Private pension income gap widens, figures show

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The retirement income gap between households with a private pension income and those without is growing, according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures.

By 2016, retired households receiving a private pension had disposable incomes that were around 1.6 times higher than households that were not.

Between 1977 and the financial year ending 2016, the disposable income of retired households increased at an average annual rate of 2.8% after accounting for inflation and changes to household composition, the ONS said.

This compares with average annual growth in non-retired households of 2.1%.

The average disposable income of households with private pension income has grown from £2,300 in 1977 to £27,800 in 2016.

Meanwhile, the average income of households without private pension income has increased from £1,700 to £17,200 over the same period.

In the financial year ending 2016, those with a private pension had average original incomes which were around 14 times higher than those who did not receive any private pension income - at £19,000 compared with £1,300 respectively.

Original income is money which does not come from government intervention. It does include money earned from employment and investments, for example.

The ONS said that 40 years ago, in 1977, just over a fifth (21%) of retired households had an annual disposable income of over £10,000, after accounting for inflation and household composition. But by 2016, this had surged to 96% of retired households.

More than half of the income increase between 1977 and 2016 was due to an increase in private pension income, which has increased nearly sevenfold over the period, the ONS said.

This is due to both an increase in the proportion of households receiving private pension income and increases in the amounts they receive.

Workplace pensions, individual personal pensions and annuities were classed as private pensions for the findings, while the state pension was put in the category of a cash benefit.

The ONS said that although since the financial year ending in 2011 the average value of cash benefits for retired households has generally been increasing, "those without any form of private pension income are not having their incomes supplemented enough by these cash benefits amounts to reduce overall inequality in income".

It said that while inequality between retired households has shown increases in recent years, "they remain small relative to increases in income inequality for retired households seen throughout the 1980s".

As housing costs have risen over this period, those households with rent or mortgage payments will generally be worse off compared with households that own their property and have paid off their mortgage, the ONS said.

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Figures from Saga show that the over 50s now account for the majority of money spent by Brits on travel and tourism. They have the time to spare, the money, and they are healthy enough to take on the world.

A poll from Abta found that in the wake of pension freedoms, 35% of people were considering cashing in at least part of their pension to travel. A separate study by Senior Railcard found that pensioners take an average of three holidays a year, plus two weekends away, and 17 day trips.

Research from Senior Railcard found that retirees eat out an average of three times a month. However, one in ten do so more than twice a week, and one in three people said that one of the first things they did when they retired was to go out for lunch with their friends.

Of course, just because retirees want to enjoy themselves, it doesn't mean they are happy to throw money away. The vast majority are keen to eat at lunchtimes, when a fixed lunch menu tends to be cheaper, and canny retirees are skilled at tracking down pensioner special offers too.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that on average nearly a fifth of the money spent by people aged 65-74 is on leisure. This includes everything from the cinema and theatre to golfing and gardening. They spent more on this than on food, energy bills and transport.

A report by Canada Life found that retirees are spending £4,279 a year on having fun - that’s more than £1,000 more than they spend on boring essentials, and is a 74% increase over the past ten years. It went on to predict that this trend was set to continue, and that pension freedoms would encourage people to spoil themselves a bit more in retirement

Pensioner property wealth is now over £850 billion, and all these family homes don’t look after themselves. The Senior Railcard survey put home renovations in the top 20 activities people got stuck into on retirement, and figures from ABTA found that almost a third of people who were considering raiding their pension pots under the new pension freedoms planned to spend the cash on their home. This seems like an eminently sensible investment - looking after what is undoubtedly their most valuable asset.

Unsurprisingly, while some pensioners are very well off indeed, others are struggling with debt. Figures from Key Retirement found that the average retiree has £34,000 of debt.

Most of this is mortgage borrowing - in many cases driven up by the number of people who unwittingly signed up to an interest-only mortgage. However, credit cards, overdrafts, and loans are also common. It’s why so many pensioners have used pension freedoms to access enough cash to pay their debts.

The day to day basics are swallowing up their fair share of pensioner cash too. On average, people aged 65-74 spend a third of their weekly income on essentials like food and bills - which is hardly living the high life.
The bank of gran and grandad has become an increasingly vital source of cash for families. According to Key Retirement, of those who release equity from their property, 21% of them use the cash to treat their children and grandchildren. This includes an average of £33,350 to help children get onto the property ladder, £6,000 to buy them a new car, £11,000 on family weddings, and £24,780 giving grandchildren a helping hand.

While retirees are quite rightly spending what they need to enjoy retirement, they are hardly all throwing caution to the wind, buying flash cars and spending the kids' inheritance.

Most expect to have something left over to pass onto their family after their death. Some 69% expect to leave property in their wills, and 75% expect to leave cash - according to Unbiased.co.uk - because while baby boomers know how to have fun - they also know how to save for the future.

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