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Fair Cuts? The Impact of British Public Service Pension Reform on Workers in the Main Occupations

  • Paul Bridgen (a1) and Traute Meyer (a2)

Public service pensions have been a fundamental component of the British pension system in the post-war period and recent reform initiatives have caused political controversy. This article assesses the impact of the Conservative/Liberal government's public sector pension reform plans of 2011 for different public sector workers. It simulates their projected pension outcomes, assuming people contribute to the new system throughout their working lives. In particular, we examine the government's claim that the move away from final to average salary schemes will make pensions fairer for women and lower paid workers. The article shows that the reforms are indeed fair, if measured by the government's standards: retirement is delayed for all, but the lowest skilled and women lose least and some even gain higher pensions without paying proportionately more. Despite austerity, recent British pension reforms reflect a greater awareness of social inequality than many would expect and they have been built on more cross-party agreement than apparent at first sight.

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P. Bridgen and T. Meyer (2005) ‘When do benevolent capitalists change their mind? Explaining the retrenchment of defined benefit pensions in Britain’, Social Policy and Administration, 39, 4, 764–85.

P. Bridgen and T. Meyer (2011) ‘Exhausted voluntarism – the evolution of the British liberal pension regime’, in B. Ebbinghaus (ed.), Varieties of Pension Governance: The Privatization of Pensions in Europe, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 265–91.

J. Clasen (2005) Reforming European Welfare States: Germany and the United Kingdom Compared, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

R. Disney , C. Emmerson and G. Tetlow (2009) ‘What is a public service pension worth?’, Economic Journal, 119, 541, F517F35.

L. Hannah (1986) Reinventing Retirement: The Development of Occupational Pensions in Britain, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

J. D. Levy (1999) ‘Vice into virtue? Progressive politics and welfare reform in continental Europe’, Politics and Society, 27, 2, 239–73.

T. Meyer and P. Bridgen (2011) ‘Towards German liberalism and British social democracy: the evolution of two public-occupational pension regimes from 1945 to 2009’, in J. Clasen (ed.), Converging Worlds of Welfare? British and German Social Policy in the 21st Century, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 157–79.

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Social Policy and Society
  • ISSN: 1474-7464
  • EISSN: 1475-3073
  • URL: /core/journals/social-policy-and-society
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