There is an honest argument to accept the proposals for the future of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS 2014) - though I don't agree with it. The honest argument is that, whilst we know it's not a good deal and represents a cheapening of our pensions, it's not nearly as bad as it might have been and represents the best we can get in return for a single day of strike action.
If you don't believe we can mobilise our members for more strike action then a coherent case can be made for swallowing hard and accepting a worse pension scheme (which would still be better than pensions otherwise available). I don't agree with this argument but it's honest and coherent and, if expressed openly, reflects the views of many national officials.
For some reason though, those who really hold the view outlined above feel driven to pretend that LGPS 2014 is a wonderful deal - an improvement even upon LGPS 2008.
This silly argument demeans those who make it. No wonder the blogger at "UNISON Active" wants to remain anonymous!
Let's consider their "key facts";
• 90% of members will pay the same or less contributions as now (for which we will receive reduced benefits payable for most members at a later date)
• Most part-time workers and those with actual pensionable earnings between £15,801 and £21,000 will pay less in LGPS 2014 and (in many cases get less)
• Over 55% of local government workers work part-time (true)
• Only those earning over £43,001 will pay more (true)
• They make up just 4% of LGPS members (true)
• 95.6% members earn less than £43,000 - the point at which contributions increase (That's the same point made over two bullet points)
• The LGPS 2014 will for many members deliver a better pension than LGPS 2008, especially for those with less than 20 – 25 years of membership (This does not take account of the negative impact of the increased retirement age – taking that into account it isn't true – and our young members will need much more than 25 years service in pension schemes to avoid poverty in old age!)
• But the average length of membership in the scheme is just 7 years, so most members will do better in LGPS 2014 (This is misleading. In the current scheme part time workers' membership is pro rata, so someone working half time for 14 years has 7 years membership, but that won't be how membership is calculated in future).
• From 1 April 2014 the Normal Pension Age (NPA) will be at least 65 and will then increase in line with the State Pension Age – which is set to rise to 68 between 2044 and 2046. All pensionable service before 1 April 2014 will retain a Normal Pension Age of 65 (The Government have already made clear that they will increase the State Pension Age beyond 68 in future, and the Normal Pension Age in our scheme will be linked to that ever-increasing age. When UNISON branches tried to get UNISON to support the "68 is too late" campaign at Conference it was ruled out of order!)
• The existing Rule of 85 protections will remain. Members aged 55 or over at 1 April 2012 will be protected by an underpin, which ensures that those people will be no worse off as a result of these changes. Under the proposals there are no plans to remove the pension protection for those made redundant from age 55 (The Rule of 85 protections only apply to those protected last time we were persuaded to accept reductions in the value of our pension scheme).
• Those who have to work longer will get a bigger pension because they will be paying contributions – and benefitting from employer contributions for longer (Those who are working longer will also pay more contributions because they are paying for more years - their pension won't necessarily be bigger)
• Because all earnings will be pensionable – including non-contractual overtime and additional hours for part-time workers – members will have bigger pensions than now (Because all earnings will be pensionable, pension contributions will be paid on more earnings than now)
• Most UNISON members not in the LGPS give cost and low pay as the reason. The "50/50 option" will help them to join (or encourage existing members to further reduce the provision they are making for their old age?)
What about some of the "key facts" that are missing from LGPS PoP 21 and by extension from the work of the mystery blogger at UNISON Active;
• If we accept LGPS 2014 we are accepting the uprating of pensions in payment after retirement by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rather than the Retail Price Index (RPI) – costing us 15% of the lifetime value of our pensions.
• If we accept LGPS 2014 (and the increase in the normal retirement age) this means that those who exercise their right to retire at 65 will lose up to 15% of the value of their post-2014 pensionable service.
• If we accept LGPS 2014 we are accepting a significant detrimental change in "survivor benefits" (pensions paid to widows, widowers and dependents) as 1/160th accrual in a career average scheme is considerably worse than in a final salary scheme.
• The Local Government Pension Scheme is financially secure as it is, with billions more paid in than paid out every year.
• Our Local Government employers did not seek changes to the Local Government Pension Scheme.
• If we accept LGPS 2014 we are accepting a scheme which is worse on every measure (contributions, accrual and revaluation rates) than the scheme which has been rejected by civil servants.
Information published by the national union has on several occasions been misleading – even where our National Local Government Conference told them to be honest and straightforward. This is contrary to UNISON Rules.
UNISON is rightly proud to have defended a good final salary pension scheme for UNISON staff (including our key national negotiators). We should perhaps do the same for UNISON members.
If this really was a good deal, national officials wouldn't have to market it with half-truths and misleading comments.
If the officials promoting the LGPS 2014 had paid attention to those sections of our General Secretary's keynote speech at Conference in which he told us that leadership was about honesty then they could have avoided misrepresentation.
Then we could have the real debate, around the real question - can we deliver the further action necessary to defeat the Government's attack on our pensions?
This is the discussion that isn't being had.
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