If we knew then what we know now, most people would have gone for a career in the public sector.
Not because it’s particularly lively, stimulating or exciting – though, no doubt, it has its moments – but for the job security and the gold-plated pension.
Most private sector workers nearing retirement – if they have managed to stay in work throughout their careers – will be contemplating a bleak future. Their pensions ain’t what they used to be.
Before Tony Blair became Prime Minister, this country had one of the most secure private sector pensions industries in the world.
Thanks partly to the greed and stupidity of some major employers but also thanks to Gordon Brown’s £5 billion-a-year raid on pension funds, all that’s now been destroyed.
For many workers, there are few if any pension arrangements in place; for the rest, inflation-proof final salary pension schemes are a relic of past prosperity.
Yet public sector workers still enjoy lavish pay and pensions.
There was a time when pensions for teachers, nurses, soldiers, local government workers and civil servants were reasonably generous to make up for their relatively modest salaries.
They were looked after in old age because they were paid low wages in their working years.
All that changed under the Labour Government. Pay rose so fast that public sector workers earn an average of £2,000 a year more than those in the private sector.
Family doctors are now on £150,000, some “town clerks” earn more than the Prime Minister and teachers’ average pay has shot up from £22,000 to £35,000.
Pension entitlements rocketed as well, costing taxpayers more than £32 billion a year.
And, of course, if you work in the public sector you get to retire while you’re still young and fit enough to enjoy it – or get another job.
If you’re lucky, you can enjoy generous early-retirement deals. The public sector is especially keen on these when it comes to getting rid of someone who’s no good at their job – so much nicer than sacking them.
It’s got to stop because, even if we had the money in the boom years, we certainly can’t afford it any more.
The Coalition is struggling to deal with the massive public debt but even David Cameron and Nick Clegg are reluctant to admit how massively in debt this country really is.
Officially, we are borrowing £900 billion, rising to £1.1 trillion later this year.
In reality, the figure’s closer to £2.2 trillion already, if you take into account the money we’re spent on the banks, the mortgages taken out through the public finance initiative and our unfunded pension liability.
We’ve run out of money. Taxes are rising, the economy’s in the doldrums, the “squeezed middle” has been squeezed dry. You can’t get blood from a stone.
Former Labour Cabinet Minister Lord Hutton’s reform plans aren’t terribly radical or far-reaching.
For a start, they won’t have much effect on anyone over 50. And they mean the lowest-paid public sector workers will benefit more in retirement than their fat-cat bosses.
In future, public sector pensions will be based on average career earnings rather than the salary at retirement.
This cuts the burden on the taxpayer but it still leaves most public employees better off than their contemporaries.
Lord Hutton says his proposals are about fairness, not just that the taxpayer can’t afford to carry this weight indefinitely.
It cannot be right for private sector workers to endure poverty in old age simply to maintain the lifestyles of those lucky enough to work for the State.
Don’t forget the burden on the taxpayer gets greater every year because we’re all living longer. The average 65-year-old man will live until he’s 82; a woman can expect to reach 85.
In 1955, life expectancy was 67 for men and 72 for women.
No wonder Lord Hutton thinks the retirement age for public sector workers should rise to 65 and, in due course, to 68, in line with those in the private sector.
We are victims of our own success – but there is a price to pay for living longer, healthier lives.
Lord Hutton has not made himself popular by telling the one-fifth of us who work in the Government to work longer for less money.
The unions are, of course, warning of protests, marches and strikes to protect their pensions. But it’s just self-serving bleating from people who really don’t seem to understand how well-off they really are.
If they’re only interested in a fat pension, today’s school-leavers would still be better off sticking to the public sector.
There’s another difference between the public and private sectors. People not employed by the State don’t get expensive public inquiries into their pensions – they scarcely get consulted at all.
They just get told what’s been decided, like it or lump it. No wonder they cast envious eyes at the public services and wonder why on earth they bothered with the private sector in the first place.
Private sector workers create the wealth – but many won’t enjoy the fruits of their labour in retirement. Where’s the fairness in that?