UK - Robin Ellison talks to Jenna Towler about his aspirations for the country's pension and taxation systems, his plan to decriminalise drugs and the virtues of a virtual election campaign
Robin Ellison wants to get pension provision, both state and private, back up the political agenda.
As a leading commentator on pensions and former chairman of the National Association of Pension Funds, Ellison is no stranger to the political arena.
He says he regularly bothers the major political parties with his ideas on reform and they smile, nod and then pat him on the head and usher him out of the meeting room. So he is taking them on at their own game – getting elected.
Ellison, who is Pinsent Masons head of strategic development for pensions, has launched the U Party, which bills itself as a non-single-issue, centrist, sensible party.
Its website says it believes in “less, but better and more stable, government. It tries to avoid soundbite and populist policies”.
Adding: “It does its best to avoid pomposity, criticism of the morals or lifestyles of constituents – unless they are anti-social – and any pretence of ethical or moral superiority, and is not ashamed to be inconsistent where pragmatically required.”
And it does not criticise other parties or politicians, “although it may critique their policies”.
Ellison tells PP the object of his attempt to get elected as Hampstead’s next MP is simply to allow expression of the public pension system.
“We have got a dysfunctional state pension system, everyone knows we have got a dysfunctional private pension system as it is written about all the time, and we have also got a dysfunctional pension tax system.
“Those are the three big things that are wrong with the system.”
Answer to a maiden’s prayer
Ellison says the U Party’s pension manifesto, available on its website, is the “answer to a maiden’s prayer”.
“We have set out in some rather tedious detail how we would fix it – at no cost to the taxpayer. The bottom line is that, not overnight but over 20 years, we set out a simple pensions strategy that everyone can understand.”
His plan is to dismantle what he calls the four state pensions – the basic state pension, the state second pension, the third state pension (means-tested benefits) and personal accounts, now known as the National Employment Savings Trust.
In exchange Ellison wants to pay a pension of £200 a week to everybody over 70 and “scrap all the other fiddly things that are bureaucratically hard to administer”, such as heating allowance, TV licence, free buses etc.
He says: “Just put it in the money and people can do what they want on it. Rich people will pay tax on it and poor people need it. It is not a perfect system but no system is perfect – but it is less worse than all our current systems.
“The other thing we will do is link the retirement age to national longevity, as it rises and falls. The average would be to give people about 15 years in retirement.”
In terms of private pension provision Ellison says the current system is “suffocating under the weight of regulation”.
The U Party plans to dismantle the “entire superstructure of pension regulation and replace it with the equivalent of the European directive”. Ellison says it would be a very simple 20 page consumer protection code.
He says: “It would allow companies and employees to do what they wanted. If you have got a decent state pension, what the private sector does is up to the private sector.”
He adds: “The tax code would be burnt very carefully – all 4000 pages of it. And we would write a couple of pages of tax code, rather like the French or the Spanish, which is based on EET with no caps.
“Rich people would pay more tax and poor people would pay less tax. And that would be it, so not very complicated.”
Getting the word out
“The idea is to spread the message to as many people as possible. If we get elected that would be fantastic, but if we don’t then just really to get under the skin of the main parties – to think long term about pensions.
“What we do not want is sound bite politics on pensions – which is what we are getting at the moment,” says Ellison.
He also believes current political attitudes and policies are unsustainable.
“You cannot have a system in the medium-to-long term to have a system like we’ve got, with an ageing population getting more and more disaffected with the pensions system. It is just not, the dam will not hold. The parties have to think long term rather than just living from day to day.”
On the political hot potato of public sector pensions he is nonchalant.
“Public sector pensions are not a pensions issue,” he says “they are an affordability problem for government.
“The problem is not a pensions problem but a size of public sector problem. For the size of our economy we have too big a public sector.
“Reduce the public sector and you solve the public sector pension problem with it, over time.
“So we do not have a policy of public sector pensions, except for accountability. You cannot see the cost of public sector pensions in the accounts of local authorities or the public sector. What we would ask for is that they are properly disclosed – apart from that we do not care.”
The U Party is embracing social networking sites, Twitter and Facebook to get its message out and is running an entirely virtual, electronic campaign.
Ellison is also regularly blogging on the party’s website.
He adds: “The object of the party is not to be to the right or to the left. It is to be pragmatic, we do not have an ideology. We just want to do what works.”
Not only would the U Party overhaul the pensions system, it would overhaul the treatment of illegal drugs.
The U Party would decriminalise all drugs to cut crime and the growing prison population.
Ellison explains: “One of the non-pensions policies we are asking for is the decriminalisation of all drugs over time. Not because we are in favour of people taking drugs but because we think it will decrease crime.
“When I was a young lawyer there were roughly 23,000 to 24,000 people in prison. And now we have got 100,000 people in prison – but crime has gone down. That is the paradox. Most of the people in prison are there purely for drug-related crimes. They would not be doing the dreadful things they do if they could pop into the High Street.”
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