The government’s balance sheet


              Prior to the election I set out items I thought were missing from the government’s balance sheet that ought to be there. I estimated the bank liabilities from banks with government shareholdings, PFIand  PPP liabilities which are another kind of borrowing, and unfunded  public sector pensions.  I said that an incoming Conservative government  should and probably would set out these items for us all to see.

             So it proved with the Coalition government. They have published figures showing much larger state liabilities. On this site I have been criticised for failing to include the figures for the basic state retirement pension. I do not see this as a liability in the way government borrowing or PFI is a liability. The scheme has always been pay as you go. In that sense it is just like the NHS or the education service. We pay taxes in collectively, and those in need of these services receive the benefits.

             However, I have no wish to disappoint people who do wish to have in mind an even larger figure for state liabilities. If we take the 10 million Old Age Pensioners today, and multiply that by the £140 a week pension promised for the time after the forthcoming reforms, we get an annual bill of £73 billion. If you multiply this by 20 you get the rough capital cost of such provision, or £1.5 trillion. You could make it more if you allowed for further increases in pensioner numbers given growing longevity. I hope that makes my critics feel better!


  1. norman
    June 28, 2012

    The problem with the state pension is one of expectation. OK, it’s a pay as you go scheme but if any MP feels like going out in a blaze of bad headlines put forward the proposition that the state pension should be means tested and any other pension provision anyone is receiving will be deducted from their state pension.

    When people say that they have paid into the scheme for 45 years and want their due calmly explain that the scheme is pay as you go and that they weren’t actually putting any money aside for their own pension but paying the pensions of (at the time) current pensioners. Ask them to show where it is written down, where the contract entered into is.

    If this government thinks that at some point in the future that this will be the case (and I do) then it would be quite justified in not counting this as a liability. Just tell people that there is no expectation they’ll receive a state pension. End of argument. Also of electoral chance of success.

    Reply: Of course all MPs think we should pay state pensions in the future – which also means we have to keep levying taxes in the future! Similarly all MPs accept we will need to pay NHS nurses and doctors in the future to take care of your future health needs, but also pay for that as need arises.

    1. JimF
      June 28, 2012

      Following your logic, Mr Redwood, there should be no qualification period for paying NI contributions to a state pension as there are no contributions as such and there is no contract. So why bother the state with all the costs of calculation of eligibility? Why keep up the pretence that there is any backing at all behind it if there is no liability? You can’t have your cake (conning folk that they have a guaranteed state pension) and eat it (have no liability). Can you?

      Reply: It has always been an unfunded scheme, with the pensions in effect based on the future willingness of Parliament to vote for them. Some people do thin k NI should simply be rolled into Income Tax.

    2. norman
      June 28, 2012

      Yes, you’re right but I do think there is a difference. Not to belabour the point, but health care I feel that people accept that at some point the government may not be able to pay for all our health care, that there may be cut backs in health spending, we won’t get all the drugs and medicines we’d like, that our homes may have to be sold to pay for our care home stay, that free bus passes may stop, etc.

      But the state pension is the one item that everyone feels is their inviolate due as they ‘have paid for it’.

      Anyway, I accept that it’s a minor distinction and I personally have no beef whether it’s counted as a debt or not, the whole debt we have is so unsustainable that it will never be repaid so a trillion here or there is a moot point.

      1. A different Simon
        June 28, 2012

        Norman ,

        Even if you could scrap the state pension , I don’t think it would save any money .

        For people who own a house then it will be necessary to unlock the equity but with todays wages being so low in relation to house prices , the majority will not be able to own accomodation any more .

        If the cost of the most basic existence is £18,000 and a serf doesn’t have any assets or savings and is incapable of finding work , then the state is either going to end up picking up the whole tab or throwing them onto the street .

        Perhaps the state can make a donation to their children to encourage their parents to agree to be forcibly euthanased ?

        Alternatively if society honours it’s moral responsibility , the question becomes whether it is better to deal with the costs with proper solutions like a livable state pension , or kludges like means tested benefits which discourage saving .

        The costs are the same either way , aren’t they ?

      2. Lord Blagger
        June 29, 2012

        1 Trillion on borrowing
        6 Trillion on the rest
        7 Trillion in total.

    3. Lord Blagger
      June 29, 2012

      Ask them to show where it is written down, where the contract entered into is.

