Monday, 2 May 2011

Why Public Sector Workers deserve a good Pension

Recently the debate about Public Sector pay has been reignited due to the Teachers Union balloting to go on strike over the possible pension reforms. This debate has been dominated by right-wing arguments such as ‘why should the public sector be spared? The private sector is feeling the pain too’. Now I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be savings in the public sector as the ‘big bad’ deficit does need to be dealt with.  But, for reasons I will spell out, the public sector benefits the UK economy in ways that are difficult, if not impossible to measure.
 The main right-wing over-simplistic argument ‘private sector creates wealth which the public sector spends ’ are completely misleading, in my view. Obviously it is paid for by ‘TAXPOIYERS MONAAYYY’ but that doesn’t mean that it is squandered as the ‘Daily Mail’ would like you to believe. It could be argued that in fact the private sector just wouldn’t work without the public sector. For example how would businesses manage to employ a skilled workforce if schools didn’t educate children? Or if the NHS didn’t exist to heal sick people? You could even say that the NHS does create wealth. If, in a very immoral purely capitalist way that I see as horrific, you value every person by their net worth in terms of earnings then whenever a nurse or doctor saves a life then they have saved the British economy whatever that person earns over a lifetime. So, if they save the life of builder who earns £25,000 a year then they have effectively earned the British economy £1,050,000, assuming they work from 18-60. So if a nurse only saves 5 builders' lives she has still created  around £5,000,000 for the British economy.
Furthermore education creates wealth in the long term. Teachers can create vast amounts of wealth whenever they help to educate a businessman, lawyer or, god forbid, a banker who without the education may have been unemployed. Without this vital education the private sector would shrink enormously in the long term. Furthermore teachers are in a unique position to instil strong morals in the citizens of the future. They are able to teach them about respect, sharing and most importantly tolerance. If these teachers are unsatisfied in their job as they have long hours with terrible pay and a meagre pension to look forward to they’re more likely to rigidly stick to the curriculum without teaching about wider values or other things the children should learn. This would bore the kids and would hardly create a willingness to learn.
But jobs like being a Nurse or a Teacher are not necessarily that attractive to school or university leavers who , after racking up thousands of pounds of debt, feel that they need to earn a decent salary, or at least have a good retirement to look forward to. Currently teacher’s starting salary is around £21,500 which is perfectly reasonable until you consider that on average most teachers earn £34,000 at most which I don’t consider enough for a profession that essentially creates the future British workforce and that proposed pension reforms will dig into their salary. Therefore while a public sector job may appeal to an idealistic student’s heart it is unlikely to appeal to their head.
The possible new pension reforms seem to be intent on making the decision even harder for those who want to educate. Under the proposals the average headteacher would lose £100,000 to £200,000 in retirement and would pay 50% more in contributions, which could cost them £1,000 more each month. The relatively modest changes made under New Labour (which I disagree with) are already having an impact ‘Analysts at Education Data Surveys studied all headteacher vacancies between April 2009 and May 2010 and found recruiting heads was more difficult than the year before, when 26% of schools could not find one’ .So imagine the impact that the proposals would have in an already difficult market. However the changes wouldn’t just hurt headteachers: ‘ Earlier this month, a survey of 7,500 teachers by the National Union of Teachers found nearly 72% of those aged 30 to 50 were likely to quit the profession if the pension reforms went ahead’.
 So clearly these reforms will severely weaken the education system as young teachers look at leaving their profession, schools find it even harder to find good headteachers and those left in education have a meagre retirement to look forward to.
 The Tory-led Government are guilty of the worst sin of Government: short sightedness. These plans will save a few billion in the short term, sure. But in the long term can we really afford to have an education system full of ageing teachers, rudderless schools and demoralised teachers. The cost to the country’s economy would be massive as we churn out children with poor exam results who aren’t equipped with basic employable skills and who see education generally as a waste of time. Therefore I urge the Government to leave teacher’s pensions alone for the time being. If they do cut pensions I fear that even a Labour Government wouldn’t be able to reverse a tide of excellent young teachers flooding out of the public sector. In the meantime I support the teacher’s and headteacher’s strike and hope the Government listen.
Guardian website