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Volume 41 Number 33, December 3, 2011 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Broad Actions in Defence of the Right to a Pension

Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index :

Broad Actions in Defence of the Right to a Pension

Note on Two Outlooks on Pensions

Pensions To Be Plundered To Fund Capital-Centred Infrastructure Projects
Hands Off Pensions!

Women and Pensions

Top Directors’ Pension Pots Increase to £3.9million

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Broad Actions in Defence of the Right to a Pension

Two and a half million public sector workers from 30 unions, it is estimated, took part in militant actions on November 30, the day of action for Pensions Justice across England, Scotland and Wales, as well as the north of Ireland. The 30 unions included 23 who are TUC-affiliated and seven non-affiliates. Even workers from the British Isles that are not part of the UK, such as the Channel Isles, expressed firm support. This makes it the largest mass industrial action in Britain since the General Strike of 1926. In Scotland, over 300,000 took the streets, while in Wales an estimated 170,000 participated in the actions.

The pickets, demonstrations and other actions represent the determination of the workers to take a stand for what is theirs by right. The determination is there to fight the agenda of the Con-Dem Coalition to attack the rights and interests of the working class, spearheading the attack on the public sector workers. The unity of these workers and their unions from bottom to top around defending what is just is what characterised November 30. The attempts of the government to denigrate the workers and their unity, as well as to attempt to sow divisions between these workers and the rest of the working class, have only served as a spur to the workers to get further organised and express their contempt at the anti-worker, anti-social outlook of the Coalition. Those taking action on November 30 spoke for all workers. It is necessary to further build the workers’ opposition in order to hold the government to account and to fight for an alternative direction for the economy.

London and the South East


Official figures put the number marching from Lincoln’s Inn Fields to the Embankment at 20,000-25,000, but for those marching it felt like at least twice that number. By the move off time at 1.00pm, the starting venue was jam-packed with a myriad of union contingents, led by the SERTUC (South East Regional TUC) banner. In fact, the majority of those participating were women, who are at the forefront of the struggle in the public services. By the time that the end of the demonstration left Lincoln’s Inn Fields to march down to Aldwych, along the Strand past Trafalgar Square and onto the Victoria Embankment, the rally at the end of the march had already been in full swing for an hour or so.

In addition, of course, pickets and rallies had been organised at hospitals, public service buildings and elsewhere in the region. Trades councils and unions organised protests at Battersea & Wandsworth, Camden, Corporation of London, Dagenham, Ealing, Greenwich, Bexley, Haringey, Harrow, Hendon, Ilford, Islington, Kensington & Chelsea, Kingston, Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark.


London hospitals at which protests were organised included Chelsea & Westminster, St Thomas', St Mary's, UCL Hospital, The London Hospital, St George's, Tooting, Queen Elizabeth Hospital Greenwich, Homerton, Springfield and St Pancras. The unions at Whipps Cross Hospital in East London held a militant picket as their part of the national day of action. For a video of the actions at Whipps Cross, see:

The towns and cities in the region where actions took place included Aylesbury, Barnet, Basildon, Basingstoke, Bedford, Brighton & Hove, Bury St Edmunds, Cambridge, Canterbury, Chatham, Chelmsford, Colchester, Croydon, Dereham, Dover, Eastbourne, Gravesend, Great Yarmouth, Hastings, Hertfordshire, High Wycombe, Hillingdon, Horsham, Ipswich, Kings Lynn, Leatherhead, Lewes, Lowestoft, Luton, Maidstone, Norwich, Peterborough, Portsmouth, Reading, Sittingbourne, Slough, Southampton, Southend, Waveney, Winchester, Wisbech, Woking and Worthing.

Newcastle and the North


Right from early morning, pickets were organised at hospitals. Activists carried placards and shouted the slogans over megaphones which really reflected the aspirations of the workers: Hands Off Our Pensions! A Decent Pension for All! A Decent Pension is a Right! Dignity and Respect in Retirement! Don't Wreck our Pensions to Pay the Rich! Health, Education and Social Care, Not Pay the Rich! Wrecking the Economy, No – Public Services, Yes! Decent Pensions, Yes – Pay the Rich, No! Whose NHS, Our NHS! Whose Public Services, Our Public Services!

