Why is the UK high income country
Gerhard Bäcker, Prof. Dr., born in Wülfrath in 1947, is Senior Professor in the Labor and Qualification Institute at the University of Duisburg-Essen. Until retirement, holder of the chair "Sociology of the Social State" in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Duisburg-Essen. Research focus: Theory and empiricism of the welfare state in Germany and in international comparison, economic principles and financing of the welfare state, social security systems, in particular old-age security, labor market and labor market policy, living situation and poverty research
Ernst Kistler, Prof. Dr., born 1952 in Windach / Ammersee is director of the International Institute for Empirical Social Economy, INIFES gGmbH in Stadtbergen near Augsburg. Research focus: social and labor market reporting, demography, social policy, poverty research.
The following is a rough comparison of old-age pensions in four neighboring European countries with the system in Germany, namely the Netherlands, Great Britain, Switzerland and - in more detail: Austria. This selection (based on the legal status 2014/2015) is based on the consideration that the countries mentioned are often cited as role models or as deterring examples in scientific and political discussions. This mainly applies to the following aspects:
- For the Netherlands, a comparatively high basic pension and earnings-related supplementation of the basic pensions with company pension schemes are typical.
- Switzerland is characterized by a comprehensive national insurance with only a weak equivalence reference of the pensions as well as by a compulsory additional occupational pension.
- In Great Britain, as a result of the very low basic pension and the poor prevalence of earnings-related supplementary pensions, public old-age insurance is of little importance. Market pension provision via company or private systems dominates.
- In Austria, the entire workforce is covered by pension insurance, which has a very high level of benefits that ensures living standards. The second and third pillars of old-age insurance are correspondingly of little importance.
Great Britain: State minimum pensions and market pension schemes
The UK pension system is characterized by very low state pensions, both from the basic non-earnings system and from the earnings-related supplementary system. On the other hand, protection through company systems and private old-age provision is very important. Accordingly, the fundraising process and the dependency of pensions on developments on the capital markets are important.
The basic old-age pension (State Pension / New State Pension) is part of the general, pay-as-you-go social security system (National Insurance), under which all workers whose income exceeds the lower income limit must pay income-related total social security contributions. The employers contribute around half of the payments. The employee contribution rate is 12 percent on the weekly portion of earnings between £ 157 and £ 866 and 2 percent on earnings over £ 866. In the case of recognized company systems, the contribution rates are lower. The employer's contribution rate is 13.8 percent. In addition, tax funds flow into the National Insurance.
Entitlement to a New State Pension exists if the insured person has paid contributions for at least 35 years (pension receipt after 2016). If the insurance years are not reached, partial pensions are calculated. The amount of the basic pension is (2018) at 159.55 GBP per week, converted into euros (exchange rate from 2018): 180 euros per week or 750 euros per month. The amount of the basic pension corresponds to around 16 percent of the average income. Allowances are paid for children who are entitled to child benefit. The services are increased according to the rate of price increase. In addition, periods of Carer'sAllowance, Working TaxCredit, Statutory Maternity Pay, Statutory Adoption Pay and periods of incapacity and Unemployment contributions are taken into account.
In addition to the basic pension, there is an entitlement to an income-proportional supplementary pension (Additional State Pension /State Second Pensions) if there is income and contribution payments between an upper and lower income limit. 1.25 percent of income is credited for each insurance year; Average earnings during working life are used as the basis for calculating the amount of the pension. Low-income earners benefit from higher income replacement rates; this also applies to people who interrupt or reduce their gainful employment because of bringing up children or caring for them. Basic pension and supplementary pension are financed on a pay-as-you-go basis and are subject to tax. The highest possible benefits from the basic pension and supplementary pension together cover around 50 percent of the average income.
Employees have the option of being exempted from compulsory membership of the supplementary system (principle of contracting out) if the employer ensures at least the corresponding company pension or the employee himself undertakes a corresponding private pension (personal pension) . More than 70 percent of employees are exempt from the second state pillar and are covered by capital-based systems. Company pension schemes are voluntary; However, by lowering employee and employer contributions when contracting out, strong incentives are set. There are also tax breaks. The exempting, capital-covered company pension scheme can be both performance-related (definedbenefit) and contribution-related (definedcontribution) in the pension calculation.
