Tag Archives: pensions

UCU vs UUK

pensions shit

Once you reach a certain age you become an expert in pensions, and what I now know (state pension not withstanding) is that they fall into two broad categories, defined contribution and defined benefit schemes.

If you’re a member of a defined benefit scheme then, irrespective of your or your employer’s contributions, you know what you’re getting at the end: it’ll be a proportion of either your final salary, your career average earnings or somewhere in between. Your contributions may go up or down but, by and large, the financial risk is taken by your employer. The public sector pensions which came under government attack in 2012 are defined benefit schemes; “gold plated” as their pals in the press would have you believe, “our deferred wages, paid to us in retirement, pensions that we pay handsomely for” we respond.

Conversely, if you’re in a defined contribution scheme, the risk is all yours. You know how much you’re going to pay, and how much your employer’s going to put in, but that money’s invested by the pension company in stocks, shares, property etc. and results in a “pot” available to you on retirement with which to buy an annuity. An annuity is you going to an insurance company and saying “I’ve accumulated £ x-thousand over my working life, if I give it to you, how much will you pay me a year for the rest of my days?” And the answer is, you’ve guessed it, market-dependent.

blackboardWhy is this important? Well, the first attack on the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) was in 2011 [1] , when it moved from a final salary scheme to a career average earnings scheme, saving the employers a ton of money.

(“Who are the employers?” I hear you ask. Well for these purposes they’re Universities UK (UUK) the chancellor, vice-chancellor and principal’s club that dates back to a 19th century consultative committee. Effectively, the marketisation [2]  of higher education has turned universities into businesses and pension reforms into marginal gains.)

But worse was to come. In 2017/18, despite members’ contributions continuing to rise, UUK decided to close the defined benefit portion of the USS, shifting all the risk to the workers. They decided to, but it didn’t happen. It didn’t happen for one reason and one reason alone: sustained and determined strike action by UCU members. Don’t let anyone tell you that striking doesn’t work. [3]

So, why are they back on strike? Well, part of the resolution of last year’s dispute was the creation of the Joint Expert Panel to review the valuation of the pension scheme and (surprise!) the employers have decided to ignore some of the panel’s findings.

Today’s picket at Goldsmiths was as large and lively as the one that Russ and I visited last year, despite losing a bunch of activists to various Labour Party canvassing activities around London. They’re well-organised (well, they are teachers) and in good spirits.

We talked about the FBU pensions victory and the potential impact on millions of public sector workers’ pensions, Grenfell, Boris Johnson, solidarity, rudimentary sound engineering [4] and the general election. And we sang a few songs. [5]

 

The message is clear: UUK – play fair on pensions, the UCU ain’t going anywhere.

picket line

Steve

[1] https://www.ucu.org.uk/uss-explained

[2] The Jarratt Report, published in 1985, laid the groundwork for the transformation of universities into factories, students into customers and academics into education delivery vehicles, consolidated and accelerated by the introduction of tuition fees of up to £9000 pa by the 2010 coalition government.

[3] We can have the debate as to whether music can change the world, but the Goldmiths end of this dispute was supported by both The Protest Family and Maddy Carty. Just sayin’.

[4] Keep the mic behind the speaker!

[5] We know a bunch of songs about strikes: Mrs Windsor’s Geraniums, Funky Lol’s Picket Line and Bad Day for Bojo to name but three.

The Progress of Society is Not Linear

ikes

The Centre for Social Injustice

It’s what Supersonic is all about.

The press report this week that Iain Duncan Smith’s think tank, The Centre For Social Justice, recommends increasing the state pension age to 70 by 2028 and 75 by 2030 because, they say, we’re living longer and we are unaffordable.

In 1948, when the state pension was introduced, a man could expect to live for 12 years in retirement and a woman 19, approximately 16% and 24% of their lives respectively[1]. The current state pension ages improve those percentages to 24% and 26%, the proposals from the Centre for Social Justice worsen them to 18% and 20%, with a man receiving his pension for just 17 years on average and a woman hers for 19 years.

But those are just numbers without considering the real hardship of people that can’t afford a workplace pension or the effects on your health and well being of being forced to work full time into old age. Those who would keep you in the workhouse, such as the Centre’s head, Andy Cook, would have you believe that work is good for you whatever your age, and stealing your state pension is a means to “help older people to remain in work”[2].

Nor do the numbers speak of inequality, the life expectancy of Blackpool man (74.7) compared to Kensington and Chelsea man (83.3), the widening of that divide with time or the socioeconomic back story.

The reality will be to make death in service the norm. This isn’t economic good sense, it’s class warfare.

Duncan Smith? We know a song about him. Hard work? We know a song about that too.

Steve

  1. Office of National Statistics
  2. Daily Mirror, 17 August 2019