      It is written down. Search on the Web on the DWP site and it will tell you what you get for your money.

      That makes it a contract in English law.

  2. lifelogic
    June 28, 2012

    Sounds about right and net borrowing, excluding the temporary effects of financial interventions, was £17.9bn for May. Tax receipts down, no growth, little bank lending, little confidence and the huge weight of the (still growing and over regulating) state sector still sinking everything.

    Still I am sure the drank too much on holiday tax and maternity leave for fathers and no retirement will sort it all out – bound to increase efficiency!

  3. Duyfken
    June 28, 2012

    Thank you.

  4. Lord Blagger
    June 28, 2012

    f you multiply this by 20 you get the rough capital cost of such provision, or £1.5 trillion. You could make it more if you allowed for further increases in pensioner numbers given growing longevity. I hope that makes my critics feel better!


    Still missing a huge chunk of the state pension liabilities.

    The 1.5 trillion you quote is just for pensions being paid. That ignores the accrued liabilities.

    Here you need to work out how many years people have accrued in entitlements to their state pensions.

    For example, if I have 20 years entitlement, I have the right to 2/3rds of a state pension even if I contribute no more. That means the state owes me 2/3rds of the current value of a state pension at retirement. We can work out the cost of an equivalent annuity, and so get a figure. Total that up for all people with pension rights, and you get another huge figure on top.

    What about the state second pension? What’s the government figure for the state second pension?

    However the really big ommision is this.

    They have published figures showing much larger state liabilities.

    No link. No reference. Tell us where all this data is and I’ll shred it.

    For example, for the civil service pension, why have you assume that you hold AA corporate bonds and that there is no risk of default? That’s the assumption and the treasury won’t respond to FOI requests for the discussions or papers on that choice.

    I’ll tell why it was choosen. The interest rates paid on AA corporate bonds are higher than fixed gilts and higher than inflation linked gilts. Rather than use inflation as the discount rate for a liability linked to inflation, you make make the debt smaller by using a higher interest rate. Similarly by assuming no default losses, you again make the prevent value smaller.

    Reply: Fine – then give us a bigger number with the basis of your calculation.

    1. A different Simon
      June 28, 2012

      Yep , you are right Lord Blagger .

      Aren’t notionally invested state pensions still based on the old SCAPE notional growth rate of 3.5% above inflation ?

      As well as calculating the true liabilities , shouldn’t contributions be increased to reflect a more realistic discount rate such as the risk free rate you suggest ?

      There doesn’t appear to be any justification for carrying on with a special scheme for Govt workers . Can’t you scrap it John and replace it with a scheme which is open to everyone or move them all into NEST ?

      If a scheme can’t be openned up to everyone then the suspicion has to be that the administrators know it is unsustainable .

      Lord Blagger , do you know whether the Govt is going to go ahead with the proposed doomed to fail NEST pension scheme For Plebs conceived in the days when Turner was head of the FSA ?

      Reply: No I can’t scrap all the public sector pension schemes. The government has decided to increase contributions to them from members, and to change the terms of the benefits especially the age of retirement but to leave the schemes in place. They have a clear majority for that in the Commons. Yes, they are planning to go ahead with NEST.

      1. A different Simon
        June 28, 2012

        John ,

        I am disappointed to hear that NEST is going ahead but then again not entirely surprised since the people who are proposing it will never have to use it .

        Nobody is holding a gun to the Govt’s head saying NEST has to be implemented . It’s not too late to pull out .

        I would like to pass on a piece of advice someone once gave me :-

        – ” Don’t do disasters ! ”

        If public sector pension schemes can’t be scrapped , can it not be opened up to everyone who is prepared to make the same contributions as public workers and their employers make ?

      2. Lord Blagger
        June 29, 2012

        As well as calculating the true liabilities , shouldn’t contributions be increased to reflect a more realistic discount rate such as the risk free rate you suggest ?


        No. The reason is quite simple. I’ve done detailed calculations on the state pension for a median wage earner 26K per year. What would they have received if their NI had been invested in the FTSE 100.

        Now if the State pension pays out more than the invested income, then you are right, contributions need to be increased. If however, the state pension pays less, then people are being ripped off.

