This government has declared war on the most vulnerable, on the disabled, the elderly, the poor, women and children. To my mind it is a government driven by cowardice – it seeks to attack the weak in order to protect itself from the strong. I work in an FE college, and in the education sector the effects of this attack are already being felt – pensions matter, but they are only part of a much bigger qns more frightening picture.
Surestart centres, which function as vital community support points for mothers and children, are under attack. There are plans to favour religious doctrine over science in an attempt to police teenage sexual behaviour in the classroom. ESOL funding has been slashed and replaced with a system reliant on the student looking for employment, which effectively means that some of the most vulnerable mothers and elderly in our society will arrive from warzones only to be left cut off and voiceless. EMA is gone and the support many working class students relied on in order to convince their parents they could afford to attend college goes with it. As part of my job I work in Access, where the majority of students are women returning to education after taking time out to work and care for children. These students are being priced out of their own futures by universities, and all their skills will be lost. This is not a meritocracy. A society which favours money over ability in deciding educational outcomes means less of the most able qualifying and getting into important roles in society, with the children of the wealthy rising to take these roles instead. We will all suffer from this.
The attack on pensions will hit fractional and part time staff particularly hard. Those of us who scale down our hours whether because of work availability or through the need to raise families, care for disabled loved ones, or simply for health reasons, already receive much less in the way of pensions because of contributions. Statistically the family career break impacts massively on promotion, meaning that when we do return to full time work we have further to climb and less time to do it in.
For men and women, old age continues to be a time of inequality, with many more female pensioners below the poverty line as a direct consequence of a society which seems to calculate the value of its members on the basis of how much money people have rather than giving any recognition for care or work in the home. The move to a career average in pension calculations will enhance this inequality further, and will push more part time and fractional public sector workers into poverty in their old age. The average woman working in FE retires on just £6000 a year, and we are not at the bottom of the public sector so for many more it is lower still. These are not gold plated pensions but there is a deliberate move to present them as such in order for the rich to carry on getting richer. Our negotiators are threatened with court appearances, the government have refused our request for independent negotiation from ACAS – the message is clear. It it not interested in negotiation or fairness, only in further enhancing a public sector scapegoat in defiance of the evidence that we played no role in the collapse of this economy and are much less able to afford to fill the gaps than those who did.
We desparately need to look at pension inequality, and look at where things are going wrong. Instead of trying to line up the public sector against the private sector in some kind of race to the bottom in pension payments, we should demand that the government look into why the private sector is allowed to squeeze all the worth out of its poorest staff, which largely include part-time female workers, and then drop them to survive on a state pension without any recognition of who raises, cooks, cleans and cares for its workforce. The super-rich build their empires on the backs of the poorest, and live lifestyles that could fund old-age fuel, food, and comfort for millions as a direct result of years of work from those who they so happily discard. Our taxes pay for millions to exist on meagre state pensions because the private sector will not pay its way. If we are looking at waste of public money, let’s talk about unemployment. As the press are so fond of frothing, unemployment costs the tax payer millions of pounds. What is never acknowledged is that the people who benefit most from this situation are not actually the “scroungers” at the bottom but the super-rich, who must rub their hands with glee as the price of labour is pushed ever downwards and they continue to pay less and take more from their workforce.
We need to demand that those at the top in the private sector are no longer allowed to escape paying their taxes. We need to demand that they are no longer allowed to exist in a bubble of luxury and greed. We need to demand that they are no longer allowed to conduct a political campaign to deny a fair pension to the very people who educate, nurse, and protect their workforce. The government has chosen to side with the rich and powerful over the weak. In the constant media barrage of messages designed to reinforce the powerful, it is easy to carry on sleepwalking, but it is time to wake up. Look at the reality of the lifestyles involved. This government has declared war on the most vulnerable and the time has come to stand up and fight for what is right.