Gateshead Picket Gateshead Picket

There were scores of people on the picket lines at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Gateshead, at Bensham Hospital and Dunston Hill, as well as at South Tyneside District Hospital, where pickets were mounted at each gate from 6am. Pickets were also mounted at Cleadon Park, Grimdon Lane (Sunderland), Blaydon, and Palmer Hospital in Jarrow.

Newcastle Newcastle

From Gateshead and South Tyneside, coaches left the picket line for the Gateshead Civic Centre. Around 10,000 gathered at the civic centre for the march to Gateshead. The march took about an hour to Spillers Wharf on the north side of the Tyne where there was an hour-long rally. Other marches and rallies were organised in Middlesbrough, Whitehaven and Carlisle as well.

March to Spillers Wharf March to Spillers Wharf

The vast majority of those who stayed at work in the hospital services also supported the action, and it had been agreed to keep many hospital services open to ensure that patients, especially those requiring urgent treatment, were not affected. The sentiment, including of those who had never voted for strike action before, was to defend their right to a decent pension. This includes the domestics, porters, nurses, admin staff, and even managers.

March to Spillers Wharf {short description of image}

In Durham, picket lines took in the county hall, police headquarters, university hospital and the passport office.

Yorkshire and Humberside


There were four major rallies in Bradford, Sheffield, Hull and Leeds which drew a combined total of 25,000 people to listen to a range of speakers. Picketing started early at many workplaces.

Sheffield Sheffield

Thousands from right across the public sector converged on Leeds city centre. With the Leeds Trades Union Council and University and College Union banners at its head a demonstration led the way. By the time the rally on the steps of the Art Gallery kicked off then there were an estimated 9,000 people present.

Yorkshire Yorkshire

In Sheffield, a rally and march was organised by the regional TUC and Sheffield Trades Council. Feeder marches came from UCU, NUT, PCS, GMB, Unite and Unison. Police estimated 10,000 participants, making this the largest union rally seen in Sheffield in recent times.

Sheffield Sheffield

Centenary Square in Bradford city centre was thronged with thousands of striking workers and their supporters.

Yorkshire Yorkshire

Rallies were also held in eight of the region’s other towns and cities, including Huddersfield and Halifax, with an estimated total attendance of close to 8,000.

Manchester and the North West

Manchester Liverpool

There were large turnouts at rallies in Manchester (35,000), Liverpool (26,000) and Bristol (20,000) and there were also turnouts of 5,000 in Chester, 2,000 in Gloucester, and 1,200 in Lancaster.



A rally was held in Birmingham, after an estimated 10,000 people marched through the city. The huge line of teachers, nurses, care workers and civil servants snaked its way through the streets in one of the largest public protests to hit the city. At one stage the parade, marshalled by union leaders and police, stretched from St Philip’s Cathedral, past New Street Station and on to Broad Street. The demonstration against the government’s pension proposals turned more fiery as protesters filled the National Indoor Arena to listen to a succession of speakers. In Wolverhampton, over 2,000 people took part in a march and rally. At least 500 from the Dudley group of hospitals marched through Dudley.

Birmingham Birmibngham

Workers united to march through Nottingham for justice over pensions. Unison's head of local government Heather Wakefield told a packed rally in Nottingham’s Albert Hall of a long and hard struggle ahead. There were also large rallies in Derby, Leicester, Northampton, Lincoln and Chesterfield.



Six thousand people marched in Oxford to defend their right to a decent pension and in support of striking public sector workers on the afternoon of November 30, in the region’s biggest demonstration in decades. There were various feeder marches into the main demonstration, which were themselves sizeable, the Cowley Road march itself involving a reported thousand people. Three times as many people as expected turned out.

Oxford Oxford

The lively march was adorned with flags and banners and accompanied by a Samba band. It was also flanked by the police on foot and horseback who lined the streets. A broad mix of people travelled from across the region to the Oxford demonstration. Health, education, council and disabled workers, alongside students, took part. President of Oxfordshire and District TUC Gawain Little said the attack on pensions was a “serious concern to everybody”.

Morning rallies were also held at Witney, Abingdon and Banbury.

Cornwall and the South West

South West Swindon WiltshireThe Hall for Cornwall in Truro was full to its 1,000 seat capacity, with almost as many people queuing to enter at 10am for the rally which opened the day of strike. Speakers from all the unions involved and from the Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance detailed the consequences of having to work so much longer, paying up to 15% of earnings towards a much reduced pension, for living standards now and for a poorer retirement outlook.

