How inequality has soared in the US

The top 1 per cent now take home 23.5 per cent of all income.

If you want to get some idea of why the 99 per cent movement has attracted so much support in the US, just take a look at this graph. Over the last thirty years, the share of income taken by the top 1 per cent of Americans has risen from 10 per cent to 23.5 per cent. Even more remarkably, the share taken by the top 0.1 per cent (the top 14,988 US families, making at least $11.5m in 2007) has risen from 1 per cent to 6 per cent. Income inequality in the US is now at its highest level since 1928 (see this excellent Berkeley report for more data), when the top 1 per cent took home 23.9 per cent.


As you'll notice, from the 1950s onwards, income distribution in the US remained broadly stable until the Thatcher-Reagan revolution. The neoliberal policies pursued by the Reagan administration - tax cuts for the wealthy (the top rate of tax was reduced from 50 per cent to 28 per cent), deregulation and privatisation, led to a dramatic rise in inequality.

Consequently, it's no surprise that even in the US, where the Tea Party has tilted the political spectrum rightwards, the majority of citizens support the aims of the 99 per cent movement. A recent Time/Abt SRBI poll found that 54 per cent had a "very favourable" (25 per cent) or "somewhat favourable" (29 per cent) view of the movement.

It was Alan Greenspan, a disciple of free-market guru Ayn Rand, who remarked in 2005: "This is not the type of thing which a democratic society - a capitalist democratic society - can really accept without addressing." Obama now has a huge political opportunity to win support for a renewed drive against inequality. He was memorably attacked during the 2008 presidential election for wanting to "spread the wealth" but the polls suggest that's exactly what the voters want him to do.

As for the UK, we're not doing much better. The richest 10 per cent now receives 31 per cent of national income and owns almost half of the country's personal assets, while the poorest 10 per cent takes home just 1 per cent of the total income. The coalition's decision to rely on spending cuts (which hit the poorest hardest), rather than tax rises, to reduce the deficit will inevitably widen the gap. Conservatives may criticise the Occupy London movement but they cannot deny that it reflects a grim empirical reality.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Stability is essential to solve the pension problem

The new chancellor must ensure we have a period of stability for pension policymaking in order for everyone to acclimatise to a new era of personal responsibility in retirement, says 

There was a time when retirement seemed to take care of itself. It was normal to work, retire and then receive the state pension plus a company final salary pension, often a fairly generous figure, which also paid out to a spouse or partner on death.

That normality simply doesn’t exist for most people in 2016. There is much less certainty on what retirement looks like. The genesis of these experiences also starts much earlier. As final salary schemes fall out of favour, the UK is reaching a tipping point where savings in ‘defined contribution’ pension schemes become the most prevalent form of traditional retirement saving.

Saving for a ‘pension’ can mean a multitude of different things and the way your savings are organised can make a big difference to whether or not you are able to do what you planned in your later life – and also how your money is treated once you die.

George Osborne established a place for himself in the canon of personal savings policy through the introduction of ‘freedom and choice’ in pensions in 2015. This changed the rules dramatically, and gave pension income a level of public interest it had never seen before. Effectively the policymakers changed the rules, left the ring and took the ropes with them as we entered a new era of personal responsibility in retirement.

But what difference has that made? Have people changed their plans as a result, and what does 'normal' for retirement income look like now?

Old Mutual Wealth has just released. with YouGov, its third detailed survey of how people in the UK are planning their income needs in retirement. What is becoming clear is that 'normal' looks nothing like it did before. People have adjusted and are operating according to a new normal.

In the new normal, people are reliant on multiple sources of income in retirement, including actively using their home, as more people anticipate downsizing to provide some income. 24 per cent of future retirees have said they would consider releasing value from their home in one way or another.

In the new normal, working beyond your state pension age is no longer seen as drudgery. With increasing longevity, the appeal of keeping busy with work has grown. Almost one-third of future retirees are expecting work to provide some of their income in retirement, with just under half suggesting one of the reasons for doing so would be to maintain social interaction.

The new normal means less binary decision-making. Each choice an individual makes along the way becomes critical, and the answers themselves are less obvious. How do you best invest your savings? Where is the best place for a rainy day fund? How do you want to take income in the future and what happens to your assets when you die?

 An abundance of choices to provide answers to the above questions is good, but too much choice can paralyse decision-making. The new normal requires a plan earlier in life.

All the while, policymakers have continued to give people plenty of things to think about. In the past 12 months alone, the previous chancellor deliberated over whether – and how – to cut pension tax relief for higher earners. The ‘pensions-ISA’ system was mooted as the culmination of a project to hand savers complete control over their retirement savings, while also providing a welcome boost to Treasury coffers in the short term.

During her time as pensions minister, Baroness Altmann voiced her support for the current system of taxing pension income, rather than contributions, indicating a split between the DWP and HM Treasury on the matter. Baroness Altmann’s replacement at the DWP is Richard Harrington. It remains to be seen how much influence he will have and on what side of the camp he sits regarding taxing pensions.

Meanwhile, Philip Hammond has entered the Treasury while our new Prime Minister calls for greater unity. Following a tumultuous time for pensions, a change in tone towards greater unity and cross-department collaboration would be very welcome.

In order for everyone to acclimatise properly to the new normal, the new chancellor should commit to a return to a longer-term, strategic approach to pensions policymaking, enabling all parties, from regulators and providers to customers, to make decisions with confidence that the landscape will not continue to shift as fundamentally as it has in recent times.

Steven Levin is CEO of investment platforms at Old Mutual Wealth.

To view all of Old Mutual Wealth’s retirement reports, visit: products-and-investments/ pensions/pensions2015/