The industry is at risk of being side-tracked by short-term funding data and high-profile defined benefit (DB) failures, the Pension Protection Fund's (PPF) chief executive has warned.
Most DB schemes continue to have strong sponsors and the ratio of contributions to other payments do not give cause for concern, Alan Rubenstein added.
The comments came as the industry responds to the Department for Work and Pensions' (DWP) green paper on DB sustainability and security, which rejected some views that there is a crisis in DB.
Speaking at the Pensions Management Institute (PMI) annual conference on 11 May, Rubenstein said the evidence shows there is no systemic issue.
"We don't see a fundamental affordability issue with the DB system," he said. "I don't think the picture is actually bleak. If you look at the ratio of pension contributions to dividends, the ratio of pension contributions to investment, or the amount of cash on company balance sheets, there is not a systemic issue. The promises that have been made can, for the most part, be kept.
"Our modelling suggests over time scheme funding should improve. I am not pretending there is not an issue with a minority of stressed schemes. There clearly is, and we should not underestimate what that means for members and corporates, but we have to make sure we don't lose sight of the bigger picture.
"As we consider the changes that we want to make, it's important to recognise that bits of the system are working well. We need to bear that in mind when we think about what we also want to change."
Reports of schemes entering the lifeboat fund are unnecessarily negative, Rubenstein added, particularly when considering what would have happened before the PPF was set up.
There have been several high-profile cases where schemes have faced the prospect of entering the PPF over the last year, including BHS and the British Steel Pension Scheme. In January, the CovPress scheme was stopped from entering the lifeboat fund at the last minute when the company's buyer agreed to take on the pension scheme.
"In all the noise, there is one point that gets overlooked: when businesses go bust, if the pension scheme has a significant funding deficit like BHS, we now take it as a given that we have a PPF that's there to step in and protect the members," said Rubenstein. "It's worth remembering that was not always the situation.
"In the past, scheme members were on the hook for any shortfall. I get quite upset when I hear people talking about schemes being ‘dumped' into the PPF or ‘falling' in; it generally being a disaster when a scheme comes to the PPF.
"They only come to the PPF because they can't afford to pay what the PPF can. If you come to us, you're going to get more than your scheme could provide."
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