Bobby dazzler: No pension defence without engagement

Jon Cudby

Last week’s Budget presented an ideal showcase for politicians’ affection for the sort of vacuous phrases they have rendered even more meaningless through repetition.

Sure enough George Osborne used his moment in the spotlight to wheel out hackneyed clichés, peppering his speech with all the phrases – “helping hard-working people”, “cutting the deficit”, “we’re in this together” – that were familiar from all the Budget bingo cards published beforehand.

Of course, Mr Osborne is not alone in this trait. MPs of all persuasions simply can’t help themselves and I suspect the approaching general election campaign will see the nation’s politicians descend into even more platitudes than usual.

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My favourite of these pledges is the regularly wheeled-out promise to “put more Bobbies on the beat”. This reassures the public, a visible police force making us feel safer, feeling that “something is being done”.

But purely in terms of effectiveness, putting more police on the streets is fundamentally useless. The best, most efficient use of a policeman’s time is either being at their desks or at a crime scene; either investigating a crime that has happened or working to prevent future crime.

Instead, we the masses would rather see them wandering the streets for hours on end on the off-chance they might happen to turn up at the very time and place where a crime happens to be being committed.

Ultimately, I would like the way policing is done to be largely overseen by policemen rather than politicians, but the MPs can’t help sticking their collective oar in, even if the end result is a retrograde step that means less efficient policework.

As is often the case, the problem is clearly our fault. The downside of democracy is it too often serves up the politicians – and consequently the policies – we deserve. The government will pander to the electorate’s desires, even when we are wrong.

We were allowed to store up a burgeoning pensions crisis for generations while the politicians argued that an electorate – the majority of whom hadn’t retired – would never vote for a problem that didn’t affect them yet.

Once the demographic shift meant that those who were likely to vote were those who were old enough to be shafted in retirement, a sticking plaster of auto-enrolment was introduced.

While auto-enrolment is undoubtedly a step in the right direction towards solving an undeniable problem, it is too little, too late for a generation currently hurtling towards retirement with no funds.

And so it is with the recently announced second line of defence rules, which, to the chagrin of Lamborghini salesmen everywhere, are designed to stop people doing anything too silly with their retirement pots. Having a ‘second line of defence’ sounds reassuring, but its benefit to the mass populace will be minimal at best.

There has been much debate about the retirement freedoms. I wrote a couple of months ago that the speed at which they have been introduced meant several aspects of the new regime would not be implemented as well as they could be. Chief among the flaws is the guidance guarantee. What should have been the key to making the entire system work now feels like a massive missed opportunity.