Today, if some are to be believed, marks the beginning of the Greek-style protest movement fighting back against the Coalition’s austerity measures. Some dream of it being the beginning of a wider era of protest against Conservative governments ever having power again. You know, kind of like last year with the student fees protest (something I admit from being in Millbank Tower at the time, was exciting for all of five minutes). Britain, however, does not do civil disobedience in any great way (poll tax being the exception to the rule) as the four or five PCS strikers I passed this morning -huddled outside a DEFRA building looking like CM Punk with their armbands, too busy lighting their fags to hand out their leaflets – demonstrated to me.
The reason for these strikes is supposedly “the plans mean more work and contributions for a reduced pension.” Not exactly the kind of national spirit David Cameron tried to engender when he said “we’re all in this together”.
As Michael Johnson set out in his Centre for Policy Studies pamphlet on self-sufficiency, public sector pensions are not only unaffordable; they are unfair. The continuing growth of inequality in public and private sector pensions since then-Chancellor Gordon Brown’s raid on private pensions in 1997 risks creating what Johnson called ‘societal division’ amongst retired workers.
If we are all in this together, then the burden must fall to those in the public sector who had their pensions protected for so long under the Labour Government – those in the private sector have already seen their savings dwindle to support this and can afford no more.
In addition to this, we are living longer – a lot longer as it would happen. Today, 17% of the population can expect to see their 100th birthday according to the DWP, and the number of centenarians has doubled nearly every decade since the 1950’s. As David Cameron alluded to in PMQ’s yesterday, this brings an unsustainable increase in costs to government – they simply have to make savings somewhere. This is the burden of modern civilisation with technological advances in healthcare and great leaps in the quality of life: we are able to work longer because we can delay the effects of age. Women, who live longer than men, must embrace equality by working to the same age as the opposite sex that, all things being well, will depart this mortal coil sooner.
The Government has already taken important action to support pensioners – the earnings link to pensions was restored in the Coalition's first budget thirty years after its removal – but it simply cannot allow this recovery and the health of the economy in future generations to be threatened by a fear of upsetting public sector workers.
In his pamphlet, Michael Johnson makes clear that although there are various methods and ideas, one theme has to be key in public sector reform – cashflow self-sufficiency. As he says “Pension schemes that are cashflow self-sufficient, i.e. not reliant on Treasury pit-propping, are likely to be sustainable.”
It is hard to believe any reasonable individual would not accept that in this age of austerity, where the Government has acted with moderate cuts to avoid a situation like that of Greece, these arguments are clear and should apply to us all. Of course Unions must make an argument on behalf of their members to earn the best deal possible and several are doing that in a sensible way. Today’s strike leaders, by ordering this action while negotiations are on-going, have demonstrated their blatant political motive: they wish to take on a Government led by a Party they do not vote for, taking vital action they do not wish to see succeed, and serve a naked self-interest that does not aid their members, tax payers or this country as a whole.
As The New Statesman once opined itself; we are, quite clearly, not all in this together.