Austerity, ageing and the financialisation of pensions policy in the UK

Journal article published in British Politics.

This article offers a detailed analysis of the recent history of pensions policy in the United Kingdom, culminating in two apparent ‘revolutions’ in policy now underway: the introduction of ‘automatic enrolment’ into private pensions, and proposals for a new ‘single-tier’ state pension. These reforms are considered exemplary of the ‘financialisation’ of UK welfare provision – typified in pensions policy by the notion that individuals must take personal responsibility for their own long-term financial security, and engage intimately with the financial services industry to do so. As such, the reforms represent the continuation of pensions policy between the Labour and coalition governments, despite the coalition government’s novel rhetorical commitment to austerity. In fact, the pensions revolutions will actually cost the state significantly more than current arrangements, yet the importance of fears about population ageing means that the government is both able to marshal the imagery of austerity to justify financialisation, but is also required to partly conceal the increased expenditure this requires. The article shows therefore how the financialisation agenda in pensions policy was evident before the financial crisis, but has evolved to both take advantage, and mitigate the constraints, of a post-crisis political climate.

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Image: David Spender