This is an edited version of an email I sent to my local M.P about two days ago, regarding changes to public sector pensions. I did use the template on the UNISON site, but I took quite a bit out and put a lot more of my own experience in as I felt my MP would possibly take more interest if I did that, as it would show I’d made an effort and believed what I was saying. Haven’t had a reply yet, but I suppose I may well do eventually.
I work as a Library Assistant at………………….. and I am a member of (pension scheme). I am writing to you at this time because of the proposed public sector strike on Wednesday 30th November.
I would like to tell you some of the reasons why I voted yes in the……… ballot on strike action.
Aside from the information provided to me by my union and by my pension scheme about the proposed changes to my pension, I am also someone who reads a lot of different newspapers and current affairs magazines,listens to a lot of radio news, and generally takes a great deal of interest in politics and current affairs. Voting ‘Yes’ to strike was not therefore a decision that I took lightly.
I would also add that, although a library does not compare to a busy hospital or airport, the run up to Christmas is one of our busiest times at work, it’s also the time of year when a lot of people are off sick. Whilst no one will have their life or their security endangered as a result of my strike action, a lot of people will be very inconvenianced and no doubt extremely annoyed.
I am opting to strike because I really don’t feel as though I have any other choice. I feel as though I am being constantly attacked by the coalition government in every aspect of my life: my working life, my home life, my social life, my family life… I feel as though they have declared open season on everything I hold dear. Not just my pension, but libraries, universities, disability support, and my ability to financially support myself and live an independent life.
I am not wealthy, I have just under £900 a month to live on after tax, pension, national insurance and union membership deductions. I use a laborious budget system as this is the only way I can be sure of not running out of money each month.My rent is £299 a month, Council Tax is £78 a month because I live on my own in a studio flat, Gas and Electric are £50 a month, with an extra £10 a month allocated for the inevitable winter fuel bills, I allocate £20 a month to the quarterly water bill, laundry is £32 a month because I don’t own my own washing machine and instead use a launderette. The phone and internet is £35 a month as well. My contents insurance is £33.57 a month, I put £20 a month into an ISA because, frankly, I am expecting the state pension to be long gone by the time I retire, I spend £150 a month on food, my monthly bus pass is £62.70. The rest of the money goes on: stationary, stamps, subscriptions, magazines and newspapers (£14), Emergancies, repairs and replacements (£15), Prescription and non prescription medicine (£19) Household Essentials (£19), Fun (£19), Birthdays & Chrismas (£14).
I appreciate that that was probably very boring to read, but I have included it to demonstrate that I am not someone who ran around with a credit card when times were good who is now whinging. Despite having acted financially responsibly in the past, and continuing to do so, I feel as though I am being punished every day: when fuel prices go up, again, when phone and internet prices go up, when food prices go up, when the bus pass inevitably goes up (I was priced off the trains years ago), when the launderette puts its prices up, when the contents insurance goes up….
Now the government plans to tax my already extremely stretched income further by expecting me to pay double the pension contributions I already make. This is simply completely unnaffordable for me.
My parents both worked in the public sector and are now retired. My father has an NHS pension, but my mother succumbed to the propaganda from the Thatcher government of the 1980’s and opted out of the council pension package. She was missold a private pension which, over the years, has earned her consistently less than she would have received had she stayed with the council pension scheme. She only realised this about a year before she was due to retire, by which time it was far too late. I am detirmined not to repeat her mistake.
I would also add that I have experience of the private sector as an employee and would like to point out that, as a woman, I do feel more protected in the public sector, by and large, as opposed to the private sector.
I had 3 private sector jobs prior to my entry into the public sector, and one employer (the Co-Operative) were fantastic so far as working conditions and supporting their staff were concerned, but the other two employers I worked for were appalling.
One of them was a publishing company which had an endemic culture of bullying and sexual harrassment. The average time most people lasted working there was 6 weeks, I did 6 months. As the workers at the company were not unionised and the HR department was weak, the only recurse those being bullied and sexually harrassed had was the industrial tribunal process. At the time I left, three tribunals were in process against the company. The company folded about six months after that.
In the second case, I worked for a market research company, which operated zero hours contracts and didn’t pay sick pay for this reason. It also meant that you were never actually guaranteed any work despite being employed by them. On the plus side, if you got given a survey you didn’t like you could take a few weeks off unpaid, or longer, until you felt like working for them again – which was a common scenario. You, of course, were not paid for those weeks off and it was common for people to be working two or more jobs simultaneously. I also found out after I left that the smoking of cannabis on smoking breaks was pretty common there, and I was not surprised.
I have included these examples as a way of explaining that my loyalty to the public sector is far from sheltered or sentimental, rather it is based on my own experiences throughout my working life.
I have been informed by my union, and have read elsewhere, that the ‘savings’ being proposed by the government in changing public sector pensions, including extra contributions and reduced entitlements, will, either directly or indirectly, go to the government, rather than be used to safeguard the pension scheme. It is, in effect, a direct extra tax being imposed on me, to which I strongly object.
In the run up to the strikes both the goverment and the media have churned out myth after myth, scare story after scare story about public sector pensions and public sector workers. We are lazy they tell us, we are greedy, we have ‘gold plated’ pension schemes and ‘gold plated’ wages. I hope the information I have provided above will demonstrate to you that they are wrong on all counts. I regularly read Private Eye, so I know all about Rotton Boroughs and council corruption, but nepotism, obscene pay packets and unfair working practices are, I would venture, probably more common in the media and in politics than they are at, say, Stockport Council. It would be nice if those slinging the mud would remember the adage that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, but I shan’t expect that anytime soon.
Also, I will have to work until I am at least 68 anyway, regardless of whether I work in the private or public sector.
I am aware that this is not the 1970’s, that the unions were smashed repeatedly in the 1980’s, and that the past cannot be recreated. I am not expecting to hold the country ransom. What I hoping for is an opportunity for the forgotten to be heard.