        State pension, CPI linked, aged 67, not fully joint life – 5.4K a year
        FTSE based, RPI annuity, 65, fully joint life – 19K a year.

        What’s happened is the government has diverted the money elsewhere. In effect taxed your state pension contributions. Also there is no compound interest.

        So what is needed is abolishment of the state pension to future accruals. Replacement with a guarantee of 5.4K a year, but mandatory saving of all NI.

        They have been able to do this because the liabilities have been hidden off the books.

        1. A different Simon
          June 30, 2012

          What about notional growth rates for public sector pensions ?

          Should they be linked to the FTSE , even if the FTSE flat lines or drops like it has over the last decade ?

    2. Nick
      June 30, 2012

      This is the analysis I did some time ago so the annuity numbers are out


      State Pension
      The first part is the accrued part. This is the present value of the pensions for people who haven’t retired. How much do the cost?

      Based on a FOI request, I’ve put together a small analysis of the size of the state pension debts that are off the government

      Approach 1 – Replacement cost with annuities

      What’s the present value of one state pension?

      State Pension (1 week) 95.25

      Annuity for 100K
      Present Value of one state pension

      Based on a female, aged 65, RPI linked single life. Figures from the Annuity Bureau

      Clearly, long term the government is partially defaulting when it raises the retirement age. However, the single life doesn’t include widow’s benefits or other payments such as those to widows when people die before the state retirement age. The number is in the ballpark. Also ignored is that as the general population ages, the cost of providing a state pension rises because people live longer.

      When it comes to getting the present value of future state pensions the appropriate rate to use is RPI. There are no investments backing up the state pension, (it is a Ponzi scheme). However, the state pension payouts are linked to RPI. End result is that the current cost is the present value, the RPI cancels out.

      What’s the overall debt?
      From the Department of Works and Pensions it is possible to get some approximate information on the percentage of entitlement that people have for the state pension. If we then take approximate percentage, multiply by the cost and the number of people entitled, we get a figure for the present value of the liability.

      Number (‘000)
      Accrued (Billions)
      No entitlement
      Full entitlement


      So the debt owed by the government is out by 1.5 trillion just on the accrued state pension.

      The numbers are for 2006. They will have risen in the interim three years

      We have to add on top the cost of current state pensions being paid out.

      In practice many of these people will not have a full state pension and will end up on benefits. That means that the actual cost to the tax payer is much higher.

      If these figures are compared with the Watson-Wyatt figures of 1.1 trillion for the half a million civil service pension, its clear there are some very fat cats in the civil service.

      It’s not difficult to calculate the debt. The government doesn’t publish the figures, and the 1.5 trillion is probably the reason why.

      Giving the comparison with the civil service debts, it shows just how much the 0.5 million civil servants get in comparison with just under 28 million of the rest.


      I put an FOI request into the the GAD. Here is their reply

      Question 2: State pensions

      The most recent date as at which GAD undertook calculations of the capitalised value of
      accrued liability in respect of the state pension was 31 March 2005.

      As at this date, and based on the legislation then in force, the value of accrued rights to basic
      state pension was £1,020 billion and the value of accrued rights to additional pension, net of
      amounts given up as a result of contracting out, was £330 billion.

      Assumptions underlying the figures

      Discount rate 3.5% a year over price inflation, consistent with the rate used for pension
      liabilities in Government resource accounts as at 31 March 2005.

      Demographic assumptions taken from those used in the 2006-based population projections
      made by the Office for National Statistics and issued on 23 October 2007.

      The benefits valued were based on legislation as it stood in 2005, that is they ignore the
      effects of subsequent pieces of legislation such as the Pensions Act 2007

      My observations are as follows.

      The figure is quite old.
      The discount rate is completely bogus. They have no assets so how can they expect to get a return above inflation?
      The 2007 Pensions act is a major change. It cuts the number of qualifying years to 30 from 40. That has a huge effect on the liabilities.
      I need to do some work investigating the accrued rights to additional pension.
      What’s the effect of contracting out.
      Now how do their figures compare with those above? Well they have assumed 3.5% over inflation. About 5-6% for the period in question. Over 5 years that is a 30% increase in liabilities. 1,300 billion versus 1,500 bn are in the same ball park. The 330 bn would be about 430 bn. It looks like I’ve underestimated the size of the liabilities.

