I think it is very much a matter of regret that anyone feels it necessary to go on strike on Wednesday.
I personally think that the strikes are inappropriate and untimely, especially whilst talks are ongoing.
I hope everyone will reflect that what the government is offering is both fair and affordable.
The fact is that:
• Public sector pensions will remain inflation-proofed and among the very best available at a guaranteed level.
• Most will see no reduction in the pension income they receive at retirement and many low- and middle-income earners will in fact receive a larger pension income at retirement.
• Low earners making under £15,000 a year (approximately 15% of the workforce), will not have to make increased contributions. Another million workers earning up to £21,000 will have their total increase limited to 1.5% over three years.
• The pot people have built up so far will be protected. This will mean a guaranteed benefit in retirement which is free from market fluctuations or fees - something all but eliminated elsewhere.
• No one within 10 years of retirement will see any change - either in the age they retire or in the amount of pension they will receive on retirement.
I think it is also important to recognise that:
• People are living longer, so spending longer in retirement.
• Public sector workers are on average better paid than those in the private sector.
• Over the past decade public sector pension costs increased by one third in real terms.
• To get an equivalent pension in the private sector you would have to contribute over a third of your salary each year.
Lastly, I think it is important to note that only about one-third of union members actually voted for strikes.
It is wrong to say that the government isn't listening or interested in negotiation. Our offer is fair and sustainable and it protects lower earners and all the benefits people have built so far. The offer has also been improved in response to concerns of public sector workers.
It isn't correct to suggest that the government is penalising public sector workers. Difficult decisions have to be made to ensure public finances are sustainable for the future. Our reforms are about striking a fairer balance between what public sector workers pay and what other taxpayers pay as we all live longer.
Reform is needed. A civil servant retiring at 60 today can expect to draw on a pension for 30 years. The cost of pensions has jumped by a third in a decade to £32 billion - an unsustainable burden on taxpayers.
We've always said that we want public sector pensions to remain amongst the very best available - reforms are about striking a fairer deal. It is also important to remember that the most recent data shows that the average public sector worker is paid more than those in the private sector and typically enjoys a better pension.
The current arrangement is not sustainable. We have made sure that all benefits people have built up so far are protected, and low earners will not have to make increased contributions. No one within ten years of retirement will see any change.
Of course everyone's pension is important to them but these issues are not going to be resolved as a consequence of the disruption which will be caused by the strikes on Wednesday. They are only going to be resolved by sensible discussion and negotiation.
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