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Volume 300: debated on Wednesday 12 November 1997

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To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government that the state pension alone should provide pensioners with an adequate income. [14571]

The key objective of our review of pensions is to ensure that pensioners should have an adequate income in retirement; that they should share fairly in rising national prosperity and that public finances should be both sustainable and affordable. For most people, security in retirement will come from a combination of the basic State Pension and a second pension. One of the fundamental challenges of the review is to agree where the responsibility for funding pensions should lie and to establish the right balance between the public and private sectors.

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans she has to address the effects of changing jobs and taking breaks on women's pension arrangements. [14572]

A wide-ranging review of pensions was announced on 17 July. One of the Government's fundamental challenges in pensions is to narrow the pensions gap between men and women so as to give women more security in retirement. Many private pensions are simply not flexible enough to cope with working patterns of women. Women still earn less on average than men and are more likely to have caring responsibilities.The Government recognise that carers—many of whom are women—who cannot contribute to second pensions because of caring responsibilities, make a valuable contribution to society but lack the opportunity to provide for their own future. That is why the Government are looking at ways to develop the administrative structure of SERPS so as to provide a citizenship pension for those who care for others.We are also committed to developing secure, flexible and value for money stakeholder pensions. These will be aimed at those on modest incomes, working part time or with intermittent work patterns, who often do not have the opportunity to join a good occupational pension scheme, or for whom a personal pension is unsuitable. Stakeholder pensions should therefore be of particular help to women. The Government's National Childcare Strategy will also provide greater opportunities for women to participate in the wider economy so that they are able to contribute to their own pensions.

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if she will ensure that the pensions structure takes account of the effects of divorce. [14573]

We are modernising the welfare state to take account of social changes, such as a higher divorce rate, and to enable pensioners to have an adequate income in retirement. As a step towards this the Government is committed to introducing pension sharing for divorcing couples. We aim to do so from April 2000.

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans she has to provide unbiased, accessible and affordable professional advice for those planning their pensions. [14574]

Improving education and awareness of pensions is a key focus of the Pensions Review process. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced on 23 July the setting up of a Pensions Education Working Group to consider how pensions education and awareness issues might be co-ordinated, well targeted and effective. The Group has also been asked to advise the Secretary of State by the end of January 1998 what other actions are needed to improve knowledge of pensions.The Department is reviewing the provision of pensions literature to reflect the Government's wish to empower ordinary people by giving them the information they need to make the right decisions about their pension provision, whatever it might be, now and in the future.