      Approach 2 – Use the Turner report
      This is a different approach. Instead of calculating the accrued pension rights, calculate the cost of the state pension if it were paid under the current set up. The Turner report puts the cost at 8.0% of GDP.

      Burning our money put the bill at 7 Trillion with a 7.2% of GDP calculation.

      8% of GDP is 112 billion. To fund it on an ongoing basis (it rises with inflation), means a discount of 1%. 1% is the figure the government pays to fund debt at inflation via Inflation Linked Gilts

      That puts the cost at 11.2 trillion.

      Now this approach deals with part of the displacement probkem. If someone gets a state pension, or someone gets the same money via benefits, the cost doesn’t change.

      Which ever way you look at it is unsubstainable.


  5. alan jutson
    June 28, 2012


    Thank you.

    I understand your arguments on this Pension situation, and on the HNS, after all none of us can calculate how much the HNS will spend on us during our lifetime, although I guess there is an average per person cost.

    The fact is when the first State pensions were paid out no one had made any contributions to the scheme, so it had to be pay as you go, otherwise you could not have a fixed pension amount being paid from the outset.

    1. waramess
      June 28, 2012

      Your statement s patently incorrect. Just because at the outset there were pensioners who had not contributed does not mean the entire scheme had to be pay as you go. The government of the day had the option of paying those pensions and only those pensions from current revenue.

      Mr Redwoods statement concerning the concept of the pension system is also very thin one. The sort of argument Madoff and Maxwell would have been happy with.

      The fact is that if we are and have always been paying pensions from current revenue as a policy, why bother with different “contributions”. However you might care to portray it, the system that prevails is wrong, suits the politicians fine , but leaves the state pension exposed to political expedient when the affordability of the public sector becomes an issue.

      Don’t expect swathes of Public Servants to be made redundant in the first wave of cuts but certainly anticipate sculduggery when it comes to pensions.

      Far better that politicians now face up to the fact that their predecessors were looters and at least avoid the accusation that they also were complicit in the great fraud.

      Reply: So you would now like to pay twice for your pension – once to pay current pensions and once to build up a fund for future pensions?

      1. waramess
        June 30, 2012

        Would I like to pay twice for my pension? No, of course not, but what other serious option is there if my past pension contributions have already been spent?

        Carrying on as we are is not a serious solution nor would be leaving the government in charge of the new pension pot.

    2. waramess
      June 28, 2012

      There are both private healthcare schemes and pension schemes both of which are willing to make an assesment on how much we will need during our lifetime in order to set premiums and contributions.

      Trouble with government is that when they put their hand to something like this financial disciplines go to the wall.

  6. Brian Tomkinson
    June 28, 2012

    Existing pensioners will not receive £140 per week only new pensioners after this comes into effect will receive that higher amount. I am surprised that you don’t know this. Also you continually ignore the national insurance contributions when you discuss state pensions. This is additional money paid for pension provision and the years of contribution are the basis for calculating the pension.

    1. alan jutson
      June 28, 2012


      Yes another “Con policy” that the General Public have yet to understand will happen.

      The not so funny joke is that those who are already retired, paid in for much longer (49 or 40 years contributions) before it was reduced by Brown to 30 years, and it is THOSE people who will not get the new pension amount.

      Once again you could not make it up in the real world, but in the HOC anything goes.

      If we are so hard up why reduce contributions for a full Pension, it simply does not make any sense at all.

      1. stred
        June 28, 2012

        Well spotted and unreported Alan. My earnings related pension, for which I was charged, will be a bit less than the enhanced’ fair’ state OAP, which will not apply to slightly too old contributors.

    2. Lord Blagger
      June 29, 2012

      And watch what happens to the state second pension. Payouts there are going to be raided to pay for the state pension increase.

      Even the state pension increase is a bit of a con. There is something called the MIG. Minimum income guarantee. It’s level is 140 per week. ie. If you only income is the state pension it is topped up anyway.

      So when the SP is increase to 140, the MIG will go.

