[Update at end of post]
As both Government and trade unions blame one another for the lack of any meeting of minds, hundreds of thousands of public sector workers have gone on strike. This includes teachers and lecturers, workers at the UK Border Agency, those at JobCentres, and others within the civil service. The bone of contention is pensions.That much is not disputed. But the cost and amount of pension provision and entitlement is generating a considerable amount of less than well tempered debate, much of which is coming out of the right leaning part of the Fourth Estate, and is uniformly hostile. Sadly for those generating the knocking copy, though, facts do not appear to back them up.
In an exchange which has been given in full by the Guardian, cabinet office minister Francis Maude was interviewed by the terrier-like Even Davis on the Today programme, and did not put a convincing argument for his assertion that public sector pensions were “unaffordable”. Given that the Hutton Report, which he mentioned several times (.pdf), shows them likely to cost less as a share of GDP in 2060 than in 2000, this is understandable.
But this has not deterred the usual suspects from wading in with characteristic anti-union heavy handedness, although the weapon of choice varies from one paper to another. At the Daily Mail, that weapon is envy. Readers are told “Workers in private industry would need to put aside more than a third of their take home pay to match the gold plated pensions enjoyed by public sector workers”.
The figures to back this up apparently come from Hargreaves Lansdown, although for some reason the company website does not feature them. The article maintains the envy angle by also telling that the “vast majority” in the private sector have (but apparently do not “enjoy”) “much smaller and riskier pensions”. It is then underscored that public sector deals are “simply unaffordable” and a “huge burden”.But over at the Super Soaraway Currant Bun, Rupe’s Troops have no truck with namby-pamby figures. Here there is straightforward character assassination, as readers learn that “Two hate-filled women leading the teachers’ strike today are left-wing extremists who put their twisted politics ahead of kids’ education”. The name of former NUM head Arthur Scargill is invoked. Socialism is mentioned. A lot.
The Sun piece manages not to address the issue that has precipitated the dispute: rather, this is all about demonising trade unions and their leaders (Bob Crow also gets a kicking). As today’s Independent points out, teachers can expect a pension of just over £10,000 after putting in 25 years’ service. Many in the NHS will get far less.There is a grown up debate needed here. It’s a pity much of the press isn’t up to it.