Emma Ann Hughes 

Pensions minister is clueless about Lisa

Emma Ann Hughes

Emma Ann Hughes

Yesterday (14 September) was my first up-close encounter with the relatively new pensions minister.

Sorry, to be accurate, the parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Department for Work & Pensions.

Guy Opperman kicked off his appearance at the Boring Money conference by wittering on about his success in launching a community bank in a bid to show off his financial services credentials to a room that included top dogs from the likes of Hargreaves Lansdown, UBS, Vanguard, Investec and Atom Bank.

He admitted his knowledge on pensions “technicalities” wasn’t stellar but pointed to his colleagues at the Department for Work & Pensions as being fantastic at helping him get up to speed.

The fabulous consumer finance champion, Boring Money’s Holly MacKay, put many straight questions to Mr Opperman.

She asked about whether the government needed to spell out to the nation they must work for longer and queried whether the Lifetime Isa (Lisa) had just made the minefield of trying to figure out how to save for later life a whole lot worse.

His response reveals his true credentials to be the successor of Steve Webb and Ros Altmann, a pair who not only understood pensions but also are passionate about ensuring people don’t end up unable to heat their homes in later life.

Mr Opperman said what Ms Mackay perceived as complexity he saw as “choice”.

He said: “We are responding to the market in that there was a plea from the savings industry for the Lifetime Isa. It was felt that would be a very good product and the previous chancellor [George Osborne] agreed with that.

“It is clear that if you have five choices rather than four then you have a great degree of complication in that choice. But we are providing a genuine choice and a different type of saving that undoubtedly enhances the amount of savers and assists with the way we are saving as a country.”

Is he really trying to claim providers and/or advisers wanted the Lifetime Isa?

Was I asleep while you all took to social media, took out advertising campaigns or hollered from the rooftops that the Lifetime Isa was what it would take to get people setting aside enough cash for a comfortable retirement?

I don’t think I did miss shouting for this product so Mr Opperman is either telling tall tales or he genuinely thinks the industry desperately wanted another product to push.

The fact is former chancellor Mr Osborne wanted to increase his government’s tax take and knew a quick way to do that was to flip retirement savings tax relief on its head.

By switching the nation’s retirement savings habit from a pension to an Isa, the government could have raked in billions of extra cash by stealing funding for the public services for this generation from the next.