As a result of the low basic pension and the system of contracting out, the importance of state pension provision is low. The importance of company and private pension institutions (pension funds and life insurance) is correspondingly great. In order to counter the increased investment and financing risks that have devalued the claims of many employees, the control and investment regulations have been tightened.
Since the basic pension is below the subsistence level and the "social assistance limit", low-income pensioners are entitled to special means-tested social assistance (PensionsCredit), which exempts small savings from being taken into account.
For both the basic pension and the supplementary pension, the retirement age for men is 65 years. The age limit for women has been gradually increased from 60 to 65 years since 2012. From December 2018, the statutory retirement age for both men and women will be raised again by three years to 68 years.
Switzerland: National insurance with basic pension and compulsory occupational pension
Old-age insurance in Switzerland is based on three pillars:
- The basic pension is guaranteed by old-age and survivors' insurance (AHV) and disability insurance (IV) (1st pillar).
- Occupational (company) pension schemes (2nd pillar) serve to secure social and economic status in old age.
- Securing additional personal needs falls to the tax-subsidized private provision (3rd pillar).
In the first pillar, the AHV and IV, is a comprehensive, pay-as-you-go national insurance scheme: All persons who live or work in Switzerland are insured. The type of employment (self-employed / employed) is irrelevant; Residents who are not gainfully employed are also insured. For married people without an income from work, the contribution is considered paid if the working spouse pays at least twice the minimum AHV contribution on their income. also employed young people up to the age of 17 and non-employed young people up to the age of 20.
The insured make contributions from their entire income from employed or self-employed work. There is no assessment ceiling. If there is no earned income, the assets serve as the assessment basis for the contributions (but only up to a maximum contribution). In the case of dependent employees, the employee and employer share the contribution burden and each pay 5.125 percent. The federal government and the cantons together account for around 20 percent of the expenditure each year.
The disability insurance (IV) is also financed from the contributions of the insured and the employer (0.7 percent each). However, the state subsidies are significantly higher here at 50 percent. Overall, a total contribution rate of around 10 percent of earned income is calculated for AV and IV.
Men aged 65 and women aged 64 are entitled to an old-age pension from the AHV. The pensions can also be drawn one or two years earlier with a discount of 6.8 percent per year. Early withdrawal for individual months is not possible. On the other hand, the pension can be postponed by 1 to a maximum of 5 years, depending on the duration of the postponement, pension supplements are paid.
The amount of the pension from the AHV depends on the creditable contribution years and the average annual income. A full pension is paid to anyone who has paid AHV contributions without interruption every year from the age of 20 up to the normal retirement age. However, if the contributions were not paid in without interruption or if entire contribution years are missing, so-called contribution gaps exist. A missing contribution year usually leads to a pension reduction of at least 2.3 percent.
The amount of the pension is limited both upwards and downwards: the maximum pensions are at most twice as high as the minimum pensions. A minimum amount of (2016) CHF 1,175 (= € 1,004 / exchange rate at the beginning of 2018) and a maximum amount of CHF 2,350 = € 2,010 are specified. Married couples receive a maximum of 150 percent of the maximum pension. Since the range between the minimum and maximum pension is relatively small and there is also no income threshold, the principle of equivalence is only weak. The pensions are usually adjusted every two years using a mixed index that corresponds to the average of the wage and price index. The average pension in 2015 was CHF 2,023.
As second pillar The compulsory "occupational pension scheme" (BV) serves to provide old-age security. Together with the first pillar, it is intended to guarantee the standard of living that is accustomed to work in old age - with a target level of 60 percent of the average gross income. It is carried out by pension funds, funds and insurance companies organized under private law. The employer can choose from various providers. Larger companies and public administration usually have their own pension fund. All employees of a company with a total annual income of more than CHF 21,150 are compulsorily insured in the employer's pension fund. This represents the entry threshold into the compulsory occupational pension scheme. This corresponds to 3/4 of the maximum AHV retirement pension. The upper limit of insurance is CHF 84,600.
Employees whose annual earnings are below the entry threshold or who are only employed on a short-term or fixed-term basis are excluded from the BV; this affects a good fifth of the workforce and especially low-income and often part-time women.
