Gig economy’s expansion could mean pensions crisis for millions of workers, report warns

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A “blind spot” in the pensions system needs to be tackled to help gig economy workers boost their retirement savings, a report suggests.

Insurance group Zurich said a shake-up is needed to reduce the risk of a gig economy long-term savings crisis, which would include expanding automatic enrolment into workplace pensions.

It said the UK gig economy includes five million people, ranging from those described as self-employed to those on zero-hour or agency contracts.

Chris Atkinson, head of consumer distribution at Zurich UK, said: “The gig economy has rapidly brought about a redefinition of the contracts between employers and employees.

“However, there is a blind spot in the current pension system. Gig economy workers don’t have access to a workplace pension, meaning millions aren’t saving enough for retirement.”

He continued: “The reality is that many gig workers may have to work far longer than even traditional employees before they can retire.

“This will be at a time when they are more vulnerable to financial shocks from ill health – or may find it harder to get a job in the first place.

“As well as saving more of their income earlier in life, it’s vital gig workers ensure they have a financial cushion in place should the unexpected happen.”

Gig economy workers could boost the size of their pension pot by up to £75,000 if a form of automatic enrolment were extended to cover all workers, research for Zurich suggests.

It said auto-enrolment should be expanded to self-employed people via the self-assessment tax return process.

A typical worker now aged 25 earning £25,000 could end up with a £75,600 lump sum at retirement, according to modelling from the Pensions Policy Institute (PPI) for Zurich.

This is based on a recommendation that people should be able to put aside 4% of their income, having nominated a pension provider to receive this contribution, when completing tax returns.

Zurich also called for financial incentives for gig companies to offer income protection, saying the Government should consider tax or national insurance incentives to encourage the provision of income protection within the workplace.

It said there should be greater innovation from the insurance industry generally to develop more flexible savings and protection products for workers unable to commit to making regular payments.

The Government has been considering ways to build on the success of automatic enrolment, which started in 2012 and requires employers to place eligible employees into workplace pension schemes.

The scheme has boosted the UK’s pension savings culture – with around nine in 10 workers who have been auto-enrolled so far staying put in their pension rather than opting out.

But pension experts have said there is still more to do, such as making sure people are saving enough to give themselves the retirement they want as well as helping workers who are not currently included in auto-enrolment.

PA