A march through the town centre, accompanied by the supportive sounding of car and truck horns ended in a gathering in front of Truro Cathedral.

There were pickets in Barnstaple, and in Exeter a march of at least 3,000 workers ended in a rally at Exeter City football ground. In Taunton there was a march and rally of over 2,000 people. Pickets were also out at Poole, Bournemouth, Cheltenham and Tewkesbury.

Isle of Wight

Isle of White Isle of White

Hundreds of workers attended the march which set off from the St Mary’s Hospital picket line in the morning. A number of pickets took place across the Island in such places as the town hall, fire stations, prisons and probation offices. Some pickets were out at 6am.

Over 1,000 people took part in the rally in Newport town centre at 11.30am with many more on strike across the Island. Speakers included the trades councils on the Island (Newport, Cowes and Ryde), and speakers from unions included Unison, Unite, NASUWT, NUT and others.


Scotland - St Andrews Scotlans - St Andrews

Strike day kicked off in Scotland with a piper and reception committee welcoming the security guards at Glasgow Caledonian University as they came out on strike at midnight. As the morning unfolded, pickets from Stornoway to the Borders raised the Unison flag at council offices, health centres, hospitals, police headquarters, universities and colleges, including Glasgow’s iconic Rennie Mackintosh School of Art. More than 10,000 trade unionists and supporters marched through the streets of Glasgow in defence of pensions. The march finished with a rally at Barrowlands.

In Edinburgh, strikers marched down the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, holding banners and congregating between the Scottish Parliament and Holyrood Palace, where a rally was held. Speakers addressed the demonstration from a double decker bus. A very vocal crowd of 10,000 trade unionists gathered outside the Scottish Parliament.

As pickets were out across Fife the student town of St. Andrews showed solidarity with a well attended demonstration arranged by the UCU and the Students Association.

More than 300,000 people are believed to have gone on strike north of the border, joining two million in England and Wales, making it the largest-scale day of action in decades.


Wales - Wrexham

4,000 attended a rally in Cardiff in brilliant sunshine. Hundreds of people took part in strike action in Wrexham. The Grove Park Theatre was full to overflowing.

Wales - Wrexham Wales - Wrexham

What Was Said

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “On this unprecedented day when 30 unions have members taking action together we are sending a crystal-clear message to the government. That we are strong, that we are united, and that our campaign will go on until we secure justice and fairness for every public servant.

“The government should turn its attention from trying to down play what was the biggest strike in a generation, stop the war of words and get on with serious negotiations where they spell out exactly what they are now proposing in each scheme. Unions want to see a fair negotiated settlement and are ready for the intensive talks we now need, but those talks need content and that can only come from ministers.”

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “I have been to pickets around central London and spirits are sky high with many other unions besides PCS out on strike. People should be very proud of the stand they are making today in contrast to the shame of the government. Public sector workers have come together today to show their united opposition to the government’s prolonged and concerted attacks on their pensions, jobs and communities.

“The government is carrying out a massive raid on pensions which is a reflection of its unrelenting mismanagement of the economy. Suffering and misery are a price the government wants us to pay – this is an all-out attack on public services.”

“Every single person on strike today should be proud of themselves and the millionaires in the government should be ashamed of themselves. They said this day would never happen but this is the best day for the trade union movement in generations. The strikers are an inspiration. The message to the government is if you don’t negotiate with us we will do this again. They should go into work tomorrow with their heads held high.”

Hugh Lanning, the PCS deputy general secretary, said: “It has been a great day and if the government thought the public services were a soft touch they probably don't now. But make no mistake the Tories never had a plan B and they are just using the financial recession as a cover for what has always been their political and ideological objectives. But we can fight and win.”

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Today will go down in history as the largest coordinated industrial action, the biggest demonstration of determination and defiance, that this country has witnessed for almost a century. Today, history has been made – not by politicians – not by bankers and business leaders, but by the millions of ordinary men and women – few of them militants or hardened activists, many thousands who have never taken industrial action before, who, with courage and quiet resolve have said: ‘enough is enough’.

