I realise that this post will probably attract some negative comments. It seems that the only position you are allowed to adopt is the most left-wing one available, otherwise you are excoriated for being immoral or selfish. But I actually think my view on this strike – and yes public sector pensions is an issue that does affect me – is selfless rather than selfish.
I do not agree with the strike being held by several public sector unions today over changes to the pension schemes of their members.
My basic reason for disagreeing with it is that I do not believe that public sector pensions should be subsidised by the tax payer. In the past when public sector workers were on average paid less than in the private sector, I could maybe see an argument for it as an adjustment to their overall remuneration. But that is no longer the case. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, pay is marginally better now in the public sector in most regions apart from London. Why then should public sector workers get more out of their pension pot than the value of the investment they have put into it? And why should public sector workers receive a better pension than those in the private sector?
On top of that, many of the people who are striking today are not the poorest public sector workers. Unison, which represents many of the lowest paid workers, is not on strike. Rather it is teachers and civil servants who are on strike, and generally they earn pretty well. They are in a better position to make provision for their retirement, so why should their pension be subsidised? It just doesn’t seem fair to me.
Often one of the arguments made by today’s striking unions is that the need for stringency is due to the financial crash – they generally throw in the words bankers and bonuses somewhere as these are now to be universally condemned – and why should public sector workers pick up the tab for that? I don’t really buy that argument. I acknowledge completely that the problems with our public finances have exacerbated the pension situation; if the government was running a large surplus, they may not care so much about reforming pensions at the moment, or they may be able to do so much more slowly and lessen the impact. But the root of the problem with our pensions is demographic. People are living longer than they were when the pension schemes were set up, and that makes them more expensive. This will only continue to get worse, and so I do see that there is a need for reform.
The unions also argue that people have entered jobs and professions partly because of the pension that comes with it. This may be true. Personally I don’t know anyone who genuinely did so; I think people typically look at the salary and the job when they’re starting out in a profession, and don’t think about the pension until a bit later. But it may be true for some people, even if I haven’t met any. So on this point, even though I still think reform is needed, I can see that it is harsh to be promised a reward and then have that taken away later. For me this is a question of how the reforms are introduced and over what time period, and it is here that negotiation and agreement are needed. I do see that the transition must be carefully managed and that workers and their unions should be involved in deciding how that happens. It does not mean that reform is not necessary, but I concede that people feel aggrieved when a deal gets changed later and gets changed unilaterally.
From a personal point of view, the proposed changes would mean that I need to pay more into my pension. I am just as affected by this as other people in the public sector, so I feel entitled to comment. My partner is a teacher, and it therefore affects him too. Neither of us think that our friends’ children should inherit an ever-increasing bill to subsidise our retirement, not if we are given enough time to take account of it and make appropriate arrangements.
That may be called a right-wing point of view, an attack on public sector workers, a selfish Tory attitude. I disagree. This is my pension, and I will be the one that benefits from it. But I do not ask for or expect anything from anyone else. This is my pension, for me, and I should pay for it.