Synopsis: The Office for National Statistics has published a survey entitled the “Characteristics of People and Households without a Private Pension.” It might at first seem an interesting piece of history, as the data pre-dates the arrival of automatic enrolment, but there are some nuggets for the politicians to ponder.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has regularly faced a problem with pension data. Often by the time the ONS has gathered all the necessary data from various sources, the pension framework has moved on, leaving the findings to be of largely academic interest. So it is – to some extent – with the ONS’s latest publication looking at individuals and households without a private pension provision. The survey covers the period June 2010 – June 2012, so misses out on auto-enrolment which started in October 2012. Indeed, there is a case for saying the ONS data explains why auto-enrolment is necessary and, arguably, why it might become compulsory if opt-out rates increase.

With that important date proviso in mind, the main findings were:

 For those below retirement age (taken as 65 for men and 60 for women), 45% of men and 49% of women did not have any private pension savings in 2010/12. As might be expected, the non-pension status is weighted towards youngest ages, but surprisingly shows a slight drop beyond the 25-49 age band.


Age Band

Without Private Pension



Age Band

Without Private Pension


16-24 91 16-24 88
25-49 39 25-49 42
50-64 35 50-59 39

 95% of men and women working in the ‘Accommodation and food service industries’ did not pay into a private pension in the UK in 2012. The highest concentration of pension contributors was to be found in the public sector and former nationalised industries. For example, the top score was in the ‘Public administration, defence and social security’ sector where only 7% of men and 9% of women did not pay into a private pension.

33% of male employees and 35% of female employees did not have any private pension savings, making the case for auto-enrolment clear. Predictably the self-employed numbers were higher still: 46% of men and 50% of women. Around 80% of men and women classed as ‘not in work’ (a much wider category than unemployed) had no pension.

 Income was a major determinant of pension status for both sexes. For employees, 88% of men and 73% of women with earnings over £600 a week had pension provision, while the corresponding figures for those earning under £300 a week were 27% and 18%. This highlights an issue which has started to interest some politicians: linking the auto-enrolment earnings threshold with a rapidly rising personal allowance is cutting the lowest paid – particularly part-timers – out of auto-enrolment pension provision. When auto-enrolment started, the threshold was £8,105, whereas from next April it will probably be £10,500. Over that period total average earnings are likely have gone up by 2%-3% – a tenth the increase in the threshold/allowance.

Wealth was also – unsurprisingly – a big dividing line. The median total wealth (excluding pension savings) of households with a private pension was £160,000, which is nearly seven times greater than the median of £23,900 for households with no private pension.


This historic snapshot begs the question about how the fast-growing self-employed sector are to be encouraged to make private pension provision.

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