The BVG defines minimum benefits for old age, death and disability. However, the pension institutions are free to go beyond the minimum required by law. These are then extra-mandatory benefits. The compulsory insurance begins with the start of the employment relationship, at the earliest with the completion of the 17th year of age. For the time being, up to the age of 24, the contributions only cover the risks of death and disability. From the age of 25, savings are also made for the old-age pension.
Pension provision in the second pillar is based on an individual savings process that ends when you reach retirement age. The regulations of the pension fund / occupational benefits institution can stipulate that the entitlement arises when employment is terminated, but at the earliest from the age of 58. However, the retirement benefits are then reduced: In these cases, the retirement assets are not saved in full and are converted into a retirement pension at a lower conversion rate. The amount of the retirement pension depends on the available retirement assets at the start of the pension and the conversion rate as a percentage of the retirement assets.
Financing is provided through contributions from employers and employees according to the funded system. The employers' contribution must be at least as high as the total contributions of all their employees. As in the AHV, employers owe the entire contributions, i.e. their share and the share of employees, which is deducted directly from wages. The part of the income between the upper limit and the entry threshold serves as the contribution assessment basis. The contribution rates are between 12 and 18 percent of this assessment base, depending on the pension fund. The individual pension fund can provide for uniform contributions or contributions that are graded according to the age of the insured person.
Individual self-provision forms the third pillar. You can choose between different types of capital investment and insurance, which are tax-subsidized under certain conditions. Payments into pillar 3a tied pension provision are fully deductible from taxable income.
Pensioners whose pension, together with the other eligible income and assets, does not reach a minimum level are entitled to the means-tested supplementary benefit from the federal government or the canton. The subsistence level for pensioners (general necessities of life, still excluding rent) was SFr 1,608 in 2018, which is significantly above the minimum pension. At the end of 2017, around 13 percent of AHV pensioners and 47 percent of IV pensioners were dependent on the supplementary benefit. It must be taken into account that the burden of health insurance contributions in Switzerland is very high due to the income-independent flat rate per capita for recipients of low incomes and that there is no long-term care insurance.
Netherlands: Poverty-proof basic pension and occupational pension through collective agreement
The pension system in the Netherlands  is characterized by a combination of a basic pension as the first pillar and employment insurance on an occupational basis as the second pillar. Then there is the private provision. This triad is also known as the "cappuccino model": coffee = basic pension; Whipped cream = company pension; Cocoa = private provision.
The Basic pension (AOW: AlgemeneOuderdomswet) applies to all residents of the Netherlands. The amount of the basic pension is derived from the statutory minimum wage and is 50 percent of the minimum wage per partner for married and unmarried couples with equal status and 70 percent of the minimum wage for singles. For 2018, this equates to 1,173 euros per month for singles and 808 euros per person for couples. This pension level is reached after 50 years of residence in the Netherlands. For every missing insurance year (e.g. due to an absence abroad), the pension is reduced by 2 percent. The basic pensions are subject to tax and health insurance contributions. Financing is based on a pay-as-you-go system through levies that are levied on all incomes (up to a ceiling) and (2018) are 17.9 percent; for the basic security for survivors there is an additional 0.6 percent. The financing is supplemented by subsidies from the state budget.
The basic retirement age, which was 66 in 2018, will be gradually increased to 67 by 2023.From 2023, the AOW entry age will be linked to life expectancy. There are no options for early retirement.
The company pension scheme the second pillar relates to the labor force. The systems are predominantly regulated by collective bargaining agreements. However, declarations of general binding effect make it virtually mandatory for most employees, so that a good 90 percent of the dependent employees are covered. Those not recorded work in industries without collective bargaining agreements or are self-employed.
The benefits from the "second pillar" are designed in such a way that, together with the basic pension, a certain percentage of the last wage earned or the average life wage can be achieved. These are defined benefits, with which the basic pension is taken into account. The goal is a level of 70 percent after 40 years of employment. In each year of membership, 1.75 percent of the pension is usually built up. Employment interruptions therefore mean that the target level of 70 percent can usually not be achieved. There is no automatic pension adjustment (based on income and / or price developments); the adjustment depends, among other things, on the solvency of the funds.
