Fewer people are saving for their retirement into an occupational pension schemes than at any time since the 1950s, according to an Office for National Statistics report published today.
The Office for National Statistics said there were 8.2 million active members of occupational schemes, according to the latest figures for 2011, one of the lowest levels since the it began counting pension scheme members in 1953.
Today's update to Pensions Trends 2013 report revealed there had been a collapse in private sector membership to 2.9 million, compared to the peak of 8.1 million in 1967. The total number of people saving is now below the level of 3.1 million in 1953, when the ONS first started monitoring memebership.
By contrast, public sector membership increased from around the same level in 1953 to over 5 million in 2011.
It also reported that 46% of self-employed men had never belonged to a personal pension, the highest percentage since the statistical series began monitoring the group in 1991/92. Only 34% of self-employed men belonged to a personal pension in 2011, the lowest percentage since 1991/92.
The ONS said: 'People are living longer and are likely to enjoy a longer retirement. But many people are not saving for their retirement at all, and many that are saving are not saving enough.'
The 46% of UK employees who in 2012 were active members in a workplace pension was the lowest proportion since 1997, according to the ONS' annual survey of hours and earnings, also published today.
The type of pension saving has also changed radically, the survey found, with the proportion of employees belonging to defined benefit (DB) schemes having fallen from 46% in 1997 to 28% by 2012. Most active members of DB schemes (56%) were in schemes that were closed to new members, as companies sought to reduce their pensions liabilities.
Average contribution rates for DB schemes were higher for both employees (4.9%) and employers (14.2%) than in the defined contribution (DC) schemes to which increasing numbers belong. For DC schemes, employees and employers contributed an average 2.8% and 6.6% respectively.
The National Association of Pensions Funds said the 'bleak' figures showed pension uptake had been shrivelling at a seemingly unstoppable rate. Chief executive Joanne Segars said: 'Without auto-enrolment the UK would be well on course for a crisis in paying for its old age.
'The recent lack of appetite for a pension among private sector workers is particularly worrying. The patchy economy, weak annuity rates, and mistrust of the pensions industry's fees and charges are all to blame.
'The future looks more promising. The early signs are that auto-enrolment is going down well with staff, and the vast majority are sticking with their new pension. These much-needed reforms will bring millions more into a pension over the coming years, particularly from smaller employers in the private sector.'
A consultant at Barnett Waddingham actuaries, Malcolm McLean, said: 'This is all further depressing evidence of the continuing decline in occupational pension provision in the UK.
'On the basis of these figures there is no doubt that millions of people are currently heading for a very financially insecure old age unless, or until, they begin to better address their retirement planning needs and opportunities.'
McLean added that the data underlined the importance of auto-enrolling eligible workers into a workplace pension scheme under the 2008 Pensions Act.
Head of pensions research at annuities broker Hargreaves Lansdown, Tom McPhail, said: 'These figures illustrate dramatically how important it is that auto-enrolment succeeds over the next five years. It is vital that nothing is done to jeopardise this project and that everything possible is done to encourage people to stay enrolled in their workplace pensions. Recent calls for reform of pension taxation or for small businesses to be exempt from auto-enrolment should be postponed or ignored until the foundations of a savings culture have been properly laid.'
The ONS reported average contribution rates of 19.2% of payroll for DB and 9.4% for DC schemes. McPhail said these meant it was 'inevitable' that millions of people would have to work on into their 70s, because they won't be able to afford to retire earlier.
'9.4% as an average is simply not enough. Investors should aim to be contributing at least 12% of their income towards their retirement,' he added.