strikes

Kiran Stacey

Most of the exchanges at PMQs today were fairly predictable in the light of yesterday’s autumn statement. Ed Miliband accused the prime minister of having failed to meet his fiscal plan; the prime minister accused Labour of wanting to borrow even more.

But there was a fascinating undercurrent running throughout this session, one that took us back to the politics of the 1970s and 80s.

It began with Miliband’s first question. Perhaps surprisingly, given links to the unions are often perceived as one of Labour’s weak points, he went straight in on the strike action by public sector workers taking place across the country today. Not only that, but he identified overtly with those on strike: 

Jim Pickard

John Ralfe, an independent pensions expert, is convinced that the National Union of Teachers has misled members in a fact sheet it gave them ahead of today’s strike.

The NUT insist that their wording is correct; not being a pensions guru, I can only present the two sides of the argument.

The key bit is near the top of the second page, “How much longer does the government want me to work?” The document says that older teachers will be affected: “Anyone aged 57 or less would have to work to 66 and anyone aged 42 or less to 67 (to get their teachers’ pension in full.)” 

Jim Pickard

David Cameron has just used his LGA conference speech to defend reforms to public sector pensions, arguing that his proposals are fair. He has suggested that people are being told “scare stories” about the government plans. (Here is the full transcript on the Downing St website and this is our news story).

Does he have a point?

The prime minister has claimed that there are rumours that the government is “closing defined benefit schemes and replacing them with defined contribution schemes”. He also claimed that people are being told that “we are stripping workers of the benefits they have already accumulated.”

This is not true, he points out. Not only will workers still have defined benefit schemes. They will also maintain the “final salary link” for benefits already accrued. “Any suggestion otherwise is completely untrue“.

But who is actually saying this? Anyone? Or has the PM created a paper tiger?

The scare stories are the fault of the unions, Cameron appears to suggest, without actually naming them: “they are giving really bad advice to teachers, nurses and the police officers who are wondering whether to continue with their pension.”

UPDATE: Apparently the PM is not blaming the unions per se, his aides claim. Instead this emanated from the fact that Cabinet Office has spoken to public sector staff, who say they are worried about losing such benefits. “We’re very keen to get the message across out there about what we’re really doing,” says one Downing St aide.

In fact the unions are angry about the following changes, which are not yet set in stone but are proposed by the government – as my colleague Brian Groom recently explained:

* Higher contributions to pensions that will have to be made, typically rising by 3.2 per