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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mark Steel: Pensions: no wonder firemen are on the rich lists by Mark Steel

How is the Government getting away with this idea that a public-sector pension is a "luxury"? Is it something that suave bachelors could show off, saying: "Once I've taken you for a spin in my Aston Martin, how about I show you the mid-range forecast for my teacher's pension over a bottle of Veuve Cliquot."

A pension is a necessity, so you might as well say we simply can't go on enjoying the luxury of a sewage system, given that the amount of waste we're flushing is 35 per cent higher than in 1996, so from 2015 we've got to throw it out the window otherwise we'll end up like Greece.

Also, a pension is part of a wage, not an added-on bonus. Employers don't come round to schools and fire stations once a month slipping a bundle of notes into each member of staff's pocket, whispering: "There you go doll, get yerself summink nice." The next complaint will be: "Public-sector workers who enjoy the privilege of spending all day in job centres and prisons paid for by the taxpayer are also paid MONEY to spend on THINGS, it was revealed in a shocking inside report today."

But apparently these pensions are gold-plated and it's where all our money has gone. So when you read that the richest 1,000 people in the country increased their wealth last year by £60bn, number 34 in that list must be Alf, a retired fireman from Ipswich, who now lives in Cannes on a boat he outbid Roman Abramovich for, and holds parties where he uses his skills to spray cocktails into everyone's glass from a hose. And number 49 will be Beryl, a retired midwife who's planning to buy Tottenham Hotspur if she can mount a challenge to the current chief shareholder, Amy, the retired lollipop lady from Workington.

One of the most infuriating arguments to justify cutting pensions is that private-sector workers don't have them, so why should anyone else? This is a strange way of assessing society, that if someone is badly treated everyone else should be as well otherwise it's not fair. Maybe that's the answer to the scandal in these care homes. People of all ages should be left for two hours face down in a bowl of cold soup and then it would be nice and equal.

Instead the public-sector unions asked their members if they wanted to take action against these cuts, and overwhelmingly they've said they do. It's argued by various politicians that the strikes are a stupid tactic as they'll make the unions unpopular. Presumably unions should adapt to the modern climate by no longer bothering with issues such as their members being asked to work three extra years for no money and instead bring in colouring books and grow watercress.

Strangely, the unions have rejected the advice of people who can't stand them anyway and have gone along with the votes of their own members. Because we do seem to be in a battle between opposite ways of seeing society. For example there's the view of the caller on a phone-in this week, who supported the rise in tuition fees because, "I haven't got kids so why should I pay for other kids' education?"

One answer to this is to point out that education benefits all of society, not just students, and suggest a mild redistribution of wealth would make such facilities affordable, and the same is true of looking after people once they've retired. But a better response, I think, is: "Oh really? I bet you see kids in a recreation ground squealing with delight and think, 'Baah, I'm paying for those swings and that climbing frame, it's not fair', you miserable, bitter, cynical, poxy, selfish pile of sludge. Well, seeing as you've got no kids I don't suppose a soul will turn up to your funeral, but that better not mean you get a pauper's one because the taxpayer will have to fork out for that." But I wonder if that's why I probably wouldn't be a very successful politician.

The Independent, Wednesday, 22 June 2011

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