.

With pension savings at an all-time low and a government struggling under the weight of growing debt it will be necessary, and foolhardy, not to force people to save for their old age.

On one hand this idea of compulsion and collectivism may fly in the face of Thatcherism but on another hand it is in keeping with Maggie's dictate that 'there's no such thing as society' and that everyone should provide for themselves.

I'm no Thatcher fan, having grown up as part of a generation that knows her as the 'milk snatcher' but I agree with this sentiment:

"It's our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There's no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation."

By compelling people to save into a pension you are helping them to look after themselves and stop relying on the state. We should first look to our own resources to sustain us in old age and look to the state as an extra bonus, a top-up to our pension if you will rather than the total sum of our old age income.

And people of my generation should recognise that we may only have ourselves to rely on.

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