Monday 9 December 2013

Austerity And Paying For Pensions

When a frisky lad into my forties it was the 1970's and changes were happening.  As one of the age group of the last cohort of the Old World; never to be a teenager because they had not been invented but young to be really one of the age that I was born into we saw the best and worst of both.

By the end of the 1970's and going into the 1980's we were already beginning to feel the hot breath on our necks of the first of the Baby Boomers wanting The Old World out of the way, not satisfied to wait decades before attaining rank in management and politics.

In the 60's and 50's pension schemes had become common in the private and public sectors introduced largely in the 20th Century on the basis of a small number of arrangements of the 19th.  They were strictly drawn up in terms of conditions and eligibility to ensure that they paid their way.

In my view the first cats out of the bag in the 1970's were as a result of the major Heath local government reorganisation merging many authorities and putting many older people close to retirement in difficult positions.  So early retirement was allowed as a "one off".  At least that was the theory. 

Inevitably, many who would have rather retired were out of luck.  Also, many categories of staff did not get it, notably teachers for whom a simple change of who paid the salary was not enough.  They were bought off with a large pay rise.

So the pressure was on.  When severe cutbacks later became necessary in local government more early retirements occurred and because the teachers pay rises have given the budgets a bashing authorities brought in schemes to allow many to go, because for them the cost was borne by the taxpayer.

At the same time along with this and relatively unseen was that the handling of retirements for sickness was eased, again without really being costed in to the eventual liabilities.  Along with these employees the unions for police, fire and other all gained from an easing of the rules.

A key reason was that because of "Austerity" there were attempts at prices and wages control policies as well as cuts.  So in actual pay negotiations the tinkering and adjusting of retirement schemes became part of the game.  A bit here and a bit there put off the evil day of having to pay for it.

In the meantime the demographics got lost in the fog, the expectation of life was going up.  More to the point in the polite jobs it was rising rather faster.  The actuaries failed to keep up with it and began to embrace optimism or were ignored as inconvenient number crunchers of lesser status in the high business of doing pay deals.

Certainly, by 1990 it was my view that sooner or later the door would have to close and some painful decisions taken, so I headed for the exit. I was wrong. Blair and Brown had talked to Fred Goodwin and other bankers and declared that boom and bust was over and we were in to the Goldilocks economy of ever increasing money that would fund all our desires.

Then there is the private sector, another story altogether but related.  My first warning sign came in the 1970's when my father's old firm was taken over by a US financial outfit who stripped out the pension fund on day one.  After 35 years service and a few years retired he was left with peanuts and down to his state pension.

It was listening to Tom Bower in a private meeting who told us what he thought about Gordon Brown's ideas on private pensions that alerted me to the fact that private pensions were not just a treasure to be looted by the banksters and such.  He did not like them and saw their funds as a honey pot to be raided at will.  Which is more or less what happened for so many.

This is where we are today.  In the public sector the demographics have had their way together with all the paper promises of the past.  The result is cuts all over the place to cover the huge losses in pension funds.  The private sector pensioners are prisoners to the pirates of the financial services industry, whose profits are now the key to our GDP.

We may be at the point when this is not going to be sorted out because our politicians cannot handle it.  What happens in the immediate future is anybody's guess but whatever does may not be a happy business.

The Baby Boomers did not rule OK.

1 comment:

  1. In future decades many outside the public sector will probably end up on a state pension and little else. This will create enormous tensions because those in the public sector are effectively given two state pensions.

    Presumably this will have to come to an end one way or another.