Pensions, it’s down to us
Jane Carolan is one of Scotland's
members on the union's National Executive and has
the key role of chairing the UNISON's UK Policy
As the politicians and the press gang up on the
attack, who will defend our public service pensions? We
will! says UNISON Scotland NEC member JANE CAROLAN.
Over the past few years, there has been nothing that
has agitated UNISON members more that the fight to protect
their pensions, a fight that has seen members prepared
to take to the streets in strike action.
Just as negotiations on the Scottish Local Government
pensions draw to a close, and after NHS colleagues have
settled on their scheme, the threat to a decent standard
of living in old age is again under threat.
It started when “the pensions crisis” in the public sector
was at it’s height in 2006 and it has never let up since
then, but since the start of the current financial crisis
in September of this year, the media critics of public
sector pensions have been having a field day, demanding
that “the pensions apartheid “ is ended.
Headlines on a daily basis refer to “Pensions Haves and
Have-Nots” or are issuing “Warnings over Public Sector
Pensions”. We in the trade union movement have never known
the Daily Express or Daily Mail to be our friends but
the vitriol heaped on on public sector workers has rarely
reached such heights and is repeated on a regular daily
Millions of readers are drip fed continually that our
pensions are “cushy” , “gold plated” and “A luxury that
the country can’t afford”.
Have they ever quoted the figure that the average local
government pensioner receives? Just for the record, that’s
£3800 per year or £74 per week. What is usually quoted
is the figure for a high flying, highly paid civil servant,
and while we would all like that level of pension, for
our members such a pension is a dream.
Unfortunately, the media loves a stereotype and the gold
plated pensioner is now accepted. This isn’t restricted
to the tabloid press. Recently the Independent has railed
about the fact that there is “no class divide any more,
just the difference between the fat cat, featherbedded
public sector pensioners and the rest”.
Politicians take up cause
Where the media in this country lead, there are always
politicians willing to follow. First out of the stalls
was Eric Pickles, the current Tory Shadow Secretary of
State for communities and Local Government. Eric has fallen
for the hype and believes the myths and is quite clear
that the time has come for “reform” in his words, destruction
of public sector pensions to the rest of us.
Tory intentions were made clear by the intervention of
their leader, David Cameron. Cameron has been very, very
clear about his plans for the future. Cameron wants an
end to pensions “apartheid”.
Even his choice of language here is offensive. But his
intentions could not be clearer. Cameron goes for the
jugular vowing to end the final salary schemes that we
currently have, replacing them with stock market linked
plans. The results of the plan will be simple - pension
poverty for millions of public sector workers.
He’s been backed by the Liberal Democrats, who also see
our pensions as “unsustainable and unaffordable”
Who will defend us?
As UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis has pointed
out, if any political party wants to improve pensions
they should start by urging the private sector in this
country to face up to their responsibilities by setting
up decent pensions schemes.
Any solution should be based on levelling up, not by
cutting the public sector pensions that we are all going
to rely on. Highly profitable private sector companies
are pulling out of the provision of pension schemes but
their actions don’t make the headlines in the same way.
We have been prepared to take strike action on our pensions
in the past. We need to scrutinise the plans of those
who would seek to govern us, and be aware of they in which
their programmes are likely to affect us.
At the end of the day, defending our pensions will come
down to us.
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