The pensions crisis is one area of social policy that has been the focus of attention for some years. With an ageing population, more people entering higher education and a rather substantial deficit facing the government, pension reform has been high on the agenda and not just in the UK.
A number of factors have contributed towards the so-called pensions crisis: rising life expectancy; the ‘baby-boomers’ retiring; more people staying in education for longer; an ageing population. All of these have led to a dependency ratio that is becoming worse – fewer workers to support every pensioner. Over the past few years, strikes have taken place in protest to government pension plans, especially for public sector workers, who see the proposals as making them worse off once they retire. Doctors are the latest group to strike in protest over having to work longer before retiring and having to pay higher national insurance contributions.
So, are the doctors justified in their protests? They are currently on a final-salary pension scheme, which is a very generous scheme, although it is being phased out and replaced with a career average scheme, which will have big implications for doctors’ pensions. Furthermore, there was an overhaul of their pensions in 2008, thus the criticism that further changes are now being made to make them even worse off. Doctors do pay higher national insurance contributions than other occupations, such as teachers and they will naturally receive a higher pension than other NHS workers, such as nurses simply because they earn more. However, this does have big implications for their future.
Inequality is a big issue across the UK and this doesn’t only refer to income. Those earning higher salaries are more likely to live longer than the average worker. So, we see life expectancy inequality as well. The consequence of this is that once an individual retires at say 60, if your life expectancy is 85, then you have 25 years to live in retirement receiving whatever pension you have accumulated throughout your working life. If, however, your life expectancy is only 75, perhaps because of your background, your occupation, your health, then you will only spend 15 years in retirement. The person that lives longer therefore receives significantly more in pension payments and if this differing life expectancy is related to your occupation and thus your salary, then inequality of income clearly has some very wide implications for pension schemes and rates of contribution.
There are, of course, wider effects of any industrial action by doctors. Whilst some may agree with their view that this further pension reform is unfair, if any strike action does take place there will be wider economic effects. Those in need of treatment may have to delay it and if that means more people taking sick days, then the economic cost to the economy could be significant. The following articles consider the latest controversy in public-sector pensions.
Independent Public Service Pensions Commission Final Report HM Treasury, Pensions Commission March 2011
Doctors’ strike: how the cost of NHS pensions soared Telegraph, Matthew Holehouset (21/6/12)
Are doctors’ pensions too generous Guardian, Hillary Osborne and Jill Insley (21/6/12)
Lansley: ‘Doctors’ pension scheme is generous’ BBC News (21/6/12)
Doctors get a nasty taste of Gordon Brown’s pension medicine Telegraph, Philip Johnston (18/6/12)
Doctors wrong on pensions, says Hutton Financial Times, Sarah Neville and Norma Cohen (19/6/12)
BMA ‘Inherent unfairness’ in doctor pensions BBC Radio 4 Today (21/6/12)
Reluctant move against intransigent government Scotsman, Dr Brian Keighley (21/6/12)
Will you be affected by the doctors’ strikes? BBC News (15/6/12)
- Explain the main factors that are contributing towards the so-called pensions crisis. In each case, is it a demand-side or supply-side issue?
- What are the main proposals to tackling the pensions crisis (not just for Doctors)?
- What is the difference between a career average and a final salary pension scheme? Which is better for (a) those on a higher salary at the end of their career and (b) those who are on a relatively lower salary at the end of their career? Make sure you explain your thinking!!
- What are the arguments both for and against this new round of pension reforms for doctors? Do you think the doctors are justified in taking strike action?
- What are the wider implications of industrial action? Think about the effect on individuals and on the economic performance of the wider economy.
- 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?
- How might higher contributions affect the incentive to work? What could we see happen to labour supply? Think about both income and substitution effects.
With economic growth in the UK stalling and growing alarm about the state of the world economy, the Bank of England has announced a second round of quantitative easing (QE2). This will involve the Bank buying an extra £75 billion of government bonds (gilts) in the market over the following four months. This is over and above the nearly £200 billion of assets, mainly gilts, purchased in the first round of quantitative easing in 2009/10. The purchase will release extra (narrow) money into the economy. Hopefully, this will then allow more credit to be created and the money multiplier to come into play, thereby increasing broad money by a multiple of the £75 billion.
In his letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer seeking permission for QE2, the Governor stated:
In the United Kingdom, the path of output has been affected by a number of temporary factors, but the available indicators suggest that the underlying rate of growth has also moderated. The squeeze on households’ real incomes and the fiscal consolidation are likely to continue to weigh on domestic spending, while the strains in bank funding markets may also inhibit the availability of credit to consumers and businesses. While the stimulatory monetary stance and the present level of sterling should help to support demand, the weaker outlook for, and the increased downside risks to, output growth mean that the margin of slack in the economy is likely to be greater and more persistent than previously expected.