“To those who thought the union movement was dead and irrelevant – today is your answer. To ministers who thought they could bully – today is your lesson, and your warning. And to millions of working people, throughout the land suffering at the hands of this cruel coalition, close to giving up hope, let today be the day you take heart, take courage and resolve to stand and fight for what is right. Hands off our pensions, hands off our public services, and while you’re at it you can hand back the keys to downing street. Be in no doubt, that day will come. I can’t give you an exact date, but I know that today with this magnificent show of spirit and strength you’ve certainly brought it closer. Be proud of what you have done today. The day you made your stand, the day you made a difference, the day you all made history and I am sure that one day we’ll look back and say today was the day we turned the tide.”

Dave Prentis said as regards David Cameron’s remarks: “I wouldn’t call two million people taking strike action a damp squib. Cameron is sounding increasingly desperate in his attacks on public service workers. He has only to turn on the TV, or listen to the radio – or look out the window – to see the nurses, dinner ladies, paramedics, social workers, teaching assistants, lollipop ladies amongst others standing up for their pensions. And the thousands of picket lines, demonstrations, rallies and events are not a figment of our imagination. These people are angry public servants who the government has driven to the end of their tether.”

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “Today is the day when hundreds of thousands of public sector workers say ‘enough is enough’ and that the legacy of 1945 is well worth fighting for. Today will be remembered as the day when the trade union movement renewed and strengthened its compact with the British people and clearly stated it was fighting back on behalf of families and communities struggling with soaring household bills and record levels of unemployment. The action today has been a brilliant display of courage and concern by public servants who are being demonised by a government that has lost its moral compass.”

Alex MacKenzie, chair of CSP’s industrial relations committee, said: “Physiotherapy staff demonstrated their anger over these pensions proposals by turning out in huge numbers. No-one wanted to strike, but our members felt we had to take a stand. I’m also in no doubt that the turnout was bolstered by Tuesday’s announcement by George Osborne that the current pay freeze will be followed by a wage rise capped at just one per cent. Our members are being squeezed at both ends of their career and that is simply unfair. Physiotherapy staff are committed healthcare professionals who would rather be caring for patients than worrying about their pensions. The government must look at today’s major industrial action and recognise that the only way forward is meaningful talks with the aim of reaching a negotiated agreement on the future of the NHS pension scheme. The government must look at yeseterday’s major industrial action and recognise that the only way forward is meaningful talks with the aim of reaching a negotiated agreement on the future of the NHS pension scheme.”

Prospect general secretary Paul Noon said: “The turnout shows a massive degree of backing for the stand taken by the unions that there must be a fair deal on pensions leading to a negotiated settlement. On top of that, George Osborne’s action on Tuesday in slapping a 1% pay curb on public servants for another two years has upset people more than anything I have seen in 35 years as a trade unionist. People who have never been on strike before came out yesterday and said: the way public servants are being treated is simply wrong, unfair and unworthy of any government.”

ATL general secretary Mary Bousted said: “Let’s tell it straight to the government. It is no good for them to ignore us for eleven months and then, on the 2nd of November, for them to give us their final proposals for public sector pensions, and then expect us to negotiate a deal by the end of the year. It just isn’t possible and we will not be hounded or threatened by a government which repeatedly demonstrates its complete incompetence. While we are prepared to be reasonable, we will not be walked over.”

UCATT members throughout Britain based in councils, outsourced companies, the NHS, the Civil Service and the Prison Service have backed the one-day strike. The workers involved are primarily employed to undertake, repairs, maintenance and infrastructure work on public buildings and in council and social housing. UCATT members in councils, outsourced companies, the NHS, the Civil Service and the Prison Service who formed picket lines at council depots and other workplaces reported overwhelming support from fellow workers and the general public. The strikers were primarily employed to undertake, repairs, maintenance and infrastructure work on public buildings and in council and social housing.

Acting general secretary George Guy said: “Our members have been forced to take industrial action due to the government’s plans to cut their pensions. This action was not taken lightly. The overwhelmingly solid level of support demonstrates the anger felt by UCATT members.”

Non-striking unions send solidarity to those taking action

Unions that did not go out on strike on the day of action have given their support to those who did.

Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said: “We support our colleagues in the public sector in their fight for fair and decent pensions and to protect the services which our members rely on. Tuesday’s Autumn Statement exposed the complete failure of the Tory-led coalition’s economic policies, yet instead of changing course the Chancellor stubbornly prescribed more of the same and condemned the country to many more years of self-defeating cuts and austerity. The economy is flat-lining, unemployment is rising, incomes are shrinking and the result of all this pain turns out to be not less government borrowing but a staggering £158 billion more. The situation next year is predicted to be worse still and there is clearly little prospect of relief from the current crisis in demand and consumer confidence. Public sector jobs losses are now set to spiral to 710,000, sucking even more demand out of the economy and the pretence that front-line services will be unaffected is frankly laughable. The cuts previously announced are already set to take 16,000 police officers and 1,800 PCSOs off our streets.”

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stansistreet said: “Whenever NUJ members are on strike, we are always overwhelmed by the support and solidarity of our sister unions. We are proud to support the millions of colleagues taking action in the biggest public sector strike in history. This is a pensions robbery pure and simple – the cynical act of a government determined to make ordinary workers pick up the tab for an economic crisis of the bankers’ making. Many joint NUJ members, for example those who work as lecturers and press officers, are part of this battle and were on strike. NUJ chapels across the UK held special workplace meetings to show solidarity for workers on strike throughout the public sector and many more attended local picket lines and rallies to demonstrate their support. When our National Executive Council met last month, it reminded journalists of their responsibility to report on the dispute ethically. The NEC called on editors across the media to ensure that coverage of the strikes on November 30 is accurate and balanced.”

Members of the RCN also supported the strike, although they were not striking themselves, as did members of the FBU, who urged members to engage with the demonstrations being arranged up and down the country by trades councils, community groups and the regional TUCs, and were visible on marches and at rallies across the country.

BMA (not affiliated to TUC) supported the day of action through campaigning and lobbying activities. BMA Council has said a ballot of its members on industrial action remains a firm option for a later date if the government continues to refuse to engage in genuine negotiations on the future of the NHS scheme. The BMA will ballot members on industrial action if they do not accept the government's final offer on NHS pension reforms. The BMA was very active in supporting picket lines both in terms of sending representative to read support statements as well as doctors openly supporting the day of action.

BOS TU (British Orthoptic Society trade union) was not balloting members but supporting the day of action.

CWU was not involved in the industrial action but supported unions' actions locally.

HCSA (Hospital Consultants Specialists Association) did not ballot members but organised a number of local events and worked with local trade union branches to provide effective HCSA support on the day of protest.

NUJ was not involved in the industrial action but asked members to do all they could to support.

POA did not ballot but said that it was important that all POA members played an active part in demonstrations and regional rallies.

RCN (not affiliated to TUC) supported (but itself not taking industrial action) the action as an important opportunity to make their voices heard. If negotiations fail the RCN Council will move towards a ballot in the new year to authorise industrial action.

RMT balloted members in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in Portsmouth and on the Tyne Wear Metro and advised other branches and regional councils to cancel all non-essential meetings and asked all officers to support the industrial action.

Union ballot results

AEP 64% for strike action
ASPECT 75.1% for strike action
ATL (30 June ballot mandate still valid)
CSP 86% England Wales for strike action (89.1% Scotland)
FDA 81% for strike action
GMB 83.7% for strike action
NAHT 75.8% for strike action
NAPO 83.3% for strike action
NASUWT 82% for strike action
NUT (30 June ballot mandate still valid)
PCS (30 June ballot mandate still valid)
Prospect 75% for strike action
RMT (Royal Fleet Auxiliary) 60% for strike action
SCP 85.3% for strike action
SOR 86% for strike action
UCATT 83% for strike action
UCU (30 June ballot mandate still valid)
Unison 82% for strike action
Unite 75% for strike action

(TUC, Indymedia, UnionNews, SERTUC, Unison and other sources)

Article Index



Note on Two Outlooks on Pensions

A human-centred outlook on the front of pensions means to reject the proposals of the financial oligarchy and demand an increase in investments in social programmes to guarantee the rights of all to retire at a decent standard. Pensions are a legitimate claim on the added-value workers produce within the socialised economy in the present. Savings should not finance them; they should be budgeted as a government expenditure from revenue claimed in the here and now, revenue claimed by government corporation taxes on the major private and public enterprises operating in the country.