The company pension systems are capital-based and are based in particular on industry-wide, occupational group-specific or company-owned pension funds. Two-thirds of the financing is provided (usually) by the employer and one-third by the employees. The tax rate varies between 15 and 25 percent of income, depending on the individual system.
The third pillar, also funded private provision, is of little importance given the broad impact of the first and second pillars. But it is especially important for the self-employed.
Austria: Protection of the entire workforce through pension insurance with a high level of benefits that ensure living standards
The Republic of Austria has been at the center of debates about international comparisons in old-age provision for years. Therefore, the comparison with Austria should be made a little more detailed than with the other three countries. There are a number of other arguments for this:
- The Austrian pension system is historically quite similar to the German one. In some cases as early as the 50s of the last century, but especially around the turn of the century, some changes were made in our neighboring country in different directions than in Germany - with, in principle, similarly good economic development over the long term and only slightly delayed, but comparable demographic Trends.
- Notwithstanding these fundamental reforms, there is a great deal of similarity between individual elements of the two pension systems in many details. (Here, however, the differences in terminology must be taken into account: In Austria, for example, pensions are also used for statutory old-age insurance for workers and employees).
- The decisive reason for the virulent discussion in Germany about a "role model Austria", however, is that pension recipients in the Alpine republic receive significantly higher pensions on average or in comparable case studies than in Germany. In contrast to Germany, the statutory pension in Austria is still geared towards securing the standard of living. "The performance target of the Austrian statutory pension insurance can be summarized with the formula 80/45/65: 80 percent gross replacement rate (based on the average lifetime income) for 45 years of insurance and retirement at 65" . And: It has achieved this at least for years and is currently doing it very well.
- Of course, this raises the question of how "sustainable" this success is - especially in the following two perspectives:
- a) Can this work in the medium to long term in view of the demographic development that is also foreseeable in Austria?
b) Does the much more "generous" pension system in Austria, at least at first glance, influence the economic development of the country too much in a negative sense?
The main characteristics of old-age insurance in Austria (compared to Germany) are:
- Beginning in 1958, almost all self-employed persons were largely included and, since 2005, the law has also been aligned with regard to most civil servants (excluding state civil servants). This means that (apart from temporary solutions for old cases) old-age insurance in Austria is practically a national insurance, even if there are still organizational differences (i.e. different "funds"). The rules are already or will be foreseeable but largely adjusted for all groups.
- In Austria, too, there are the three "pillars" of old-age insurance: Statutory pensions (or pension) insurance, private and company pensions or, as a fourth pillar or level, a kind of minimum income in the sense of a needs-tested “equalization allowance”. B. 882.78 euros in 2016 for single people and 1,323.58 euros for married people is higher than in Germany.
- The main difference is that old-age insurance in Austria is largely based on the first pillar with pay-as-you-go financing. In contrast, private and company pension schemes only play a marginal role in Austria: only 13.9 percent of employees acquire entitlements in voluntary company pension schemes (where the employer has to pay half of the pension contributions) and only 18 percent entitlements in voluntary private pension schemes Retirement provision. In 2012, in view of the international experience from the financial crisis, state funding for private provision was cut drastically.
- In Austria, as in Germany, there are clear efforts and reform measures to enable insured persons to work longer until they reach retirement age. "The reforms in the pension system are taking effect. The goal is clear: insured persons should be able to work healthily longer. Illnesses should be prevented and the sick should be rehabilitated. The actual retirement age can only be raised if insured persons can stay longer in employment"  - "before especially due to a changed reception behavior of the companies ".
- The average retirement age for old-age pensions in 2015 was 61.5 years (men: 63.6; women 60.2 years). Incidentally, it is hardly higher for the self-employed than for employees (61.9 versus 61.6 years). The standard retirement age for men is 65 years. For women, it will be gradually increased from 60 to 65 years from 2024 to 2033.
- Like the German, the Austrian old-age pension system also knows various forms and ways of flexible age transition - from allowances for longer work to early retirement with some deductions. Regulations on long-term and particularly long-term insurance periods (so-called "hackers' regulation") were sometimes terminated, but sometimes also extended again and again. They enable early (deduction-free) retirement; the basic tendency, however, is to achieve an increase in the actual retirement age. This is also served by the most recent reforms of the disability pensions, where a "rehabilitation allowance" or "retraining allowance" is intended to restore the ability to work / employability and prevent early permanent disability. An Austrian peculiarity, albeit not very significant in terms of the figures, but nevertheless interesting in principle, is a "heavy workers' pension" with an easier early retirement option for insured persons who - regardless of the industry - worked for a long time under particularly bad working conditions .
