One dreaded word is resoundingly absent from the opening salvos of this election campaign.

Wary politicians of every hue must hope it remains so. There are no easy votes to be won talking about pensions and plenty to be lost by talking about them honestly.

Yet not all politicians are wary, or come to that, dishonest. An unguarded remark could raise issues that the party leaders would very much rather were left quietly alone. Yet whoever wins on May 5 will have to do something exceedingly unpleasant about pensions.

Gordon Brown has done his best to kick the issue into touch by arranging for Adair Turner, one-time director general of the CBI, to present his full report on the future of pensions after the voting is safely over. If anybody asks casually about pensions Mr Brown can say we must wait for Mr Turner. Up to a point, that may wash, but only up to a point.

After all, the choices are perfectly clear:

* Let pensioners get poorer, the present approach. It is bad ethics, but bad medium-term politics too. With the population ageing, an increasingly dominant grey will demand that Governments "do something". By then that can only mean taxing the shrinking working population ever more ruthlessly. We have seen the consequences of that before.

* Raise the retirement age. Inevitable, but hugely unpopular. The Government dodged one public sector strike threat last winter, but there will be more. The retirement age will go up, but amid great bitterness and not by enough for the actuarial purpose.

* Compel everyone to contribute to an employers' scheme or else to a personal pension - increasingly the favoured approach. But many people will see it as just another tax and do what they can to dodge it. In Australia, compulsory contributions were matched by a decline in other savings.

Keith Satchell, chief executive of Friends Provident, insists there is no one "silver bullet" to de-fuse the pensions crisis outright. He hopes Mr Turner will explore what he calls "soft compulsion", mixing carrots with the sticks.

That might mean compelling employees to match any pension contributions subscribed by their employers --while giving employers an adequate tax incentive to pitch in.

Not everybody has an employer, though. Most selfemployed people are likely to think they are better placed than the Government to judge whether their cash is better deployed in a pension fund or to hand, helping them stay solvent here and now.

Arguably the best incentive would be to stop taxing pension funds' dividends - that must wait for the day when Mr Brown is no longer Chancellor, let alone Prime Minister.

One suggestion is a single rate of tax relief for everybody's pension contributions - less than the 40 per cent for higher rate taxpayers, who are best placed to save anyway, but more than the 22 per cent basic rate for everyone else, a tax credit in effect.

But what would be the rate? And what stick to whack those who fail to nibble the carrot