I have been watching the debate on the future of public sector pensions with two hats on: the one of a self-made entrepreneur and the other as a member of the Greater Manchester Superannuation fund; a frozen relic of my time in Local Government. And with sincere misery I listen to the divisive language deployed from both sides of the argument. The unions have returned to class warfare and the government relentlessly repeats its mantra that the private sector pays.
My memories from working in the public sector remind me of working long hours, carrying additional unpaid responsibilities and only just surviving the blame culture of modern day social work. But I did so happily because, although the wages were poor, the conditions of employment and in particular the pension made the job worthwhile. Unfortunately, alongside many former colleagues, I could only stand the propensity of the British public to trot out "I pay your wages" for so long. Not only does it completely sap morale out of hardworking people; it completely misrepresents the situation and the government should be ashamed of itself to adopt such a divisive tone.
The fast is that I, a private sector worker, do not pay any public sector workers salary nor do I pay for their pensions. We all do.
We have created a society which provides a wide range of services; and we have agreed a set rate of pay and conditions which those services are worth. We pay for this through a universal taxation system to which we all subscribe irrespective of position and income. I do not recall as a public sector worker being subject to zero or low rate taxation simply because my income was paid for by the public sector.
So the issue of who pays serves no purpose other than to divide us and divert focus away from deciding, as a society, if changes need to be made to the pension scheme and if so, how it should be done.
I recall not long ago when the greater Manchester superannuation fund claimed to be able to meet its obligations to its members without any further contributions. So what has changed? According to the government it is the fact that the population is aging. Really? More than 30 years ago when I trained to become a social worker, the 'population bubble' was a key feature in social policy lectures. Retirement challenges of the future were well known back then.
For years, decades even, politicians have been 'kicking the can' down the street in a bid to avoid a confrontation with the issue during a time of plenty. The debate about how to meet the challenges was postponed until the day when it could be left no longer.
Today we can postpone it no longer. And the challenge is bigger than predicted 30 years ago. So let's deal with it but without eroding the principles which the Britain we have today was built on. Let's have a debate between the public, government, businesses and unions - but let it not be one that divides us and deflects focus from real task at hand: confronting the issues of our aging population and meeting that challenge. It is a challenge that should and can be met by everyone as a society. It is also a challenge which continues to grow bigger while on sector remains pitched against the other.
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