… The deterioration in the outlook has made it more likely that inflation will undershoot the 2% target in the medium term. In the light of that shift in the balance of risks, and in order to keep inflation on track to meet the target over the medium term, the Committee judged that it was necessary to inject further monetary stimulus into the economy.
But will increasing the money supply lead to increased aggregate demand, or will the money simply sit in banks, thereby increasing their liquidity ratio, but not resulting in any significant increase in spending? In other words, in the equation MV = PY, will the rise in M simply result in a fall in V with little effect on PY? And even if it does lead to a rise in PY, will it be real national income (Y) that rises, or will the rise in MV simply be absorbed in higher prices (P)?
According to a recent article published in the Bank of England’s Quarterly Bulletin, The United Kingdom’s quantitative easing policy: design, operation and impact, the £200 billion of asset purchases under QE1 led to a rise in real GDP of about 2%. If QE2 has the same proportionate effect, real GDP could be expected to rise by about 0.75%. But some commentators argue that things are different this time and that the effect could be much smaller. The following articles examine what is likely to happen. They also look at one of the side-effects of the policy – the reduction in the value of pensions as the policy drives down long-term gilt yields and long-term interest rates generally.
Bank of England launches second round of QE Interactive Investor, Sarah Modlock (6/10/11)
Britain in grip of worst ever financial crisis, Bank of England governor fears Guardian, Larry Elliott and Katie Allen (6/10/11)
Interview with a Governor BBC News, Stephanie Flanders interviews Mervyn King (6/10/11)
The meaning of QE2 BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (6/10/11)
Bank of England’s MPC united over quantitative easing BBC News (19/10/11)
Bank of England’s QE2 may reach £500bn, economists warn The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (6/10/11)
‘Shock and awe’ may be QE’s biggest asset The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (6/10/11)
Quantitative easing by the Bank of England: printing more money won’t work this time The Telegraph, Andrew Lilico (6/10/11)
BOE launches QE2 with 75 billion pound boost Reuters, various commentators (6/10/11)
Shock and awe from Bank of England Financial Times, Chris Giles (6/10/11)
More QE: Full reaction Guardian, various commentators (6/10/11)
Quantitative easing warning over pension schemes Guardian, Jill Insley (6/10/11)
Pension schemes warn of QE2 Titanic disaster Mindful money (6/10/11)
Calm down Mervyn – this so-called global recession is really not that bad Independent, Hamish McRae (9/10/11)
Bank of England publications
Asset Purchase Facility: Gilt Purchases Bank of England Market Notice (6/10/11)
Governor’s ITN interview (6/10/11)
Bank of England Maintains Bank Rate at 0.5% and Increases Size of Asset Purchase Programme by £75 billion to £275 billion Bank of England News Release (6/10/11)
Quantitative Easing – How it Works
Governor’s letter to the Chancellor (6/10/11)
Chancellor’s reply to the Governor (6/10/11)
Minutes of the Monetary Policy Committee meeting, 5 and 6 October 2011 (19/10/11)
Quarterly Bulletin (2011, Q3)
- Explain how quantitative easing works.
- What is likely to determine its effectiveness in stimulating the economy?
- Why does the Bank of England prefer to inject new money into the economy by purchasing gilts rather than by some other means that might directly help small business?
- Explain how QE2 is likely to affect pensions.
- What will determine whether QE2 will be inflationary?
- Why is the perception of the likely effectiveness of QE2 one of the key determinants of its actual effectiveness?
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?
This week, we have seen some major potential changes in the UK’s welfare state. One key change involves child benefit. (see Who won’t benefit from child benefit?) However, a more recent development stems from a problem that has built up over a number of years and is not just peculiar to the UK: Pensions.
As technology advances and medical procedures improve, there has been a general increase in life expectancy for both men and women across the world. People are living for longer and longer and hence pensioners can be in retirement for over 30 years. This is over double the retirement time we used to see decades ago. Therefore, pensioners are eligible to receive their state pension or their private pension for much longer and hence the cost is becoming unsustainable.
Lord Hutton has led a review into public sector pension schemes and has concluded that public sector workers should be paying higher contributions. Lord Hutton has said that employees should be working for longer and hence retiring later. This would increase their contributions throughout their lives and also reduce the time period over which they receive a pension, hence cutting costs. There was also a recommendation that ‘final-salary pension schemes should be scrapped and changed to so-called ‘career-average’ schemes. The final-salary scheme benefits high earners and not those who make gradual progression up the career ladder. This possible change should certainly reduce the pension you are eligible to receive and hence should positively affect the sustainability of pension provision in the UK.
