You may have seen some of the media coverage today of the Hutton report into public sector pensions. I have been interviewed on national BBC TV, Channel 4, ITV, the Today programme, 5 Live, many regional radio stations and by the newspapers.
See our press releases, put out to the media this morning, on our website. I wanted to let you know personally how your pensions and those of your members are being placed at risk by the government. The coalition government has shown contempt for Hutton.
Even before he finished his inquiry, the government decided to increase contributions by more than 50%, at a time when pay is being frozen, inflation is rising and our members’ jobs are threatened with cuts and privatisation.
Additionally, the value of members’ pensions has been reduced because the government changed the method of calculating annual inflation increases so pensions will increase by less than retail prices.
Hutton is recommending that public sector schemes move from final salary pensions to career averages and that members work longer. This will mean a lower pension because it is based on an average of how much members earn each year rather than on final salary.
And the move to the lower CPI method of calculating inflation undermines the career average scheme, so everyone will be worse off.
You and your members already have to pay more. I am convinced that the government will use this merely to cut costs and benefits. Whatever Hutton says about fairness in his report, it will be used by the government to cut the value of our pension schemes.
These changes are totally unnecessary. Our NHS scheme is cash rich and pays £2bn into the Treasury each year. There are no problems with the local government scheme that would justify this change.
We have already negotiated with the previous government new schemes that reflect people living longer and have made sure they are affordable and sustainable. Talks with the coalition government to protect and defend our members’ pensions will be tough. And we need your support.
I will be sending this message to all our members for whom we have an email address. But I felt it only right that you, the activists who are the backbone of this union, got it first.
And remember: we don’t have email addresses for everyone: if you do one thing, please make sure all your members are aware of this message and the threat to their pensions.
And use it to recruit new members: tell them what we’re doing to protect pensions and ask them to join, so we have a stronger voice.
And get involved in activity within the branch or become a pension champion or write to your local MP to protest.
If we cannot make any progress in our talks with the government to get it to see sense, we will have to take very hard decisions on moving to an industrial action ballot.
You can keep informed of developments by looking at our webpage at unison.org.uk/protectourpensions, which also contains briefings on the threat to our pensions and other resources which you will find useful as an activist.
But I believe that this issue is so important that I will personally let you and our members know the outcome of the talks.