Undermining confidence in USS; to no good purpose.




I read John Ralfe’s comments in this report in Times Higher Education and thought of Sir Toby Belch’s comment to Malvolio.

Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?

Sir Toby Belch is no role model- he is a fool. But Shakespeare has a habit of giving his fools and madmen the sharpest insight.

He does it with Lear, who – bereft of reason cries  “Oh reason not the need!” to his heartless daughters as they strip him of his retinue of knights.

Indeed, the parsimony of spirit of a Goneril, Reagan or Malvolio, whether in a comic or tragic context is a great theme that runs through Shakespeare’s plays, as is the generosity of Shakespeare’s heroes.

But I am indulging myself too much in private passion – to John Ralfe and those who would strip occupational pensions of their retinue of knights!

Reason not the need

If our starting and ending point is the de-risking of the burdens of pensions from institutions, we should think of the scale of the task we set ourselves. The State promises us a pension with most generous indexation of over £8,000 pa. Even at a deferred age, the value of this promise exceeds the price of any Lamborghini.

Those with unfunded pension promises, including those in the NHS, Civil Service and Teacher’s pensions , have similar rights. We are not – thank goodness – talking of trimming their sails.

We must keep our promises, though it goes against our puritanical “virtuous” instincts. For there will be cakes and ale.

We must suffer even our basest beggars to be “in poorest things superfluous”!

There is a generosity in our natures that causes us to give most generously to charity; it is the same noble instinct that inspired Lord Leverhulme to set up Port Sunlight , it inspired the great Quaker families- the Rowntree’s and the Cadbury’s. These people freely gave that there might be cakes and ale, that the beggars be in the poorest things superfluous.

We do not run a poor-house for the old

Were we to follow the logic of those who de-risk to its conclusion, we would provide from our communal resources no more than the poor-house. All other wealth we would keep for ourselves, as Lear’s daughters sort.

But in that act of parsimony, we would deny the old  their dignity.

In the parsimonious world of John Ralfe, where the only promise is the defined contribution reluctantly paid into the DC pot, then we have lost the spirit of those Victorian entrepreneurs from which our welfare state sprung.

We have tied ourselves to the Ixion Wheel of accounting standards. Lear knew that wheel, it was the metaphor by which he defined the state in which he ended his life

But I am bound upon a wheel of fire,

That mine own tears do scald like molten lead

How we treat our elderly is a measure of our society, how we share our wealth is another. The parsimony of these comments befits Malvolio , Goneril and Reagan.

One way or another USS benefits for active members will become less generous, member contributions will go up and university contributions will also go up.

Lear 2


About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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