However, public sector workers who may face higher contributions and have already, in some cases, faced pay cuts or pay freezes, are unsurprisingly upset. They argue that accepting work in the public sector means accepting a lower wage than they could achieve in the private sector. The compensation, they argue, is the reward of a higher pension, which could be about to change. However, the independent review has found that the contributions made by the public sector do not reflect the true cost of the benefit they receive in their pension. This is likely to be a contentious issue for some time to come. Below are some articles considering this, but keep a look out for further developments.
Public sector pensions report explained BBC News (7/10/10)
Public sector pensions review: Q&A Telegraph (9/10/10)
Pensions reforms to focus on high earners Independent, Simon Read (9/10/10)
Why Lord Hutton could make public pensions bills bigger … not smaller Financial News, Mark Cobley and William Hutchings (8/10/10)
Lord Hutton: I busted the myth that public sector pensions are gold-plated Telegraph, Lord Hutton (8/10/10)
Key points of UK public sector pension review Reuters (8/10/10)
Public pensions review recommends higher contributions BBC News (7/10/10)
Public sector workers paying ‘less tax’ due to generous pension rules Telegraph, Myra Butterworth (8/10/10)
Asda closes final salary pension scheme Telegraph, Jamie Dunkley (9/10/10)
Hutton report: he’s no friend of gold-plated pensioners Guardian, Patrick Collinson (9/10/10)
Asda to close final salary pension scheme BBC News (8/10/10)
Lord Hutton: what the pension revolution means for public servants Telegraph, Emma Simon (8/10/10)
Independent Public Service Pensions Commission: Interim Report Pensions Commission, Lord Hutton October 2010
- What is the purpose of a pension? Think about the idea of redistribution.
- Why should average-career pension schemes be less costly than final-salary pension schemes? Which is the most equitable arrangement?
- What are the key problems that have led to the pensions problem in the UK?
- What are the main recommendations of the independent pension review?
- How is opportunity cost relevant to problem of pensions provision?
- Is it fair that public sector workers should pay higher contributions towards their pensions?
- The BBC News article, Public sector review recommends higher contributions states that: “The recent decision to uprate pensions in line with the consumer prices index (CPI) rather than the retail prices index (RPI) has shaved 15% from the cost of the schemes.” Explain why this is the case?
Many industries are struggling in the current climate and, in particular, car sales have been at an all time low. General Motors was the biggest car company in the world, but recently we have seen them becoming the biggest industrial bankruptcy, which will have consequences for many car manufacturers around the world. UK car sales were 25% lower in May 2009 than at the same time last year and Chrysler will sell most of their assets to Fiat when they form a strategic alliance in a bid to help them exit bankruptcy protection.
The troubles of the carmakers have passed up the production chain to automotive suppliers, component manufacturers and engineering firms, and down the chain to the dealerships at a time when consumer confidence has taken a knock. The following articles look at some of the recent developments in the car industry and consider their likely economic impact.
UK new car sales 25% lower in May BBC News (4/6/09)
Creditors cry foul at Chrysler precedent The Wall Street Journal, Ashby Jones, Mike Spector (13/6/09)
The decline and fall of General Motors The Economist (4/6/09)
GM pensioner’s fears for future BBC News (1/6/09)
Opel staff face wait for job news BBC News (2/6/09)
From biggest car maker to biggest bankruptcy BBC News (1/6/09)
GM sales executive lays out company’s direction Chicago Tribune, Bill Vidonic (14/6/09)
Chrysler and Fiat complete deal BBC News (10/6/09)
Fiat gambles on Chrysler turnaround Telegraph, Roland Gribben (1/6/09)
Obama taskforce faces Congress over car industry rescue Times Online, Christine Seib (10/6/09)
Has pledge of assistance revved up the car industry? EDP24, Paul Hill (10/6/09)
- What is a strategic alliance and how should it help Chrysler?
- What are some of the methods that governments have used to help stimulate the car industry? Consider their advantages and disadvantages.
- Think about the consequences beyond the car industry of the decline of General Motors. Who is likely to suffer? Will there be any winners?
- General Motors was established in 1908. How were they able to expand so quickly and what do you think are the main reasons for their current decline?
- The article in The Economist suggests that, despite the current problems in the car industry and the global recession, selling cars will never really be a problem. What do you think are the reasons for this?