- A very important difference is the financing. In both countries, the pay-as-you-go system is financed from contributions from employees and employers (up to the income threshold) and a state subsidy from tax revenues. In Germany, employer and employee contributions are formally the same. (Including private old-age insurance, the employer's share is actually even lower. In Austria, the employer's share is 12.55 percent and the employee share is 10.25 percent. A good quarter (2015: 25.2%) of the total expenditure for pension insurance in Austria comes from federal funds covered (so-called "default liability" of the federal government, which also covers a lot of what is referred to as "non-insurance benefits" in Germany - as well as the reimbursement for compensatory allowance expenses).
- In Austria there is no "automatic" adjustment of existing pensions, but an orientation towards price developments.
- The waiting period of 15 years for entitlement to an old-age pension is much longer than in Germany.
- The pensioners 'health insurance contributions are not financed through the pension funds in addition to the pensioners' contributions.
The Austrian pension payments are therefore significantly higher than in Germany. And: in Austria pensions are paid 14 times a year, in Germany only 12 times! In addition, (figures for 2012) the duration of pension payments (values for 2012 ) in Austria is longer for men (22.5 and 20.4 years) than for women (27.8 and 24.3 years) than in Germany. In Austria, you have to work less long on average to get a higher pension than in Germany.
To assess the performance of pension systems, the OECD (2017) presents reports every several years. (There are similar reports on the analysis in the EU countries (see section 22 x for some detailed country comparisons) there are also from the European Commission, e.g. 2018. There are also specified comparisons of model insurance courses, e.g. taking into account the times when children were raised or unemployment or different income levels available).
For the central model case of an insured person with an insurance biography starting in 2016 up to the future statutory retirement age applicable under the current legal situation, assuming an assumed average income in Austria, this results in a net wage replacement rate of 91.8 percent. For a low-wage earner with only half the earned income over the past four decades, the figure is 92.2 percent, and with a 1.5-fold income 90.9 percent. The comparative values for Germany: With average income: 50.5 percent, with only half the income 54.7 percent and with one and a half times the income 49.8 percent. These calculations include statutory pensions, state-subsidized private old-age provision (in Germany: Riester pension) and the taxation of old-age income. Despite somewhat higher tax rates and social security contributions (for illness, care) , the values in Austria also remain better at this level.
So is the Alpine republic a "paradise for retirees" as is often claimed? Is Austria buying a generous pension system at the expense of its economic strength and competitiveness? Is this policy sustainable, especially in view of demographic change?
To the first question, the European Commission  confirms that Austria as a member state "Yes with restrictions".
Austria - a limited paradise (for pensioners)
"Overall, on average, Austria has a relatively generous pension system from an international perspective, which is also reflected in the comparatively high theoretical wage replacement level with a stable employment history. However, despite the relatively high expenditure on old-age provision, the poverty risk rates are still unsatisfactory" .
The statement about the comparatively high wage replacement rate refers to the comparison of the pension of an average earner after a 45-year career with his last earned income before the age of transition (net replacement rate). According to the definition and the figures from the OECD (see above table "Net replacement rates according to earnings level"), this was 0.918 in Austria in 2016. The comparison value for Germany is 0.505 and for the EU-28 it is 0.58.
However, the dispersion of old-age income and the risk of poverty should also be taken into account. The 80:20 ratio of income from 65-year-olds is lower in Austria than in Germany or in the EU-28 (3.7 versus 4.2 in each case in Germany and Europe-wide). In contrast, the poverty risk rate for people aged 65 and over in Austria in 2016 was 13.2 percent (especially for women: 15.7%), hardly lower than in the EU-28 (see figure "Poverty risk rates among older people" with the Cross-sectional data for 2016); However, the trend has been falling since 2008: Since 2008, the poverty risk rate for people aged 65 and over in Austria has fallen from 18.9 to the 13.2 percent mentioned in 2016 and is currently slightly below the relatively constant general poverty risk rate (2016 : 14.1%). In Germany, on the other hand, it tends to be slight among the population as a whole, but has increased significantly among those aged 65 and over, and at 17.6 percent is now above the overall average of 16.5 percent (values for 2016 in each case). This means: In Austria, too, there is a very high proportion of older people who only benefit to a limited extent from the generally good old-age provision.