  7. sm
    June 28, 2012

    Multiply by 20? Surely at 0.5% interest rates, it should be multiplied by 200 for a true capital cost? How long has Japan had near zero interest rates and when is it likely to chnage?

    Seriously, why not nationalize and put into administration all the banks. Move to full reserve banking with intermediation and manage the money supply directly via tax/spend.

    1. lifelogic
      June 28, 2012

      It is long term interest rates that are relevant not the current artificial 0.5% also they will not live for ever, especially not with the current NHS in place.

  8. Bob
    June 28, 2012

    So the pension I’ve been paying for into the treasury, for my whole life, is not seen as a liability?

    I suppose if there’s not enough money in the treasury after paying tens of billions in foreign aid and IMF contributions, the government will just refuse to honour the deal. That’s why it’s not a liability.

    Couldn’t you look at the PFI deals in the same way? and if so, why are they a liability?

    1. alan jutson
      June 28, 2012


      To fix the liability accurately, they would need to know when you are going to die !

      Unles you take average life expectancy, and that changes each year you get older..

      1. Lord Blagger
        June 29, 2012

        You don’t need to. You just use actuarial tables. For the increase it is very linear. 1 year in every 8. So you can project forward. The figure you get a pretty accurate.

        Certainly accurate enough to work out the government can’t afford to pay out on their side of the deal.

    2. stred
      June 28, 2012

      Welching on inflation indexation for Capital Gains was retrospective. This is why no-one is selling 20 year+ old investments intended as a pension nest egg, rather than be shafted by city boys or the Treasury. Capital gains receipts are down. So why not retrospective taxes for their financial friends in the city who advised on PFI or are into payday loans or Liebor fiddles. Seems a bit too obvious really.

    3. Lord Blagger
      June 29, 2012

      PFI isn’t on the books either.

      Now for PFI personally I wouldn’t include the entire amount. The reason is that PFI is a bundled deal. Some of the deal is service, some is debt. It’s a percentage that is debt.

      Similarly for the guarantees. What matters here is the expected losses, not the sum insured. Depending on what people want to show they often use the sum insured and imply its loss

  9. Paul Danon
    June 28, 2012

    Please, is there a link to the published figures? If not, what’s the total, please?

  10. stred
    June 28, 2012

    Adding the planned 1.4T + 1.5T seems to give a debt around £48 k per citizen assuming 60 million. As you say, the pensioners will depend on the younger population to pay the OAP and then they will expect the younger still to pay for theirs when they get older. So perhaps a figure of 23.1k per person of planned debt would be a fair estimate of real debt. (See my figures on the top subject today. Please check these, as I am not a mathematician.)

    1. Lord Blagger
      June 29, 2012

      That’s because you need to look at what’s omitted from that figure. John hasn’t included the liability due to people who haven’t retired. He hasn’t included the civil service pension liabilties. He hasn’t included the state second pension liabilities, ….

      The reporting of these liabilities doesn’t make a difference as to whether they are paid or not. What it does do is show they won’t be paid, and that is what politicians want to hide. Hence quotes like “Its not the way it works”. It’s not just John who uses that phrase by the way. It’s part of the Group think.

      So if you know you won’t get your pension, they at least you can take action now.

  11. Badgerbill
    June 28, 2012

    How many are in recipt of the £25000 dole money that they have never contributed towards?
    How can the government justify paying out this amount of money to them whilst pensioners who have paid NI and taxes all their lives are expected to get by on a pittance?
    We do not pay heavy taxes to keep those on the dole in luxury as appears to be the case at the moment whilst pensioners have a choice between food and fuel in winter. IDS seems to have lost the plot when he considers that bus passes and fuel allowance should be given up to pay more for the supposed poor. Get them into work then they won’t be a burden on us all.

  12. A different Simon
    June 28, 2012

    “If we take the 10 million Old Age Pensioners today, and multiply that by the £140 a week pension promised for the time after the forthcoming reforms, we get an annual bill of £73 billion. If you multiply this by 20 you get the rough capital cost of such provision, or £1.5 ”

    Your figure for the old age liability per person is £140 * 52 * 20 = £145,600 .

    Due to the credit boom , peoples future earnings have already been spent and the consumption brought forward . This is reflected in a much reduced level of personal savings .

    When calculating the states liability , we have to consider the average amount of personal savings , the cost of living , the shortfall and where it will come from .

