Pensions in the Community and Voluntary Sector

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2015 Community Service Group Conference
1 January 2015

This Community Conference notes the ongoing crisis in pension provision affecting our members in Community and also that community and voluntary sector employees are among the lowest paid in society. The minimum level of auto-enrolment pensions is grossly inadequate; and employers continue to dumb down pension schemes to limit any possible financial risk to themselves. Members are likely to face further attacks following the triennial revaluation of Social Housing Pension Scheme (SHPS) in early 2015; additional NI contributions linked to the end of contracting out of Defined Benefit (Final Salary / Career Average) schemes in April 2016, and continued attempts to reduce employers’ contributions by making workers pay more. The problem is exacerbated by the low rate of employee and employer contributions on an already small salary, which will ultimately fail to deliver a decent pension.

Recently released ONS figures show that the gender pay gap rose for the first time in five years, and now stands at 19.1% for all employees. Inevitably lower wages equate to lower pensions, with Scottish Widows estimating that only 42% of women make adequate provision for retirement – due to rising living costs, part time working and career breaks necessitated by caring responsibilities.

The “freedom” to withdraw lump sums from pension schemes is likely to see a boom for financial advisors, but impossible choices for low paid members faced with the pressure of paying immediate debts at the expense of their long term pensions.

This conference believes that pensions were never freely given to workers, but only exist because trade unions fought for them on behalf of their members. Without campaigning from UNISON and our members it is likely that they will be eroded to the point of irrelevance.

It is unacceptable in the 21st century, in one of the richest countries in the world, that workers may be financially compelled to continue working until they are incapacitated. A retirement free from poverty should be a right for all, and an above poverty-line state pension should be supplemented by decent occupational pensions. Public sector contracts should be funded to give workers on them access to relevant public sector pension schemes.

This situation is made more difficult for workers to influence, as many schemes in our sector do not have member trustees. Some of those that do, such as the Pensions Trust, have complex processes which make it hard for ordinary members to stand for election.

This conference calls on the Service Group Executive to:

1. Campaign for decent, defined benefit pension schemes for all who work in Community, including an improved minimum scheme for auto-enrolment.

2. Work with the NEC and Labour Link to campaign to enhance the basic state pension

3. Expose employers who fail to offer decent pensions despite making healthy surpluses.

4. Lobby for protections for those moving into our sector, including an improved Fair Deal to retain automatic access to LGPS and other Public Sector pension schemes.

5. Lobby for TUPE to be reformed to provide clarity on pension rights of transferring staff at the earliest opportunity.

6. Produce guidance on the implications for pension contributions and benefits resulting from the removal of contracting-out in April 2016.

7. Consider supporting candidates for election as pension trustees who support UNISON’s values.