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Page last updated at 18:23 GMT, Monday, 23 March 2009
On sharp end of pensions crisis

Adam Shaw
BBC Panorama reporter

Elderly couple
Even some prudent savers are facing an uncertain future

Ian Hazell runs a business installing electrical fittings and fire alarms. At 57 he is only eight years from retirement, or so he hopes.

Collapsing stock markets, wafer thin interest rates and falling property prices have hit him hard. It is a sudden and frightening destruction of value that has put his lifelong plans of a comfortable retirement in jeopardy.

Ian wants to retire at 65 on two thirds of his current income. For years he has been putting money into private pensions, but now he is getting worried.

Ian has been aware for some time that his pension was not performing well, but since the credit crunch he has suddenly got a whole new range of problems.

"The savings that I have had in Peps and Isas are not worth a fraction of what they were worth two years ago, and if I was to sell the business, which is a reasonably profitable established business, somebody's got to find the money to buy it, and where are they going to borrow the money to buy it from in the present climate?

"So all in all it looks pretty bleak on all fronts, unless I work till I'm older," he explains.

Significant deficit

Ian's situation is shared by huge numbers of people who also put their savings in their pension.

We took his problem to leading financial planner Christine Ross from SG Hambros and asked whether there was any way out for Ian.

Christine's news came as a bombshell. She calculated that his situation was even worse than he has thought, that in order to retire at 65 on two thirds of his salary Ian will have to find an extra £36,000 every year to invest to make up for the collapse in investment values.

Adam Shaw
Adam Shaw presents the business reports on Today

Ian's problems are just part of a broader picture of financial problems hitting the nation's savers.

Research carried out by the Pensions Policy Institute for Monday's Panorama programme, shows that by 2037, collectively we will have to spend an extra £34bn a year just to maintain the current relative value of our pensions.

The National Association of Pension Funds has warned that up to 1,000 schemes are poised to shut their doors to new members over the next 5 years.

The situation is so dire that according to the Pension Protection Fund, company pension schemes are now short of £218.7bn. Company pensions have not been in such deficit since the Protection Fund started.

The UK pensions regulator is so concerned about pension provision that it has warned companies must not cut the cash contributions to underfunded pensions schemes if they are still paying dividends to shareholders.

Tumbling shares

Barry Bryan worked for years as a surveyor and had been looking forward to a retirement in which he was at least comfortable, if not well off.

After a lifetime of saving into a pension and putting money aside for a rainy day, he feels he has done the right thing, but has now been let down by the system. The rainy day for which he saved has now arrived but it now looks like his dreams of a comfortable retirement may be dashed.

In the past six months, his lifetime worth of savings have lost £30,000. It is money he can ill afford to lose.

He relies on interest from his savings for a quarter of his yearly income, but in the past two years interest rates have dropped by over 90% - going from 5.75% to just 0.5%.

Pensioners protesting
The past decade has seen a huge wave of pension closures

For a while Barry was protected from the fall because he had invested in fixed rate accounts. But the fixed rate period is about to end and his investment income is about to fall off a cliff.

He is angry that the government has bailed out the banks, he thinks, at the expense of savers like himself.

"I think it's a disgrace, to be honest with you, the way that the banks are being propped up but people like me seem to be discarded. We are not really important," he says.

The Minister for Pensions, Rosie Winterton, has defended the government's actions.

"I certainly have sympathy with people who have saved and have seen interest rates cut. But at the same time what I would say is that remember we have taken swift action to prevent the collapse of the banks, if we hadn't taken that action then imagine the situation that savers would be facing," she says.

Broken promises

Brian Wilson and his wife Lynn have worked and saved all their lives. But faced with a dramatic fall in their pension and savings income, they feel that "the government has robbed them".

For over 40 years Brian worked in the printing industry in Nottingham. He contributed to his pension scheme for almost 30 years.

He says he was led to believe that on retirement he would get nearly £10,000 per year in pension payments. What's more, he says they told him that "the pension scheme was safe, guaranteed and protected by law. No matter what happened to the company, my pension was guaranteed".

But that is not what happened. The print company he worked for went bust in 2003. He was made redundant and the final salary pension scheme went into administration.

"I thought I'd just lost my job. But then I found out that as well as losing my job, I'd also lost my pension as well, which was a devastating blow," he says.

Ros Altman
Ros Altman says the public have been misled

He is so worried about the fall in his pension and the tiny amount he can earn from his savings, that he says he might as well have "stuffed any money he had under his mattress".

In 2005 there was even worse news - he had a stroke, and now has to take daily medication. His doctor wrote a note to the Department for Work and Pensions to say that it was the stress of dealing with his pension problems which brought on the attack.

The doctor wrote: "As his stroke was a direct result of the symptoms arising from his loss of pension I fear that the government's stance to his claim will trigger another stroke which in the light of his family history may result in his death."

Brian is not alone. In the past four years 160,000 people have had their company pensions wound up and moved into the special compensation schemes set up by the government

But even with that financial assistance, Brian says he will only get three quarters of what he expected, so he is still fighting on for compensation.

The pensions campaigner Ros Altman says: "I think until a couple of years ago people had lulled themselves into a false sense of security which sort of thought, well, it'll all be alright and the markets will do okay, and if I save a bit more I'll be fine.

"And that's all been taken away, because even those who did save and even those who thought they had good pension funds are finding that they're struggling."

Neglect claim

Part of the problem is that in 1980 Chancellor Geoffrey Howe decided the state pension would no longer be linked to the rise in average earnings. Instead it would be increased at a lower level - in line with inflation.

Suddenly everyone's retirement was worth less.

The government now says it will re-establish the link to earnings by 2015 at the latest. But who knows which government will be in power then or whether they can afford to do it?

Ros Altman says: "There is definitely a charge of neglect, there is also a charge of misleading the unsuspecting trusting public about the kind of investment returns that they can expect and even rely on to provide them with decent pensions later on."

There are lots of examples of people who are suffering because of the fall in investment values and the collapse in saving rates. Finding victims of the fall in pensions and savings is not hard. The bigger question is who committed the crime.

Panorama: Who Will Save the Savers? Monday 23 March 2009 on BBC One at 8.30pm

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