Ed Miliband and David Cameron walk through the Central Lobby after listening to the Queen's Speech on June 4, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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PMQs review: Miliband targets incompetence, but the momentum is with Cameron

The PM believes the wind is blowing his way - and some in Labour fear he is right.

If not quite presented with an open goal (in a PMQs replete with World Cup references), Ed Miliband had no shortage of targets this week. He started by taking aim at the government over the Birmingham schools scandal, demanding to know: "If there is a serious question at their school, where do they [parents] go to get it sorted?" Cameron replied that while the failings were unacceptable, they shouldn't be used "to try to knock down successful school formats". But Miliband made a convincing case for a third way between local authority control and Gove's anarchic model, declaring of Cameron: "He has no answer on this question of accountability because it isn’t realistic to do it centrally and Ofsted inspections aren’t going to do the job."

From here, he moved on to the passport backlog row and accused Theresa May of "fighting with the Education Secretary but not paying attention to the business of government". The Tories are always at their most vulnerable when attacked for incompetence, rather than wickedness, and Miliband's line of attack was a smart one. Tellingly, while May shook her head and said "nonsense" as he spoke, Gove remained motionless.

But Cameron had saved his trump card till the end. After Miliband failed to mention today's unemployment figures, which show joblessness at a five-year low of 6.6 per cent (although wage growth is still below inflation at 0.7 per cent), he roared: "He’s absolutely allergic to good news because he knows that as the economy gets stronger, he gets weaker." The sense that the momentum is with Cameron was enhanced by the answer he gave when asked by Labour's Mike Kane if he should be calling Roy Hodgson for some tips on "team discipline".

He replied:

I wouldn't want to offer Roy too much advic,  but what I would say about this government ...We've had the same Chancellor for four years and we've got record growth in this country. We've had the same Home Secretary for four years and we've had record falls of crime in the country. We've had the same Education Secretary and we've got 250,000 fewer children in failing schools. I say, if you've got a strong team, with a strong plan, stick with the team, stick with the plan and keep on putting it in the back of the net.

The answer roused the Tory benches, who cried "more, more!" ("four-nil!" one MP added) and a beaming Cameron turned to his party with pride. The answer all but confirmed that Osborne, Gove and May will remain in their posts in the forthcoming reshuffle ("stick with the team") and served as confirmation that Cameron believes the wind is blowing his way. The problem for Miliband is the increasing number in Labour who think he is right.

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: www.oldmutualwealth.co.uk/ products-and-investments/ pensions/pensions2015/