A matter of pay now or suffer later

29th October 2004 at 01:00
Hermann Goering is supposed to have said, "When I hear the word 'culture', I reach for my gun." When teachers in England and Wales hear the word "modernisation" from David Miliband, they should reach for their wallets.

First, "modernisation" of contracts threatens less pay for those losing management allowances. Now proposed "modernisation" of pensions means every teacher in service from 2013 onwards will accrue fewer net benefits. Not only will the age at which they can draw their pension without penalty be raised from 60 to 65, but they will also have to pay more to bring their benefits up to standard, according to a Westminster consultation paper.

To be fair, not all suggested improvements will require additional contributions - not in cash, anyway. The Government is proposing to plough about half of the savings from raising the retirement age back into enhanced benefits. But that offers little comfort to a profession which almost universally regards the prospect of full-time classroom teaching to the age of 65 as wholly unrealistic.

The case for 65 is entirely financial. It is based on actuarial calculations rather than the actual demands of the job. If this "modernisation" was really about catching up with "recent developments in society and employment in education", as the schools minister says, it would be lowering teachers' retirement age, notraising it.

Ministers, along with all MPs, can look forward to some of the most generous publicly-funded pensions available. Yet they appear to be offering teachers no net improvement in their pensions whatsoever.

David Miliband talks of new "flexibilities and options". But in effect the only choice on offer is pay more now or suffer later.

That may be the uncomfortable reality a whole generation now has to face, whether through higher contributions, lower wages or increased taxes. But teachers at least deserve to hear it straight. Dressing it up as social advance is an insult. Devaluing pensions is one thing. Ministers don't have to devalue the language as well.

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