To guarantee retirement for all at an acceptable standard requires a continuous supply of social product from the socialised economy delivered in a spirit of social solidarity between active and retired workers. A block to this occurring is the egocentric anti-human outlook of the owners of capital that designates the human factor in the economy, the actual producers of goods and providers of services, as a "cost of production". This hateful view towards workers and the middle strata extends to their claims for retirement and pensions at a decent standard. The same egocentric view decries any corporate taxes necessary for social programmes and the general interests of society. The contempt by the government and official opposition alike towards the producers of goods and providers of services, as well as at those retirees who deserve thanks, respect and admiration, is embodied in their declarations that the “reforms” to public sector pensions are “long overdue” and that there is a necessity for change.

Change, yes – but to guarantee a decent standard of living in retirement, a legitimate claim on social product. In opposition to the obsolete capital-centred view, the human-centred outlook of the working class and middle strata leads them to embrace and respect society's older citizens in a spirit of social solidarity. This modern outlook regards a decent standard of living and security in retirement as a necessary and legitimate claim on the country's social product, which the society is duty-bound to provide. A modern outlook recognises that people are born to society and have rights by virtue of being human.

Article Index


Pensions To Be Plundered To Fund Capital-Centred Infrastructure Projects
Hands Off Pensions!

Chancellor George Osborne signed a memorandum of understanding on November 29 allowing two pension fund networks, the National Association of Pension Funds and the Pension Protection Fund, to loot British pension funds of up to £20bn to be put into infrastructure projects.

These two groups represent 1,200 pension funds and 12 million pension scheme members respectively. The government is also working with another group representing pension schemes and infrastructure fund managers, and further, with insurance groups to set up an Insurers’ Infrastructure Investment Forum.

A feature of the economic crisis has been the drying-up of safe places for the monopolies to invest both in Britain and abroad. International flows of capital have slowed down and gone into reverse as finance capitalists have turned away from making risky investments overseas. Capital-centred infrastructure projects have therefore arisen out of the demand by the monopolies that the state make itself available as a safe haven for their capital during the crisis.

By using pensions to fund these projects, the risk of making such investments is shifted onto the future recipients of the pensions, who will be exposed to all kinds of risks associated with large construction projects.

Hinting that these projects are to be backed by the state in such a way that the profits of the monopolies can be guaranteed, Business Secretary Vince Cable assured long-term investors that the government “will create an environment in which [a steady return] can happen”.

Far from the claim that they will provide jobs and improve infrastructure, these capital-centred infrastructure projects are diametrically opposed to human-centred projects that are aimed at overcoming the crisis by renewing the socialised economy in a direction that it is focused on the rights and needs of human beings. Instead, they are connected with the individual interests of private landed-property and the construction monopolies. These self-serving, private interests are both in competition with each other and with the general interests of the socialised economy and its renewal.

According to George Osborne, “we have got to weather the current economic storm and we have got to lay the foundations for a stronger economic future.” The “storm” was not some external act of god. It was created by big finance capital. How can the solution be to increase payments to the rich, out of pensions and from the state, in the hope that they will do things better this time round and not continue to pursue their self-serving aims to the further detriment of the socialised economy?

The use of the people’s pensions and direct state funding in this way should be condemned. Instead, human-centred projects aimed at renewal of the socialised economy, providing for the needs of the population, should be funded out of added value directly claimed at the point of production.

Article Index


Women and Pensions

Trades Union Congress, November 2011

This briefing sets out some of the key public, private and state pension issues that are of particular relevance to women.

Pensioner Poverty

Women are already at a disadvantage with regard to state pensions and are more likely to face pensioner poverty than men. Nearly two thirds of women pensioners rely on Pensions Credit.

Until 1993 many women were excluded from public service pension schemes because part-time employees did not have access to the scheme. Many women also have large gaps in their pensions due to different career patterns and time spent caring for children or other relatives.

Women are more likely to be low paid than men throughout their working lives. Not only are they less likely to be in an occupational scheme but there are less likely to save in a private pension scheme.

According to Rachel Reeves, the previous Shadow Pensions minister, “The average 56-year-old woman has just £9,100 of private pension savings compared to £52,800 for a man the same age.”

A report by Age UK and the Fawcett Society called One in Four found that:

One in four single women pensioners lives in poverty.

Twice as many women as men rely on means-tested benefits in retirement.

For every £1 a man receives from a pension, a woman receives 32p.

One in five women aged between 25 and 34 relies on their partner for a pension.

More than a quarter of women don't believe it's worth their while paying into a pension.

The State Pension Age

The state pension age for women was due to rise gradually from 60 to 65 by 2020. In 2011, the coalition government announced that it would rise more rapidly, reaching 65 by November 2018 and 66 by April 2020, bringing it in line with men. Under this proposal, by 2020 the state pension age would have been 66 for both women and men.

This was six years earlier than planned, which did not leave the hundreds of thousands of women affected with enough time to plan for their financial futures.

Following campaigns by Age UK and many trade unions, the coalition government agreed to cap the extra time anyone will have to wait for their state pension to 18 months, thus delaying the second rise in the pension age for men and women from April to October 2020.

Public Service pensions

As well as changes to state pensions, women face cuts to their work-based pensions.

For instance, public service pensions will be uprated according to the CPI measure of inflation rather than RPI, significantly reducing their value to members over time as CPI tends to be lower than RPI. Many private sector schemes are expected to follow suit.

The switch to CPI is a stealthy way of cutting pensions. The Independent Public Service Pensions Commission led by Lord Hutton said it cuts the value of public service pensions by 15%.

In the public sector the government has indicated their intention to save £2.8bn per year by 2014-5 by increasing employee contributions to public service pensions.

For many workers this will mean about a 50% increase in the amount they pay into their pension. This comes as public service workers have been subject to a pay freeze and are facing rising living costs.

This increase is in effect an extra tax on public service workers, as the money won't go into improving the schemes, but into the deficit they did nothing to cause.

The government is also looking to reform the public service pension schemes by increasing normal pension ages and changing the design of the schemes, in line with the recommendations of Lord Hutton's report.

Overall because women make up almost two-thirds (65 per cent) of the public sector workforce, and just under 40 per cent of women's jobs are in the public sector (compared to 15 per cent of men's), women will be the disproportionate losers from the changes the government is seeking to make to public service pensions.

Unison has said that more than 3.7 million women could be affected by plans to make them pay more, work longer and receive less pension.

No protection for the low paid part time workers

Although the government has indicated that there will be some protection for low paid workers – those earning less than £15,000 (full time equivalent) will not face contribution increases – this means that part time workers (who are predominantly women) stand to lose out.

A public service employee whose full time equivalent salary is greater than £15,000 but who works part time and has take home earnings less than £15,000 will still face an increase in their contributions.

For example, a part-time nurse who earns a FTE salary of £22,000 a year, but might take home half that sum a year, could see her pension contribution almost double.

The TUC's figures show that 806,000 people are caught out in this way – 12.5% of public service employees. And it is low-paid women who are overwhelmingly the ones affected, making up 90%, (732,000) of those caught in the trap.

Women will be disproportionately disadvantaged by this loophole as 84 per cent of part-time public sector workers are women.


Article Index


Top Directors’ Pension Pots Increase to £3.9million

Trades Union Congress, September 2011

Directors of the UK's top companies have amassed pension pots worth an average of £3.9 million, according to the TUC's ninth annual PensionsWatch survey. PensionsWatch, which analyses the pension arrangements of 362 directors from the FTSE 100 companies, shows that the average transfer value (pension pot) for a director's defined benefit (DB) pension is £3.91 million – providing an annual pension of £224,121. The biggest pension pot in this year's survey is worth £21.5 million.

PensionsWatch shows that the average director's pension is 23 times the average occupational pension (£9,568 according to government figures), and 34 times bigger than the average public sector pension (£6,497 according to the National Audit Office). The survey shows that despite the move away from DB pensions for most workers, the majority of companies (58 per cent) still provide these schemes to at least some of their directors. For the first time however, a minority of directors (145) are in DB schemes.

PensionsWatch shows that directors are also able to build up their pension pots far quicker than other staff. The most common accrual rate – the proportion of pay that a person receives as pension for each year they have been in the scheme – is 1/30th for directors. The most typical accrual rates for ordinary scheme members are 1/60th to 1/80th. As more directors move to defined contribution (DC) schemes, PensionsWatch finds that the average company contribution has increased by £26,000 on last year to reach £161,149. For executives with the highest contribution in the company the average amount paid in is £211,859.

The most common Normal Retirement Age (NRA) is 60, with three times as many directors able to retire at 60 than 65. In contrast, the most common NRA for ordinary scheme members is 65, and this is expected to rise further for most public and private sector workers. Many directors receive cash payments instead of participating in company pension schemes. The average cash payment was £138,436, an increase of £17,530 on last year. The biggest cash payment was £620,700.

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