Civil service pensions 'still gold plated'


New research has revealed that the increase in the retirement age will not save any money for the government is "striking"

The increase in the normal retirement age from 60 to 67 for public sector workers has not led to significant savings in the cost of public-sector pensions for taxpayers, a leading pensions consultant calculates.

Analysis by John Ralfe shows that the improvements in the benefits given to civil servants, teachers and healthworkers at the higher retirement age offset the reduction in costs for the Exchequer from forcing them to work an extra seven years.

"The total cost of the more generous but later pension is the same as the cost of the current less generous but earlier pension", Mr Ralfe says.

This doesn't meant there have been no savings at all from the contentious pension reforms pushed through by the coalition government.

Separate reforms to force millions of public sector workers to pay an additional 3.2% of salaries towards their pensions and to switch the uprating of pensions from RPI inflation to the normally lower CPI measure of inflation are expected to significantly reduce the long-term cost of public-sector pensions.

But those reforms were already forced through before the strike by public employees in the autumn; they were not seen as the major source of acrimony between ministers and trade unions.

Complicated calculations

It was the lifting of the pensionable age and complicated changes to the way that pension entitlements are earned that was at the centre of the industrial dispute.

Mr Ralfe calculates that the new cost for taxpayers of pensions is 31% of a typical teacher's salary, 32% of an NHS employee's salary and 26% of a civil servant's salary - compared with 31% across the board before the reforms.

On that basis, he says the pensions are as generous as they were before, and significantly more generous than almost any pension available in the private sector.

For teachers, health workers and civil servants on average or lower salaries, there's likely to be a significant boost in the pensions they receive in retirement - though they may object to having to work seven extra years for that bigger pension.

The important point is that the rate at which pensions are accrued - the rate at which benefits are earned - has been improved by the reforms.

The numbers

Before the changes, which were finally agreed before Christmas, public-sector workers accrued pension entitlements at the rate of 1/80 of salary per annum, plus a cash lump sum on retirement of 3/80 of salary, which was equivalent to an accrual rate of 1/70.

For teachers the new accrual rate is 1/57 of salary per annum, for healthworkers it is 1/54 and for civil servants it is 1/44 - which is significantly more generous than the old arrangements.

That said, it's no longer the final salary which determines the pension paid in retirement. Instead, the accrual rate applies to existing salary and is then uprated by CPI inflation for civil servants or a bit better than that for teachers and NHS staff.

Halving the cost

All of which probably sounds terribly technical and impenetrable. But what it broadly means is that those whose salaries are unlikely to rise very much do relatively better out of the new system than under the older system: the new pensions system is more egalitarian in that sense, with high-flyers scooping lower rewards than in the past, and those on lower salaries doing rather better (especially since the government is sheltering those on lower pay from the increased pension contributions).

I put the analysis to the Treasury, which did not dispute the thrust of Mr Ralfe's analysis - other than to argue that it would be wrong to see the increase in the pensionable age in isolation.

A Treasury official said the reforms had to be seen as a package, and that the increase in employees' contributions and the switch from RPI to CPI uprating would help to halve the cost of public-sector pensions as a share of GDP over the longer term.

Mr Ralfe based his calculations on what a typical 40 year-old public sector worker would expect to receive in pensions in retirement under the older system and under the new system.

Robert Peston Article written by Robert Peston Robert Peston Economics editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 268.


    Current circumstances - compulsorily misdirected / ineffecient efforts 'at work' - possible many on retirement become MORE 'productive' / beneficial in community

    Whether in 'winding down' / 'training & appraising' / otherwise 'acting in support', 'productive' value of 'elderly third' of us SHOULD be mobilised / recognised

    Needs context: FULL Employment & FREE Movement, with EQUALITY

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.

    All for All - I was thinking more on the lines of using the experience and wisdom of old heads rather than their productive capacity. Training, advice services, lesson learned appraisal. There are usually plenty of skills gained through the years that allows their experience to be more usefully employed together with graded reduction in hours.

  • rate this

    Comment number 266.


    Perhaps set 'expectations' at 'reasonable age-related minima' - x hours-a-day, y days-a-week, z weeks holiday, progressively scaling down 'demand' past 60, CRITICALLY allowing (equal-income) freedom to move between jobs as powers wane & skills eventually outmoded

    Love not to have to worry about 'politics & finance', go back to work as able, use old skills. Many over-60s 'activists'

  • rate this

    Comment number 265.

    #212 "In the private sector it is difficult but not impossible to get by in that condition. Financial institutions seem to fall into that category - but I've never worked for one so I could not exactly say.

    A key point is that they don't tax me."

    If you have a private pension, they tax you. If you are paying taxes to bail out the banking induced credit crunch they are taxing you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 264.

    #263 All for All - I agree there is something arbritrary about a fixed retirement age that is not sympathetic to individual strengths and weaknesses. I think there should be a voluntary phasing of contribution and jobs structured to accommodate a more flexible use of their strengths.


Comments 5 of 268



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