Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/440/5214
What we think
Pensions 'crisis' - working class will pay the price
TONY BLAIR, we were told last week, wants to see major reform of Britain's decrepit pensions' system as his 'legacy'. Given the state of some of his previously desired 'legacies' - Iraq, the NHS, education, reform of public services to name a few - then the majority of people preparing to claim their pension from 2015 onwards will fear the worst.
Last week's news that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had come to a 'deal' on pensions - sounding like an agreement between two warring countries (not far from the truth) - will provoke indignation amongst millions.
Here are two men who will have a guaranteed pension pot of millions deciding how best to dole out in future the miniscule state spending allocated to pensions. Britain spends far less on pension provision than other EU countries.
This was not a debate about how to use the wealth of obscene profits of the big multinationals like Tesco and BP to improve the lot of the vast majority of pensioners in Britain living below the official poverty line. Nearly three million pensioners now claim pension credit.
Instead it was a discussion on how best to avoid a future social revolt against the increasing use of means testing for pensioners, something increasingly encroaching on the middle-class voters Labour believes it wins elections through.
The Blair and Brown argument about the implementation of the Turner Report on pensions was about how to save a future Brown government money and was a dispute over relatively small sums of money. There is no plan to increase the real amount of Gross Domestic Product spent on pensions over the decades ahead.
It means that the real pensions crisis that already exists for millions of working-class pensioners will not be addressed.
At present, this crisis means four out of ten pensioners live on less than £10,000 a year. More than 1.6 million pensioners have returned to work to supplement their meagre pensions. Millions of pensioners cut back on the essentials of heating and electricity just to live. A report in November 2005 revealed that over two million women are not entitled to a state pension nor do they have minimum entitlements.
THE BLAIR/Brown 'consensus' over implementing the Turner report has produced agreement that it will be the working class who pay the cost of pension reform.
To pay for claimed relatively minor 'improvements', working-class people will have to work up to three years longer (possibly more); see the restoration of the state pension's link to earnings occur five years later than Turner suggests and the increase from 2020 of the retirement age for women to 65.
The tax breaks and state subsidies that go to those high earners with gold-plated pension plans are likely to continue. And the government seems set to give subsidies to employers who say they cannot afford the pension contributions they are supposed to make under Turner's proposed scheme.
The TUC and some of its affiliated unions have initially welcomed the Turner report, whilst making minor criticisms about the increase in retirement age. However, there are signs from a number of unions that they could correctly reject the Turner Report's recommendations.
The GMB has announced it will oppose an increase in the state retirement age and at the CWU conference this coming week a number of motions rejecting the Turner Report are on the agenda.
At the same time the scheme negotiations for new entrants in the public sector are coming to a conclusion. But, the Tory Party has promised to rip up these agreements if elected at the next general election. This is a warning to all workers that attacks on their pensions - state and occupational - will be ever present under Labour or Tory governments.
Last year's united stand forced the government to back down in raising the retirement age for millions of public-sector workers.
That unity in action needs to be developed into a struggle on pensions generally, including the TUC calling a national demonstration opposing the raising of the state retirement age, and building a mass movement that solves the 'pension crisis' to the lasting benefit of the millions of working-class people now facing a poverty-stricken old age.
In The Socialist 18 May 2006:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Campaign for a New Workers Party
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news and analysis