Auto enrol pensions will help hard working people afford retirement

Guy Opperman MP is minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion
Guy Opperman MP is minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion

Pensions might not be the first thing you think about over a morning coffee and your latest copy of the News Letter but with Belfast a symbol of industry, expansion and regeneration, you’ll understand the value of forward planning.

Think of saving for your pension as your passport to a secure future.

We all want to be able to spend our retirement doing the things we love – round here that might be spending time with the grand-kids learning about the city’s maritime heritage at Titanic Belfast or heading out to the Northern Irish countryside for a guided tour of filming locations for the classic drama Game of Thrones.

Closer to home, perhaps you’d like to take up a new hobby and follow in the footsteps of famous former residents like Rory McIlroy.

That’s why saving for retirement is so important; it gives us the freedom to do what we like in later life.

The workplace pension is one of the best ways to achieve this. If you are at least 22 years old, earn more than £10,000 and work in the UK then you will be automatically enrolled into a workplace pension.

The great thing about a workplace pension is when you pay in, your boss pays in too. Your pot should also grow thanks to gains on investment, the power of compound interest and in most cases tax relief. When you work, your workplace pension will too.

I discussed pension saving in the region when I attended a recent pensions roundtable, at the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce.

The event was hosted by Ann McGregor MBE, who has played a very significant role in supporting local business in Northern Ireland, and I was joined there by my colleague from the Democratic Unionist Party, Belfast South MP Emma Little-Pengelly.

At the roundtable I was able to speak to representatives from a range of local employers and employer bodies, to gauge their feedback on workplace pensions and automatic enrolment.

Belfast has really embraced automatic enrolment, with tens of thousands more local people now saving for their retirement. More than 50,000 people in the city have been enrolled, helping to turn around a decade of declining savings before automatic enrolment was introduced back in 2012.

With contribution rates having increased to 5% in April, we can all start to look ahead with some more confidence about retirement. Businesses in Northern Ireland are also leading the way with more than 34,000 meeting their duties to roll out this government’s hugely successful policy, doing their bit to help nearly 10 million employees across the country set themselves up for later life.

Throughout the UK, small businesses – the driving force behind our growing economy – have risen to the challenge and helped millions to start saving into a workplace pension. As a result, a whole generation that you might expect to be living only for the next weekend is now looking further ahead. Almost seven in 10 eligible 22-29 year olds working in the private sector are now enrolled in a workplace pension and workplace pension participation by women also increased between 2012 and 2017, rising from 58% of eligible employees to 84%.

I’m keen to continue the expansion of pension saving in Belfast and ensure that people can look forward to financial security in later life.

We are all living longer and healthier lives. With automatic enrolment, the hard-working people of Belfast can be more confident about their retirement.

• Guy Opperman is minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion