The pensions problems facing many of the developed world are well documented and are largely caused by changing demographics, including rising life expectancy, more people in education, retiring earlier and the ‘baby boomers’ nearing or entering retirement. All of this has contributed to unsustainable pension systems and hence a need for reform. The latest review is by Lord Hutton and looks at public-sector pensions. It makes a number of recommendations about reform. The main thing to come out of the report is that public-sector workers will have to pay larger contributions. work for longer and may receive less in their pension.
Many public-sector pensions have been based on a final salary scheme, which gives workers an extremely generous pension on retirement. The proposal is to change these to career average pensions, which will reduce the generosity for some and hence play a role in reducing the pension deficit. He suggests that public-sector retirement age should be increased in line with the state pension age, which will simultaneously increase the number of workers and hence output, but also reduce the number of years spent in retirement and hence reduce pension payments.
The government will now consider the recommendations laid out in the Hutton Review, but will need to bear in mind potential reactions by the unions, which have already hinted at strike action if the proposals go ahead. As the TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, said:
‘Public-sector workers are already suffering a wage freeze, job losses and high inflation. They are now desperately worried that they will no longer be able to afford their pension contributions, and will have to opt out.’
With such concern about these proposals, and yet an unarguable case for pension reform, this is certainly an area where we will undoubtedly see significant media coverage.
Hutton reveals his pension plan – and is blasted by unions Guardian, Polly Curtis (10/3/11)
Pensions anger from unions following Hutton review (including video) BBC News (10/3/11)
High-wire act fails to balance public and private Financial Times, Nicholas Timmins (10/3/11)
A fairer pension deal that is long overdue Telegraph (10/3/11)
Hutton: This changes the basis on which I accepted the job, says teacher Guardian, Jessica Shepherd and Jill Insley (10/3/11)
No winners over public sector pensions if ministers or unions rush to battle Guardian, Polly Toynbee (10/3/11)
Career-average pensions: How do they work? BBC News, Ian Pollock (10/3/11)
Hutton pensions review: Q&A Telegraph, Harry Wallop (10/3/11)
Tackling the intractable The Economist (10/3/11)
Trade unions: pension reforms are unfair and misguided Guardian, James Meikle (10/3/11)
Independent Public Service Pensions Commission: Final Report Pensions Commission, Lord Hutton, HM Treasury, March 2010
Independent Public Service Pensions Commission: Interim Report Pensions Commission, Lord Hutton October 2010
- Identify the main causes of the pensions problem. Explain how each issue has added to the pensions deficit.
- To what extent is it equitable that public sector workers should pay more in contributions and retire at the same age as the state pension age?
- Who will benefit the most from a change from final-salary to career average schemes?
- How might higher contributions affect the incentive to work? What could we see happen to labour supply? Think about both income and substitution effects.
- What are the union’s main arguments against the proposals? To what extent Is striking likely to solve the problem?
The News is something that we probably take for granted. For many, it’s the first thing they switch on in the morning, or it’s something you listen to while you drive to work or before you go to bed. But, tomorrow and Saturday (5 and 6 Nov) could be a different story, as the BBC faces a 48-hour strike over pensions, which has been organised by the National Union of Journalists. Star presenters, including Fiona Bruce, are expected to participate in the walkout, which will lead to News Bulletins being hit, Newsnight facing disruption and certain radio programmes being cancelled. The Director General of the BBC made a last minute plea to those participating in the walk-out, as core news services across both TV and radio will suffer, as there simply aren’t sufficient resources to provide the necessary cover.
The strike follows significant changes to the BBC’s final salary pension scheme, in response to a growing pension deficit. The BBC plans to reduce the £1.5bn pension deficit by capping increases in pensionable pay at 1% from next April. Although some negotiations have already taken place, the NUJ claims that the BBC ‘has no appetite for negotiation’. After negotiations, employee contributions were reduced from 7% to 6% and a career average pension scheme would be introduced to replace the final salary pension scheme, which is very lucrative for the worker, but hugely expensive for the firm. Despite these changes, members of the NUJ still believe the proposals are fundamentally ‘unfair’.
This strike is unlikely to be the only disruption faced by the public, as further action is expected to occur throughout the rest of November and there are also concerns that Christmas broadcasts may face interruption. Those NUJ members taking part in the walk-out are expected to experience a significant loss in earnings, without there being any noticeable benefit in the long term. Although some will support the strike action, many will be unimpressed. As the Director General wrote in an email to all BBC staff:
“The public – many of whom are facing difficult employment and economic pressures – will find it very hard to understand why the BBC’s service to them should be impaired in this way”.
- What is the difference between a final salary pension scheme and a career average pension scheme? Which is more beneficial for a) the recipient of the pension and b) the pension provider?
- Is anyone likely to benefit from this 48-hour strike? (Think about who the BBC’s competitors are.)
- The BBC article says that ‘payments will increase automatically each year in line with inflation’. What does this mean? Are increases in payments that are indexed to inflation better than payments being indexed to earnings? Explain your answer.
- Apart from striking against changes to pensions, what are some of the other typical reasons for strike action?
- How effective are strikes likely to be? What are the key determinants of the success or failure of them?
What is the future of the Royal Mail? One thing for certain is that it needs an injection of money, which has led the government to consider either privatisation of the Royal Mail or selling it. Over the past years, we have seen continued strikes by the postal service in response to proposed changes in working practices. Mr. Cable commented that:
‘Royal Mail is facing a combination of potentially lethal challenges – falling mail volumes, low investment, not enough efficiency and a dire pension position.’
However, there are concerns that the privatisation or sale of the Royal Mail could lead to higher prices, job losses and further pension problems. The transfer of the Royal Mail to the highest bidder could shift the pension deficit, currently standing at £13.3 billion, to the taxpayer, potentially costing each taxpayer £400. The choice for the public is stark: either lose the right to send a letter anywhere in the UK for the same price or take on postal workers’ pensions.
Expecting massive opposition from the Communication Workers Union (CWU), Ministers are looking to pursue an arrangement similar to that of John Lewis, whereby staff are given shares in the company. This will give the staff an incentive to perform well to improve the performance of the company and hence increase their future dividend. Read the following articles and then try answering the questions that follow.
Royal Mail is to be privatised, government confirms BBC News (10/9/10)
Royal Mail sell-off is confirmed BBC News, Hugh Pym (10/9/10)
Royal Mail privatisation backed Press Association (10/7/10)
Royal Mail sale could cost £400 per home as taxpayers set to fund £13.3 billion pension deficit Mail Online, James Chapman (10/9/10)
Royal Mail pension plan challenged by regulator BBC News, Ian Pollock (30/7/10)
Ministers consider offering 20 per cent of shares in Royal Mail to staff Telegraph, Christopher Hope (10/9/10)
Cable to privatise ‘inefficient’ Royal Mail Independent, Cahal Milmo and Alistair Dawber (11/9/10)
Royal Mail revolution needed, say bankers Telegraph, Louise Armitstead (10/9/10)
- What are the problems that the Royal Mail is facing? Why have they occurred?
- What are the arguments for and against privatisation of the Royal Mail?
- How might privatisation lead to job losses and higher prices?
- What type of business arrangement does John Lewis have? Explain why this may improve overall performance of the company?
- If the pension deficit is passed on to the government, why will it cost the taxpayer? Is such an arrangement (a) efficient (b) equitable? Explain your answer.