Ross Clark Ross Clark

Public-sector scroungers

Ross Clark on the workers who milk the rest of us by retiring early as a result of ‘ill health’

Ross Clark on the workers who milk the rest of us by retiring early as a result of ‘ill health’

The next few months may well see the political death of Tony Blair. But whether he will get buried is another matter. In an echo of the public-sector bolshieness 27 winters ago that eventually brought down the Callaghan government, public-sector unions have renewed their threat to stage a national strike over proposals to raise their normal retirement age from 60 to 65. A month ago Alan Johnson, the trade secretary, appeared to buy off a strike by agreeing with the unions to exempt all existing public-sector employees, even newly recruited 18-year-old postmen, from the need to work until 65. But it now seems that Gordon Brown, who has spent much of his time in office hosing money at public servants, has balked at the consequences of such a deal when life expectancy is rising so quickly.

One thing is for sure: public-sector trade unionists who threaten to let rubbish go uncollected and the dead go unburied can expect even less public sympathy than they received in 1979. The unions’ argument, swallowed by Alan Johnson, was that a retirement age of 60 is in effect written into the employment contracts of existing public-sector workers and therefore cannot be broken. But, if so, surely the same would apply to the state retirement age, which has been set at 65 for decades: is that not also written into the government’s contract with taxpayers? It would seem not: the government has already proposed to lift it to 67. Lord Turner, whose report on pension reform is due to be published just after The Spectator has gone to press, is expected also to suggest raising the retirement age to 67, but to compensate pensioners with higher pensions from then on.

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