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Reasons to vote for strike action on public sector pensions

This week, 1.1 million members of Unison received their ballot papers asking them if they supported strike action in the event of the Government remaining fixed in their position that public service employees must pay more towards their pension, work further years before drawing their pension, and finally receive a smaller pension than had been previously promised. The Government’s argument for this unwholesome menu is that the cost of public pensions is going through the roof, people are living longer so that postponing the age of retirement is inevitable, and anyway Labour left the economy in a terrible mess so that everyone has to grin and bear it whilst taking swingeing cuts. Each of these arguments is is nuts.

First, so far from public pension costs expanding out of control, they are actually falling.   Even the Hutton report, set up by the ToryGovernment under a New Labour stooge expected to make their case for them, admitted that the costs of public pensions as a proportion of GDP would fall from 1.9% now to just 1.4% by 2050. Second, it is true that longevity is gradually increasing and therefore it might be thought reasonable for people to delay their retirement a little and pay a bit more into their pensions towards a longer period of pensionable retirement. However, what the Government didn’t say was that not a penny of the extra revenues generated by their proposals, £2.8bn a year, would go towards enlarging their pension funds. It will all go entirely to the Treasury to reduce the deficit.

Third, contrary to the canard by which the Tory tabloids have spectacularly put across the Big Lie that we’re all in it together having to pay back after Labour left such a mess, the truth is we’re not all in it together over pensions (private pensions are being excluded), Labour did not leave an almighty mess (national debt was below 3% of GDP in 2007 and only rose to 11.6% after the bank bailouts), and public pensions are anything but gold-plated (the average pension of women in the local government pension scheme is a measly £2,800 a year, just £140 a week, after a life time of contributions).

There is no rationale for this massive raid on public pensions at all. If any attack on pensions is justified, it would be the iniquitous tax breaks showered on the richest people in the country in the private sector. No less than £20bn subsidy is granted each year in tax relief for private pensions, two-thirds of it (some £14bn a year) frittered away on the richest tenth of the population on higher rate tax, the rich and the ultra-rich who need it least or rather not at all.

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