Forest of Dean & Wye Valley


In A.Graham on October 3, 2011 at 11:31 am

Who’s save from the cut and burn policies of the ConDem government? Certainly not our future pensioners!

ANGER – and protest – are now becoming a hallmark of Cameron’s “big society” as more and more of the Government’s repressive policies are unveiled. And on Thursday, June 30, public sector workers made their feelings felt about the attack on their pension rights.

A range of public sector unions, including civil and public servants and teachers, took action in a one-day strike. Although the Government, predictably, tried to down play the impact of this day of action, there is no doubt that anger and determination prevailed in the many demonstrations held across the country.


The issue was pensions. Until now, public sector workers have been assured of a relatively secure and adequate pension provision when they retire. Through their working lives they have been able to pay into a superannuation fund, backed by their employers in the public sector, which has allowed them a degree of peace of mind when they reach retirement. And that, most would surely agree, is how it should be.

Now, under new Government proposals, they will have to work longer, pay more into the pot – and at the end of it all receive a smaller pension.

No wonder public sector workers are outraged at these proposals. And no wonder so many of them supported the strike, as a means of showing their anger – as well as drawing attention to the Government’s plans.

The Government’s response has been that public sector pensions are “no longer sustainable”. They have drawn attention to the contrast between many in the private sector, whose pension provision has declined significantly in recent years, resulting in many falling way behind those in the public sector.

So, rather than attempting to safeguard the pension rights of all, our Government has preferred to drag down those who work in the public sector – seeking the lowest common denominator when it comes to providing for old age.


The pensioners’ movement sees the money paid to old folk in their retirement as “deferred wages”. Most of us, one way or another, pay into the pot during our working lives in order to ensure some level of security and a quality of life when we retire.

We pay through the work we do, as well as the taxes we pay. We pay national insurance, as well as the more specific superannuation schemes found in the public sector. And many of those who can afford it may well pay into private insurance schemes as well.


What the issue of pensions means is that class and income divisions in society are carried on beyond retirement into old age. The wealthy take their wealth with them – and no doubt live to a ripe old age. Those who have worked hard all their lives on more modest incomes may well struggle to make do when they retire. The State pension these days is often only just enough to help them to survive.

No doubt the top ranking bankers, whose reckless gambling with the money invested by the public, will have no financial worries when they retire. Neither will the top politicians.

If we are to believe the weasel words of the Cameron Government (and its supporters in the right-wing press), we can no longer afford to “support” the growing number of elderly people in our society. The implication is that once we reach a certain age we become a drain on society. We no longer contribute anything to wider society, we degenerate rapidly into a state of dependency, and are (by implication) merely a burden on the rest of society. That’s why we must now all work longer and pay more for our own old age.


These assumptions are wrong on a number of counts. First, there have been studies to show that even with increased life expectancy we can still afford to pay decent pensions. It’s just a matter of the allocation of resources.

And, second, after retirement pensioners continue to pay taxes. Taxes are based on levels of income, not on whether a person is working or not. Not only that but many pensioners continue to keep themselves occupied doing unpaid work which often oils the wheels of the voluntary sector on which Cameron’s notion of the “big society” depends. These are the people who now have the free time to work in charity shops, or to volunteer to help others less fortunate than themselves.

Declining health and dependency may well catch up with us eventually – but what sort of society would refuse to help those who need it, on the grounds that “we can’t afford it”? Or, perhaps, we could resort to a mandatory programme of euthanasia to end the problem of old wrinklies at a certain age? All paid for out of our taxes, of course.


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