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Issues of life and wealth

Staff who retire early through sickness now face having their pensions cut. Susannah Kirkman reports.

Retirement on the grounds of ill health looks set to become even more difficult for teachers.

The Department for Education and Employment has just proposed cutting pensions for those judged capable of carrying on working outside teaching. The plan has been produced in response to a review last year of ill-health retirements by the Treasury. This revealed that there are a third more such retirements in the public sector than there are in private companies.

A quarter of all teachers leave early because of sickness; the Government is aiming to drive this figure down drastically - to just 0.5 per cent.

The Treasury also wants to reduce wide regional variations in ill-health retirement rates. In Suffolk, almost 70 per cent of retirements among people who work for the fire, police and local-authority services in 1998 to 1999 were due to ill-health, while in Sussex the figure was fewer than 20 per cent.

Ill-health retirement among teachers has already fallen by more than half since the rules were changed in 1997. Since then, a teacher has to be regarded aspermanently unfit to teach to qualify.

But the DFEE is planning a further clampdown. For instance it suggests that the Teachers' Pension Scheme consider a two-tier system, paying a lower pension to those considered fit enough to work outside teaching.

Also, employers should consider redeploying teachers to different schools, if this would make it possible for them to continue teaching.

The proposals also recommend a league table to compare ill-health retirement rates in different local education authority areas. To cover the costs, the DFEE is considering imposing extra charges on authorities where retirement rates are consistently high.

Research has revealed that practical support such as adjusting time-tables, offering a phased return to work, and counselling can stop staff taking ill-health retirement. Unfortunately, it also found that such supportive tactics are rarely employed in schools.

Review of Ill-Health Retirement in the Public Sector: Action Plan for the Teachers' Pension Scheme. "Ill-health Retirement and Absenteeism amongst Teachers" - Tony Bowers and Malcolm McIver. University of Cambridge. Both are available from the DFEE.

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