Today I was told by a friend that, as a public sector worker, I'm part of a 'bloated, inefficient mess'. I thought hard, but struggled to see the relevance of his point, when considering the record performance of the small but high-profile part of the civil service I work for. Despite only having a workforce of about 415, and having shed around 40 or so jobs over the past year as a result of funding cuts, its staff are dedicated to what they do. All this is against a background of continuing redundancies, a government-wide recruitment freeze and a two-year pay cut.
We're confident that what we do is worth more than that though. Public sector workers – and yes, there are a heck of a lot of 'em – do vital jobs that are often unnoticed and yet are very noticeable in their absence. At the end of December, I'm leaving the civil service after eight years (with a few gaps) to pursue my career in journalism – I won't be a public sector worker for much longer. But I'll nonetheless withdraw my labour on 30 November 2011 as I would not be prepared to lose nearly £90 a month extra from my salary in protest as a result of the government's proposed 3.5% rise in employee contributions. I'll also have to work up to eight years longer for it. When the cost of living has increased so rapidly and living standards have in fact gone down, something has to give.
The truth is that public sector pensions are entirely affordable, and that public sector workers are a victim of short-sighted political choices, rather than remaining the beneficiary of the entirely reasonable status quo. Lord Hutton, the National Audit Office, the Public Accounts Committee and even the Office for Budget Responsibility all agree. Yet, the proposed changes to pensions amount to nothing more than a levy that will raise more from public servants than the levy on banks in order to pay off the deficit.
To me, it is grossly unfair to shoulder even part of the blame for the deficit on teachers, ambulance staff, nurses, midwives, doctors, firefighters and civil servants. We didn't crash the stock market, wipe out banks, take billions in bonuses or dodge tax. In protest at this attack on our current pensions arrangements, it's all to play for and is worth fighting for tomorrow.