Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Pensions - we are all in this together?

The National Association of Pension Funds say that we are in the end game for final salary pensions in the private sector (http://m.guardian.co.uk/money/2011/mar/09/private-sector-final-salary-pensions-closing?cat=money&type=article) the day before Lord Hutton is expected to declare "game over" in the public sector.

Half a century ago Titmuss (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Titmuss) described the threefold "social division of welfare" as having the following elements;

"1. social welfare (the social services);
2. fiscal welfare (welfare distributed through the tax system); and
3. occupational welfare (welfare distributed by industry as part of employment)"

The purpose of this classification at the time was to broaden the field of enquiry of students of social policy and administration so that they saw beyond the Welfare State, simply conceived as state welfare, and studied the interaction between these different redistributive mechanisms.

Now that we face a Government which is determined to roll back the gains which Titmuss studied it is worth remembering this model in order to understand the interaction between these elements of the social division of welfare as redistribution goes into reverse.

Pensions from the employer - whether in the private or public sector - are elements of what Titmuss called "occupational welfare" and as these are rolled back (or abandoned in despair as workers opt out) what remains are the state pensions ("social welfare").

In the immediate term the important question about pensions is how quickly we can deliver widespread national strike action to defeat the Tory Government.

In the longer term we need to imagine an alternative model of pension provision (going beyond arguments about how many funds the LGPS is split into or who can vote about where funded schemes invest, as important as these questions are).

Even at its best the social democratic postwar settlement delivered (gendered) inequality and stratification - in part because of the social division of welfare. We need something more to fight for than the status quo even as we fight to defend what we have.

Should we fight for a basic income which would provide a living pension for all - or does that let employers off the hook of providing decent occupational pensions? Should we require a minimum standard of defined benefit provision as a statutory minimum (like the minimum wage) or would that floor become a ceiling too? Should we demand the state provides pensions for all on a "pay as you go" basis and require employers - and employees - to contribute (a bit like SERPS)? Or should we campaign to open up admitted body status in the LGPS to provide a public sector pension option for private sector workers?

We had better not wait for Her Majesty's Opposition to work out a policy or we'll be here forever. Trade unionists need to take a lead.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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