The strike taking place today is not just a walkout, but a walking away from the negotiating table, where a good deal was rejected irresponsibly. The Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, has said:
“Tomorrow’s strike is inappropriate, untimely and irresponsible, especially while talks are ongoing.
“We have listened to the concerns of public sector workers and that is why at the beginning of this month we put an improved offer on the table. The offer ensures that public sector pensions will remain among the very best available while also being fair and affordable to taxpayers.
“While discussions are continuing I would urge public sector workers to look at the offer for themselves rather than listening to the rhetoric of their union leaders. These are the sort of pensions that few in the private sector can enjoy.
The Government have made sure that anyone who is within ten years of retirement will be able to retire on their current terms and they have also confirmed that low earners making under £15,000 a year (15% of the workforce) will not have to make increased contributions. In addition, another million workers earning up to £21,000 will have their total increase limited to 1.5 per cent over three years. Accrued benefits that people have built up already will be protected.
I find myself reflecting on the situation faced by those without taxpayer-guaranteed benefits. Suppose the aim is a retirement income of £15,000 a year for life. That means buying what’s known as an annuity. With pension savings of £10,000 buying an annuity worth about £500 a year today, to achieve just £15,000 a year, one would need pension savings of £300,000. To achieve a more comfortable £25,000, one would need to have saved £500,000.
And that income would not be index-linked for protection against inflation.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance has produced a Public / Private Pay Comparison calculator, which is illuminating. It’s a great pity that public and private sector workers have been set in conflict like this but low-risk, tax-funded pay and pensions should never have been allowed to outstrip those funded by riskier commercial activity. We have some wonderful, dedicated and talented workers in our schools, hospitals and elsewhere, and I regret that so many governments have misled them about their relative benefits.
The victims of today’s strikes will be the people who pay strikers’ wages and pensions – the everyday people of Britain. At a time when we are trying to get the economy back on its feet, when we face catastrophic public debts, a strike is the last thing anyone needs.