    Average savings (equity in house + savings + pension pot) of a singleton / pensioner at 68 years of age might be :-
    – zero (many will be in debt) ?
    – £50,000 for renters ?
    – £200,000 house equity + £50,000 savings + zero pension for outright owners ?

    Say the average cost of living for renters is £18,000 . The renters savings will be exhausted inside 5 years . They will be dependent on benefits for around £10,000 for 15 years (£150,000) .

    I propose that for renters the states liability is assessed at :-
    = £295,600

    Say the average cost of living for home owners is £15,000 . The owners savings will be exhausted in under 7 years and the equity in their house would carry them a further 26 years .
    Even if house prices went down to 15/26th= 58% of their current price , the householder will not be a burden on the next generation so long as they are able to unlock every penny of equity in their house – which will be politically tricky for you but there is clearly no alternative !

    Your figure of £1.5 trillion is undoubtedly on the low side for the above reasons but even looking at the worst case of everybody being renters , it is only 100% out which is not much in the grand scheme of things .

    Clearly the politicians ponzi scheme of sustained immigration will only get us so far before it goes pop – we need to pay our own citizens to care for us in our old age .

    1. zorro
      June 28, 2012

      Immigrants are also not ageless or immortal…


      1. A different Simon
        June 28, 2012

        No , but so long as the immigration rate keeps increasing we will be OK won’t we ?

        1. Lord Blagger
          June 29, 2012

          Doesn’t work does it?

          Government spend, per head, 11K per annum.

          Income needed to sustain that, 40K per annum.

          How many migrants past that test?

          How many migrants do the same when retired?

          When retired average spend goes up. Primarily for health reasons. The percentage spend on health care for pensioners is about 35% of the total budget (from memory)

    2. a-tracy
      June 28, 2012

      Good point Simon. I know several couples who have sold up, renting and spending their equity knowing the State will have to bail them out if they rent in another ten years time whereas if the stayed owner occupiers they wouldn’t get a bean and would have to give their house away if they needed care.

      1. A different Simon
        June 29, 2012

        a-tracy ,

        Your friends may be throwing themselves at the mercy of the state by choice but even for people with savings , a couple of years joblessness will render them helpless .

        I can’t condone their actions and think they are playing a dangerous game but I am sorry that they seem to have lost hope and self respect .

        For a youngster , the choice should be simple . Unless you are in a profession the answer is to emmigrate and leave these problems behind .

        No matter how we slice and dice it , the sums for most people don’t come close to adding up – unless you fiddle and fudge them .

        People tend to forget that the money which was borrowed from the future on the way up was appropriated by the “haves” at the top of the pyramid .

    3. Lord Blagger
      June 29, 2012

      Your figure for the old age liability per person is £140 * 52 * 20 = £145,600 .


      Johns figure is correct. You can also check it by getting a quote for an equivalent annuity.

      1. A different Simon
        July 1, 2012

        Lord Blagger .

        OK , I accept that I did not use annuity rates when translating from a national basis to a per-head basis .

        Lord Blagg , I would like to know what you think should be done about the point that I was making please which is that ….

        …. There are a lot of implicit liabilities associated with old age ; means tested benefits neccessary to cover the shortfall between state pension + savings and cost of living , healthcare , residential care .

        If you try and cut back on one , for instance means tested benefits , it will lead to an increase in expenditure on the others .

        Should these implicit liabilities be included in an overall statement of liabilities ?

  13. Lord Blagger
    June 29, 2012

    One for John to answer.

    State pension shouldn’t be a debt because its paid out of taxes.

    Gilt interest payments are paid out of taxes, but are a debt.

    The statement “It’s not the way it works”. What sort of argument is that?

    The way it works is clear. Pay in, and the money goes to other people. PAYG. That’s the meaning.

    Secondly, because you paid out so much early, there are no savings. The liabilities are back end loaded. So you are now defaulting on the deal.

    20K taken from someone on 26K a year. Don’t you think you should tell people what you’ve done?

    Or is it just other people such as banks who rip people off where you will make a fuss?

  14. QROPS Minimum Values
    August 13, 2012

    I simply admire your web site on uk inheritance tax rules and will be back again.
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