Rethink pensions plan

As Community Care went to press, local government workers were
waiting with bated breath to see if the deputy prime minister would
see sense and scrap – or at least postpone – proposed reforms to
council pensions.

The unions have promised that any failure on John Prescott’s part
to wave such a magic wand would result on 23 March in widespread
industrial action on a scale not seen since the 1926 General

The source of the unions’ anger almost 80 years on is plans to
raise the retirement and pension age for council workers. To add
insult to injury, the government wants to implement these changes a
year earlier for local authority staff than other public sector

Admittedly, the backdrop to all of this is a concern about the
future affordability of pensions more generally and the possible
need for members of an ageing population to work longer. Private
sector pension schemes are being reviewed across the UK and it is
impossible to insulate local government workers and the rest of the
public sector from these changes forever.

But, as we begin to turn the corner on social care recruitment and
to raise the status of social work as a profession, is now really
the time to attack staff pensions?

With recruitment and retention difficulties a perennial problem for
councils, removing one of the few perks associated with local
authority employment makes about as much sense as a chocolate
teapot. The Local Government Pensions Committee itself has warned
of the dangers of underestimating the value of a good pension
scheme in a job market where there is competition for skilled
employees and young people entering the workforce.

The planned one-day walk out just before the Easter break would
undoubtedly embarrass Labour in the run up to a general election.
But the longer term effects of ploughing ahead with the proposed
pension reforms could be worse still.

Current and future local government employees would be likely to
read any decision to proceed with the changes as a sign that the
government neither cares nor listens.

Prescott has a chance to prevent a groundswell of resentment and
reaction. But the countdown to judgement day has begun.

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