According to the European Commission , Austria spent 29.8 percent of its gross domestic product on social security in 2015. In 2008 it was 27.6 percent and in 2009 (during the crisis) 29.6 percent. In Germany, the corresponding proportions are 29.1 percent for 2015 and 27.1 and 30.5 percent for 2008 and 2009 . The share of expenditures for the old-age and surviving dependents function rose in Austria from 13.0 to 14.7 percent between 2008 and 2015 and fell slightly in Germany from 11.1 to 10.9 percent. This explains many of the differences in the living situation of older people in the two countries mentioned above. But did that lead to a really poor economic development in Austria?
With regard to key economic indicators, Austria scores much better than the average of the 28 EU countries or the countries of the euro area - in some points a little worse, in others even a little better than Germany. If one takes for example  the economic output adjusted for purchasing power per capita in 2014, it is 28 percent higher in Austria and 24 percent higher in Germany than the European average. The average net equivalent income adjusted for purchasing power of the adult population in Austria in 2014 was 15 percent above the German reference value. The employment rate of 20- to 64-year-olds in Austria (values for 2017) is 75.4 percent, lower than the extremely high value in Germany (79.2%), but is well above the average in the EU-28 and EU -19 (72.2 and 71.0%, respectively). The unemployment rate in the very narrow definition of the European statistics for 2017 is 5.5 percent in Austria and 3.8 percent in Germany (EU-28: 7.6%; EU-19: 9.1%) .
At least for the past, for today and for the "foreseeable" future, there is little to suggest that the significantly more generous pension system in Austria compared to Germany would have been detrimental to the country's economic and labor market development. The opposite is more likely to be the case: the stabilizing effect of social spending in times of crisis and the stronger domestic demand instead of the German fixation on export successes make up the core of the Austrian model of success. In contrast to Germany, Austria later started measures on the labor market and pensions that respond to demographic changes. Or, viewed the other way round: the labor market and pension reforms have already taken measures in Germany to restrict the welfare state (also to reduce ancillary wage costs). However, these were not taken in the interests of "generational justice" in favor of the growing age cohorts, all of whom will suffer from these measures.
In both countries, the need for state subsidies for old-age security and for health and care will increase in the future.However, this increase is foreseeable - when the generation of the "baby boomers" has largely died - will decrease again, albeit at a higher level than today. In addition, it is actually normal that a change in societal needs is also reflected in the spending priorities of public budgets or that the resources generated in a society or productivity gains are distributed accordingly in tax revenues.
ConclusionThe system of old-age insurance in the Federal Republic of Germany has proven itself in wars and crises. There are therefore good reasons for sticking to the basic principles (e.g. work relation, pay-as-you-go system, equivalence principle, safeguarding the standard of living) and then, if there is a need for reform, the framework conditions change, etc., at least initially - inherent to the system - rather "turning the smaller screws" . In this sense, international comparative literature should also be used - in order to learn from others, from good practice as well as from weaknesses and mistakes. And: In this sense, adherence to basic principles should not lead to rigidity and rigor. Viewed in this way, the country comparisons shown could be interpreted in a summary manner to the effect that
- that an even stronger focus on capital market-dependent old-age provision as the second and third pillars for Germany is out of the question in view of the negative example of the United Kingdom on the one hand and the positive example of Austria on the other,
- that an expansion of the group of insured persons in the statutory basic system (first pillar or level) in the direction of the inclusion of civil servants and all self-employed - naturally with transitional regulations - would be sensible and could be economically positive,
- that a gradual change with regard to the principle of equivalence would be entirely conceivable, i.e. an abolition or at least a significant increase in the assessment ceiling with a simultaneous limitation of pension entitlements for high incomes (see Switzerland),
- that higher employer than employee contributions are quite conceivable and such a departure from equal funding of contributions does not necessarily lead to a loss of economic efficiency, as the development in Austria shows.
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