The Writing on the Wall

Submitted by Anon on 18 June, 2003 - 1:00
  • Working in a whorehouse
  • “Best practice”?
  • “Sensitive area”
  • New Labour: widening the poverty gap

Working in a whorehouse

“Working for the fire service is like working in a whorehouse. The better we perform the more often they screw us!” (from 30k rank and file firefighters’ site).

The Treasury plans to strip members of the armed forces, police and fire brigades of their early retirement rights, cutting millions of pounds from their pensions. People in high-risk physical occupations are at present allowed to retire earlier than normal, but Chancellor Gordon Brown is proposing that should end from 2005. They would have to work for up to 15 years longer before receiving their full pension.

The proposed cutbacks are part of a wider programme of changes to public sector pensions contained in the fine print of legislation due to take effect over the next two years. John Prescott is drawing up plans to overhaul the pension scheme for local authority workers in order to tackle an estimated £15 billion shortfall in council pension plans. And this could save the exchequer £4 billion a year off their £300 billion to pensions’ commitments.

“In future we want to see full retirement at 65 throughout the public sector, with early retirement possible only from 55,” said a Treasury spokesperson.

Prescott is expected to press ahead with plans forcing council workers to pay more into their pension schemes. He is also considering scrapping the final salary scheme and replacing it with a less generous pension based on average career earnings. Teachers and nurses will also have to work up to five years longer and may have to pay higher contributions.

Not a popular move. But not to worry, pensions of one group of public “servants” will be looked after.

The Senior Salaries Review Body is the “independent” body responsible for the pay and pensions of MPs, senior Civil Servants and judges. In 2001 they presented a review of the parliamentary pension scheme to compare it against current best practice.

Its recommendations were:

  • To keep the MPs’ contributions at 6%, and increase the cost to the Exchequer to 18.5% from 7.5%.
  • To increase the accrual rates to 1/40ths from 1/50ths, with the cost to be borne by the Exchequer. This was to take account of comparisons to directors of private industries, limited re-employment prospects on leaving parliament, and job insecurity.
  • To increase the death benefit payment from three times annual salary to four times. Cost to be borne by Exchequer.
  • To allow pension rights to be nominated to a partner (unmarried survivors). Cost to be borne by the Exchequer.

“Best practice”?

No doubt the Review Board was thinking of Network Rail bosses, who failed to meet a train punctuality target of 83% in 2002-2003, meaning directors did not get their performance-related bonuses, yet still recieved administration-linked bonuses, some as high as £451,000, under a scheme agreed by Railtrack’s administrators.

Network Rail’s safety and compliance director Chris Leah received the top payout, including a £150,000 “retention” payment and a £300,000 “loyalty” payment. Chief executive John Armitt got £225,000, technical director Richard Middleton received £189,000 and financial director Sebastian Bull got £216,000.

“This is another example of carrots at the top and sticks at the bottom, which is no way to run a railway,” says Mick Rix, ASLEF general secretary.

“Now that Network Rail is a not-for-profit company, the government should ensure that it shakes off the worst excesses of the privatised culture.”

“Sensitive area”

High Street sex shop chain Ann Summers has won a legal battle after a judge ruled that government job centres must post its help-wanted ads. They had refused to publicise the company's vacancies because of a government policy barring businesses associated with the sex industry from advertising with state employment centres.

A High Court judge ruled that the ban was unlawful, saying that the employment exchanges of Jobcentre Plus had lost sight of their primary purpose of helping people find work.

“It (Jobcentre Plus) paid insufficient regard to its legal obligation to assist employers to find vacancies," Justice Newman ruled.

“It would not be suggested that the defendant [Jobcentre Plus] was entitled to adopt as a national policy a ban on advertisements for vacancies in abattoirs, butchers or sausage factories, on the basis that Muslims, vegetarians or Jewish people could legitimately object to employment in such activities,' said Mr Justice Newman.

“It should not be up to the Government to tell job-seekers where they can and can't work.”

Funny, I thought that is precisely what they do by telling jobseekers they risk losing benefits if they refuse a job.

Perhaps we should be thankful for double standards—at least we will be spared the embarrassment of asking for our ‘Rampant Rabbits’ from ex-ministers out after the next election, eking out their meagre pensions. Two Jags in a PVC nurse’s uniform. Nice.

New Labour: widening the poverty gap

Children who live in the poorest UK households have less of a chance of escaping poverty than when Labour came to power. Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies says the total poverty gap — the total income by which families fall short of the poverty line — has increased under Labour. This is despite the fact that the actual number of poor children has fallen.

The report said some families had benefited from new means-tested benefits and incentives to return to work, which have led to a fall in the number of poor children, and improved living standards of the “vast majority of children” since 1997. But children in households with the lowest incomes have benefited much less.

Benefit take-up has been a problem among some of the poorest groups. 1.1 million children live in households with less than 40% of the national average income. Four out of 10 of these children live in households that do not receive any of the main means-tested benefits — even though they may be entitled to claim.

It has been estimated that as many as 600,000 families failed to claim Working Families Tax Credit — the old-style tax credit aimed at low-income families, which was replaced by new tax credits in April 2003.

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