Friday, February 17, 2012

There Is a Conspiracy throughout the World... a “Crisis of Fairness”

“There is an economic crisis in the UK, but it was not caused by excessive public spending or the ‘gold-plated’ pensions and pay of public-sector workers. It was caused by a recession triggered by the banking collapse of 2007. Now there is another crisis: a crisis of fairness in which those who caused the economic mess are forcing everyone else in society to pay for it. It is clear whose side Cameron’s cabinet of millionaires is on. Trade unions represent people in the public, private and voluntary sectors. Our members will often experience each through their working lives – as will their partners, friends and family. Good occupational pension schemes are important wherever you work. Most pensioners are reliant on the basic state pension for the majority of their income in retirement, but it pays below the government’s own poverty line. Disgracefully today there are 2.5 million pensioners living in poverty in the UK. Only one in three private sector workers is now a member of an employer-sponsored pension scheme, public sector pensions are under threat, and the state pension is now worth just 15% of average male earnings. 
“On the other hand a quarter of all tax relief on pensions, amounting to more than £10bn annually, goes to the richest 1% in the country. We hear about gold-plated public sector pensions, yet the real gilded pensions are to be found in the boardrooms of private companies that have abandoned provision for their workforces. There is a crisis of pensions in the UK, but it’s not that we’re living too long or that pensions are unaffordable; it’s a crisis of fairness.

“In retirement, as in working life, we are highly unequal. UK pensioner poverty is among the worst in Europe – only Cyprus, Latvia, Estonia [and the United States] abandon their pensioners to a greater degree. Action is needed to secure decent state pensions as the foundation for pensioner income and decent employer-sponsored pension provision for all workers in all employment sectors. Please join our campaign for ‘Fair pensions for all’.

Introduction: a crisis of fairness
Public sector pensions: affordable and sustainable

“The pensions of public sector workers have come under intense scrutiny in recent months, with ministers and the media describing them as ‘gold-plated’ and ‘unaffordable.’ Currently, public sector workers are being told they must pay more and work longer for a lower pension – but is this necessary? Last year the government asked Lord Hutton to lead an independent commission into public sector pensions… ‘Currently public sector workers are being told they must pay more and work longer.’

“Although the average person is living longer, there are massive inequalities in life expectancy: men and women in the wealthiest areas live 10 years longer, on average, than those from the poorest areas. The wealthiest can often afford to take early retirement too, whereas the poorest often already have to continue working beyond the state retirement age. Just because we are living longer, it does not necessarily mean we are fit to work longer: 40% of people aged 65–74 have a disability or illness that limits their quality of life. Pensioner poverty also intensifies the prejudices that exist over people’s working lives. Women, disabled and ethnic minority pensioners are far more likely to be in poverty because they are discriminated against by employers. Over several years, governments have allowed companies to abandon their pension duties to their staff, allowed the state pension to fall further and further behind living standards, and today’s government is now attacking public sector pensions too. We don’t want an equality of misery, but fair pensions for all: public, private and state pensions...

“Nearly one in five of us, living in the UK, are over the state retirement age. A fair pension for all is affordable in the sixth largest economy in the world, if we choose it to be. A pension is income deferred. Whether it is through national insurance or contributions to an occupational scheme, we have set aside income today to pay for our pensions tomorrow. We like to think of retirement as a time of relaxation and leisure, but for very many people it is a time of hardship and stress – with a growing proportion literally having to choose between heating and eating. Every winter tens of thousands of retired people die from cold-related illnesses. We are all living longer and should welcome that life expectancy continues to improve, but those improvements have been very uneven… There is a huge life expectancy gap between the richest and the poorest.

“We must also consider the impact of working longer on unemployment – the impact that has on young workers starting off. Youth unemployment is at the highest level on record. Finally, we ought to acknowledge that longer retirements are not necessarily unaffordable, but are a question of priorities and balance. The government is proposing little to tackle the scandal of private sector occupational pensions, or the poverty level of the basic state pension. The government’s current attempts to cut public sector pensions will create more misery and more poverty in retirement. We hope that you, whether you’re in the public sector or private sector, whether you’re working, unemployed or already retired, will join our campaign for ‘Fair pensions for all’ because the injustice of pensioner poverty requires us to work together so that everyone has a decent standard of living in retirement…”

--from the Public and Commercial Services Union in the UK

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