Pension lies

The government’s repeated lies about pensions have been exposed by the Today programme’s Evan Davis, writes WILL BROWN.

For the second day in a row Government Ministers have been unable to defend Cameron’s lie that the public sector pension scheme is ‘going broke’. The claim was made by Cameron in a speech on Monday 28th June. Yet, it wasn’t the Labour opposition leading the scrutiny of this latest piece of Tory mendacity but the BBC Today Programme’s Evan Davis.

On Wednesday 29th Treasury Minister Justine Greening was unable to identify anywhere in Lord Hutton’s pension report where he supported the claim that the pension system was unaffordable. Repeated questioning by Davis reduced Greening to confused evasion. Yet despite having a full 24 hours to rustle up a defence of Cameron’s claim, on Thursday, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General Francis Maude similarly floundered around when subjected to the same question.

In the same programme PCS Union leader Mark Serwotka gave a fairly effective defence of the union strike action. His first line of argument was that the government had no intention of negotiating seriously on the key pensions changes, something Maude was unable to contradict. But it was when Serwotka raised the issue of affordability that Davis returned to his key point. On this Davis was on solid ground because Hutton’s pension report shows that the cost of public sector pensions will in fact fall as a proportion of GDP from this year onwards. Hutton’s argument for reform is about fairness and cost saving, not affordability, and Maude and the government simply have no answer to this.

Maude’s only response – ‘as has often been pointed out the pensions system is unaffordable’ -was itself revealing. One of the government’s most successful tactics has been to repeat a line so often that it becomes accepted as true. The economic crisis being Labour’s fault and public debt being unaffordable are the most obvious and successful examples. The kind of broad brush, man of the people, claim that ‘hey look chaps, the system’s going broke’ is classic Cameron. And it is thanks to Davis’ intelligent questioning, an economic expert on his own ground, that such claims have been exposed as false.


  1. Will
    6 July 2011

    Hi Jonathan

    I think you make a good point in that unions have to find a way of garnering more general public support, and calling for a better state pension for all would help to undermine the divide between ‘taxpayers’ and ‘public sector workers’ that Hutton and the government trade on. One of the problems with public sector strikes is that unless they have already built up a well of public support before striking, the unions are relying on the somewhat unlikely scenario of the public being so disgruntled by the disruption that they turn on the government.


  2. Jonathan
    5 July 2011

    If you read the published data, public sector pensions are sustainable. The question is really about how much the taxpayer is expected to contribute to them, and how much they are prepared to contribute. Hutton himself rejects the figures in his own report about the proportion of GDP public sector pensions are forecast to constitute, saying that the figures don’t take into account the ageing demographic sufficiently and are in any event subject to the final cumulative earnings of public sector staff.

    I think the trade unions are unlikely to win the political argument unless they concede that further changes are necessary. However, they should be arguing for a decent state second pension for private sector workers as well as for a favourable settlement for public sector staff.

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