UNISON Retired Members Conference 2012

UNISON Retired Members Conference – Cardiff 9/10th October 2012

The conference opened at mid-day on 9th October, and I attended a workshop on ‘The Future of the State Pension’ given by Glyn Jenkins, the National Pensions Officer.

Topics covered included :

 Increase in the State Pension Age (SPA) – will be 66 by October 2020 and the Government want to bring the rise to 67 forward to April 2028. The Government is also considering basing future rises in SPA on rising life expectancy, which could see a retirement age of 70 by 2047.

 UNISON joined the legal action opposing the Governments switch from RPI to CPI to re-price State and Public Sector Pensions. The action was lost on appeal, but pressure forced the Government to ask the Office of National Statistics (ONS), to consult on how to include housing costs in the CPI. UNISON responded to this consultation in August, and is awaiting a reply – the response can be viewed at http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/A14761.pdf

 To complicate matters further the ONS has now launched another consultation on whether the RPI should be brought into line with CPI. UNISON will respond to this before the consultation ends on the last day of November. Any material downgrading of RPI percentages would have a serious detrimental impact on the final salary payments made to existing or future Severn Trent Final Salary Scheme beneficiaries.

 Proposed new State Pension. The government has consulted on combining the Basic State Pension and the Second State Pension and phase out Pensions Credit. No firm date for introduction yet. Under the proposals there would be one flat rate State Pension of around £140 at current prices. However the following points need to be borne in mind :

 Those already retired at the date of introduction would NOT get the higher state pension.

 Members who are in a Company Pension scheme will not get it because the Second State Pension they would have got if they had not been in the company scheme would be offset against the £140 per week.

 However, working members would still be liable to pay around 1.4% additional NI contributions and employers would pay another 3.4% to cover the costs of the scheme, thus putting even more pressure on reasonable pension schemes to close.

 Still awaiting the publication of a White paper with more specific details – supposedly this is imminent, although recent press speculation has suggested that Cameron has kicked this particular can further down the road because of the potential backlash from existing pensioners.

The Conference proper took place on 10th October, and saw the debate of some 30 motions, covering the following broad range of topics :

 Condemnation of the Chancellors freeze on Age Related tax allowances, which will claw back another £2 billion from pensioners, who have already been hit by CPI re-pricing and low interest rates on savings, over the life of the current Parliament, and will also drag nearly a quarter of a million more of poorer pensioners into paying income tax.

 Condemnation of the Governments “frozen pensions” policy whereby over half a million British pensioners who live abroad in certain countries only receive a pension at the rate it was in the year they left the UK.

 Concern that the Current Basic State Pension and Pension Credit, as well as the proposed new flat rate pension (which will not apply to everyone), fall well below both the official poverty line figures and the Minimum Income Standard set by the Joseph Roundtree Foundation.

 Condemnation of a firm Commitment from the Government to continue with universal pensioner benefits such as winter fuel allowance, free TV license for over 75’s and the concessionary bus pass scheme. The 2010 statistics show that 27,00 older people died of cold related illnesses, an increase of 2,000 on the pres year. Reductions in the Bus Services Operators grant and subsidies will pose a real threat to the routes and frequency of bus services, thereby having a severe detrimental effect on the lives of older people, particularly in rural areas.

 Protection of pensioner exemption from national insurance contributions. In the 2011 Budget the Chancellor revealed plans to merge income tax and national insurance, and there is serious concern that a merged and ‘simplified’ tax system could result in an increased overall rate of tax being applied to everyone, including pensioners.

 Concern over elderly abuse and the increase risk brought about by service cuts and privatisation, including the lack of security of tenure of some residents in care homes, who could therefore find themselves being evicted at short notice. In addition, the apparent inability of successive Governments to tackle the issue of funding care for the elderly. Polls indicate that 82% support the concept that everyone should pay for this care through general taxation, a policy which UNISON supports, yet there is no indication that Government will grasp this particular nettle. Delegates were also informed that evidence is emerging that with local authority budgets being cut, care providers cannot meet the level of quality expected by the public, and that a “two-tier” service may be developing that favours those who are self-funding.

Phil James

Branch Treasurer

This is available as a download pdf: UNISON Retired Members Conference 2012

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