Pension change will save little, IFS says

Pensions protest The government's plans to change public sector pensions has led to strike action

The government's latest public sector pension changes will make "little or no difference" to their long-term cost, an economic think tank has said.

The report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) refers to the most recent pension negotiations.

However, it points out that an earlier decision to change the inflation link for pension increases has substantially reduced costs and expectations.

Unions point out that, overall, public workers must pay more and work longer.

The government has said the latest offer would be the final deal on the table, and that overall its public sector pension policy was fair and would save the taxpayer billions of pounds.

Generosity

A key element of the government's most recent proposals is that the normal pension age in the biggest public sector pension schemes should in future rise in line with the state pension age, eventually to 68.

Start Quote

The consequence of the long-drawn-out negotiations over the latest reform appears to be little or no long-term saving to the taxpayer”

End Quote Carl Emmerson IFS

The IFS said that this would not in fact save as much as expected.

"In general, lower earners in the public sector will actually get a more generous pension as a result of the recently announced reforms," the IFS said.

"That is, they will be able to retire at age 65 with a higher annual pension than they would receive under current arrangements.

"This results from the move from final salary to career average schemes and the particular changes to accrual and indexation rules," the IFS added.

The report bases its conclusion on an analysis of the latest proposed changes to the NHS pension scheme.

The IFS then used this to make best estimates regarding public sector pensions in the absence of official government data on the costs.

'Pay more, work longer'

The structure of public sector pensions had been improved by the latest proposals, the IFS said.

But the government's decision in 2010, for pensions to rise in line with the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) rather than the Retail Prices Index (RPI) was much more significant for costs and generosity.

"The reforms to public service pensions implemented by the last Labour government, and this government's decision to switch from RPI to CPI indexation of pension benefits, will in the long run reduce the generosity and therefore the cost of these schemes to the taxpayer," said Carl Emmerson, deputy director of the IFS.

"But the consequence of the long-drawn-out negotiations over the latest reform appears to be little or no long-term saving to the taxpayer or reduction in generosity, on average, of pensions for public service workers."

The TUC's general secretary, Brendan Barber, rejected this analysis.

"If you take the package as a whole there can be no doubt that many public sector workers may have to pay more, work longer and get a pension that will not keep up with the proper measure of the cost of living," he said.

The report said that lower earners in the public sector were better protected from the impact of the government's impending changes than higher earners.

State of the talks

Sector Union Reaction
Local government

Unite

Rejected the proposed deal

Unison

To continue negotiating

GMB

Has agreed to move on to the next level of negotiation. It has 250,000 members

Health

Unison

To continue negotiating

British Medical Association (BMA)

The BMA, which represents doctors, has rejected the government's latest offer

Royal College of Nursing (RCN)

Consulting its members

Unite

Rejected the deal in early January. It has 100,000 members in the NHS

GMB

To continue negotiating

Education

NUT

Refused to endorse the latest offer and has called for more negotiations

NASUWT

Refused to endorse the latest offer and has called for more negotiations

ATL

Members have accepted the government's offer, regarding it as the best deal possible in the current economic climate

UCU

Rejected the government's latest offer

ASCL

Accepted latest offer with "considerable reservation"

NAHT

Representing headteachers, it has rejected the deal

Civil service

PCS

The largest civil service union, has been the most vocal in rejecting proposed changes to the scheme from the outset. It has threatened further strikes.

The Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (Nipsa)

Rejected the deal

GMB

Agreed to continue negotiations

Prospect

Agreed to further negotiations

Prison Officers' Association

Refused to sign up to the latest deal

FDA

Agreed to further negotiations

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