UNISON members have voted massively in favour of industrial action over pensions, but the day of action on 30th November is not just about our pensions, but about fair pensions for all. We live in a country, which pays the lowest state pension in Europe - our pensioners live well below the poverty line. The majority of the UK population don't even have a decent occupational pension scheme, as many of the good private sector schemes have been closed down so that the companies involved can make even greater profits for their shareholders and bonuses for those at the top. Our day of action is for all those workers who have not been given the opportunity of a decent pension scheme, and our belief that it should be every worker's right to have a comfortable retirement after a working lifetime of contributing to society.
This government's proposals for public sector schemes are an attack on all working people, not just those in the public sector, because if public sector schemes are reduced to the level of what remains of private sector schemes, then all of us will be poorer. But their proposals are also a false economy. If public sector workers can no longer afford to contribute to pension schemes, they will withdraw and then be more reliant on state benefits in their retirement. We have record levels of youth unemployment in the UK and yet the government's answer is to make people work longer, and to provide them with such poor pensions that even in so-called retirement they are forced to continue working in order to pay the bills. The government have already made many existing pensioners poorer by switching the yearly cost of living increase from the Retail Price Index to the Consumer Price Index – this applies not only to public sector pensions, but to some private pension schemes and to the state pension.
The government are saying that their proposals will improve public sector pensions – why then is it the case that none of the extra contributions will go into our pension pots? - but will be used by the government to pay off the deficit – a deficit caused by the greed of the bankers, which we as tax payers have been forced to pay for. Public sector workers have had their pay frozen for the last 2 years – given the rate of inflation I estimate this pay freeze has amounted to a 6% pay cut. The government’s pension proposals amount to another 3% pay cut for public sector workers. Does anyone really think that any working person in this country can keep on taking pay cut after pay cut, while the bankers continue to pay their bonuses? I find it very difficult to understand why we as a society seem to find it acceptable that some people struggle to support their families with minimum wage jobs, while those at the top earn 300 times as much. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have also expressed their concerns about corporate greed and huge income inequality and its negative impact on society in terms of social cohesion, health and social problems. The Occupy protests in London, Bristol and many other parts of the country are also demanding changes to a system, which works in favour of the 1% and not the 99%.
This government of millionaires don't have to worry about how they make ends meet on a daily basis or about their retirement, and despite David Cameron's protests they are not interested in helping ordinary working people. If they were they would have chosen to cut the deficit by clamping down on tax avoidance and increasing taxes on those individuals and corporations right at the top. Instead they have chosen to cut the deficit by slashing spending on public services, which hits the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest. In North Somerset alone £50 million, or one third of the council’s budget, is being cut from public services, impacting on children, young people, the elderly and disabled people. Our day of action on 30th November will also be a protest against the cuts to public spending, which we believe are unfair and unnecessary. The proposals for our pensions, and the cuts to jobs and public services are all part of the government’s decision to make ordinary working people bear the brunt of a financial crisis that they were not responsible for. We would like to invite anyone living in North Somerset who is feeling the impact of the cuts, either because they don’t have a decent pension, or they’ve lost their job or been forced to take a pay cut, or because their benefits have been cut, or because they’ve had a public service they relied on cut, to join us on 30th November, either on our picket lines or on the march and rally in Bristol. If you want to find out more please give us a ring – 01934 634759 or have a look at our website www.northsomersetunison.co.uk. It is now time for ordinary working and non-working people to stand up and demand that our society needs to change.