New research reveals unique insights into the steps that led to the success of the UK Pension Reforms (1997-2015)

  • The UK’s pension reform agenda, and the role played by the Pensions Commission, are widely recognised as a best practice case study in consensus-based policy development.
  • As calls increase for a new pension commission, new research shares five key lessons about how, and under what conditions, the last set of reforms came about.
  • Previously private recollections of key individuals, including former Prime Ministers, Pension Commissioners and Secretaries of State, are shared for the first time.

New research published today, Wednesday 5th February, by Nest Insight and the University of Bath shares unique and timely insights into why and how the UK Pension Reforms (1997 – 2015) were successfully implemented.

The previously private recollections of key actors in the establishment and delivery of the reforms, including former Prime Ministers, Secretaries of State and the Pension Commissioners, have been brought together and shared through a ground-breaking series of video interviews and a new report: Pension Reforms in the UK 1997 to 2015 (PDF).

The reforms to state and private pensions in the UK that were initiated in the early 2000s represent a milestone in the history of UK pension provision and are widely seen as a case study for creating lasting policy change. These reforms, commenced by the creation of the Turner Commission, represented a comprehensive overhaul of the UK pension system, delivered across a complex mix of institutions. They were developed and implemented over more than a decade of reform, spanning governments from across the political spectrum and withstanding the impact of the Global Financial Crisis.

The research reveals five lessons about how and under what conditions, the reforms were successfully implemented:

  1. A small, independent, politically astute Pensions Commission, rather than a large Royal Commission type body.
  2. Continuous political commitment from ministers and high quality analytical, policy and operational support from civil servants.
  3. A strong and robust evidence base that underpinned a coherent package of key policy proposals.
  4. A bold sense of direction combined with proactive consensus building.
  5. Consistency of the reforms with the historical architecture and political economy of the UK welfare state.

Professor Nick Pearce, Director of the University of Bath Institute for Policy Research, comments:

 “The Turner Commission and the implementation of its recommendations is often considered an exemplary piece of policy reform, and with good reason. The Commission proposed a coherent and comprehensive package of reforms, based on rigorous analytical work, and built a consensus behind its proposals. The reform process was sustained across more than a decade and was taken forward by governments of different political persuasions. It succeeded in large part because it went with the grain of the UK’s welfare state.

“In the aftermath of the financial crisis, pensions systems around the world face significant challenges. The UK also has significant new pensions policy challenges that could not have been anticipated in the early 2000s. But we can learn much from the Turner Commission when addressing these issues today.”

Will Sandbrook, Executive Director of Nest Insight, comments:

 “The UK Pension Reforms are globally regarded as a case study of how policy should be made. More than 80 per cent of UK workers who are eligible for auto enrolment are now saving for retirement, up from around 50 per cent in 2012. Millions of people will be materially better off in retirement as a result of the reforms.

“With others around the world looking to tackle similar issues, we’re frequently asked at Nest to share our part of the story of how the reforms came to pass. But ours really is just one perspective on a broader story, and at Nest Insight we’ve been thrilled to work on this project with our partners at the University of Bath to capture many of the other perspectives and draw out the lessons that can be learned from them. With calls for a new Pensions Commission, now is a great time to reflect on why this specific set of reforms were so successful and have survived through such a challenging implementation period”.


Notes to editors

About the Institute for Policy Research (IPR), University of Bath

IPR aim to further the public good through research into issues of significant relevance to policy debate and decision-making, build links with the worlds of policy and practice, and increase public understanding of policy research through its public events and publications.

They deliver activities for policymakers, researchers and practitioners to enable dual learning and original contributions to both research and practice. To find out more, visit:

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Nest Insight is a collaborative research unit set up by Nest Corporation to help understand and address the challenges facing Nest members and the new generation of defined contribution (DC) savers. For more information, visit or email

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Vanguard Asset Management, Limited is authorised and regulated in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of The Vanguard Group Inc., a leading provider of high-value investment services, whose mission is to help clients achieve their goals by being one of the world’s highest value providers of investment products and services. Since establishing the first indexed mutual fund in the U.S. in 1976, The Vanguard Group Inc., has grown into one of the world’s largest and most respected investment management companies. Globally, Vanguard manages $5.4 trillion on behalf of investors worldwide. (Source: Vanguard, as at May 31st 2019).

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