That recent email from UCU warrants a response and I set out below some comments on their three central themes:
- Warwick UCU, in taking issue with my recent article on USS, have in fact completely misrepresented the facts. Section 67 of the Pensions Act 1995 prohibits any changes to benefits built up to the date of any benefit reforms.
Equally importantly, they make reference to a particular scenario of a 37 year old to make general comments in relation to the scheme to justify their headline figure of a "35% loss to the guaranteed benefits” without mentioning two key points. First, USS has priced the benefits such that employers and members have been faced with two possible scenarios, either benefit reform or keep the current basis and pay stepped contribution increases starting at 11% from next April and increasing every six months until they reach 18.8% in October 2025. Obviously, those increases, if left unchecked, would lead to a greater increase in opt-outs than the benefit changes proposed by UUK. Second, UCU fail to mention that using their own modeller (date of birth 1 September 1984) under the proposed benefit package, it produces cash from the Investment Builder of £87,223 compared to cash of £1,567 under the current benefit package.
- They criticise me for stating a fact that “according to the USS Trustee Board, the prevailing market conditions mean that it is more expensive to provide guaranteed defined benefits. Consequently, this is reflected in the valuation assumptions. Without benefit reform, this results in higher contributions.” We might all have views on the future of investments, but this was merely stating the facts. The only people that have a legal responsibility for making this determination is the USS Trustee Board subject to oversight of the Pensions Regulator.
It should be noted that the Regulator has made it abundantly clear that whilst it thinks that contributions should be higher than that proposed (21.4% employer, 9.8% employee), it would not consider taking any action unless there is a material change in circumstances. Unlike these bodies, The University of Warwick has no say in these pricing decisions although of course UCU does have a say, via its representatives on the USS Board.
- UCU, in their message, reference 4 August but also provide a link to Mike Otsuka’s account which references 13 August. Whatever the facts, it is clear that their proposals were not put to a vote. UCU know that, had UUK not pressed for a vote in the Joint Negotiating Committee, both members and employers would be facing higher contributions of 11% and 23.7% respectively from 1 October.
UUK are also on record as continuing to invite UCU to put forward their proposals for consideration by employers. Indeed, I have written to Paul Bridge in UCU in relation to this matter but have yet to receive a response. In fact, as UCU represents all the USS members, not only union members, it is surprising that UCU has not taken steps to consult the USS membership. Disappointingly, it has not even consulted its own members who are in USS.
It is vitally important that we focus on facts and evidence regarding the proposed USS benefit reforms. I have absolutely no intention to undermine the UCU, or any other union, as is alleged. I want to ensure we provide and understand the evidence.
07 October 2021