Group of European Pensioners from Savings Banks and Financial Institutions


Index of documents > Euromeetings Magazine > Euromeetings Number 8

WHEN we left Mallorca to return to the U.K. after Euromeeting 2003, our flight was delayed because of the general strike in France. This affected air traffic control and was called to protest at their Government’s proposals to extend the retirement age before qualifying for a State pension. At the time of writing there have been two further major strikes in France.


At our Euromeeting Congress we learned of the Italian Government’s intention to interfere with annual pension increases. Austria has had it largest strike for over 60 years, also over pensions. In Germany the organisation “Foundation for the Rights of Future Generations”, a pensions pressure group, is raising alarming views on pension funding.


None of this will come as any surprise to anyone who attended our Alicante Conference. Prominent speakers clearly outlined the problems that faced governments and the pension industry.



In the U.K. the Government at last appears to accept that there is a pension problem. It has yet to acknowledge that some of their actions contributed to this crisis. Almost every day we read of pension schemes being in massive deficit and of closures. The Government, without admitting that this is a crisis, issues proposals and discussion papers that are largely condemned by pensions experts as being inadequate



To comply with the EC Equal Treatment Directive the U.K. has to enact laws to end age discrimination by 2006. The Government has promoted this as allowing people a flexible retirement age. Many see this as a smoke-screen to compel employees to work until age 70 in order to secure a full pension. Retirement before this age could see considerable financial penalties. This takes place against a background of corporate greed. Company Directors are rewarding themselves with massive salary increases and enhanced pensions. In many cases these are rewards for failure. Companies have seen their profitability decline and in many cases workers made redundant and yet the people responsible attract obscene levels of remuneration. In the worst cases some of the redundant workers have not only lost their job but also their pension to which, in many cases, they have contributed throughout their working life.


It is believed that some 40,000 find themselves  in this distressing predicament. The Government are promoting legislation that would safeguard pensions in such cases by means of an insurance scheme. There are two problems with this essential legislation. Firstly it will be two years before it becomes law and will not be retrospective. Secondly the insurance provision will not be funded by the Government but by a levy on occupational pension funds. This is likely to cause yet  further closure of such company schemes. The trade unions who are campaigning for these unfortunate workers are incensed that Members of Parliament have recently rewarded themselves with enhanced pension packages.


In order to understand just why the U.K. has distinct problems it is necessary to understand the extent to which we  pensioners rely on pensions provided by our former employers. The Pensions Policy Institute concludes “That the U.K. state pension is both the least generous and the most complicated in the industrial world.”


It further states that “Under present arrangements workers will face socially unacceptable income on retirement” The reason for this is that state pensions have, in the main, been supplemented by occupational pensions. Even where such occupational schemes remain, employers are largely shifting from the guarantee of defined benefit to the lottery of defined contribution. In other words instead of the employer carrying the risk this is shifted to the employee. In addition, most employers are taking this opportunity to reduce their level of contribution to such surviving schemes.


The New Labour Government does not believe in universal state benefit and most State benefits are means tested. Part of the problem with this is that it is so complicated to claim such benefits that many older people who are eligible do not apply. This saves the government money but puts many in poverty.


To add to the problem, workers who look to contributing to a private pension, have little faith in the pension providers. This is because of shameful misselling by these very financial institutions.


For the first time we are beginning to hear comments to the effect that “Existing pensioners must share the pain” Some continental European governments are tying to reign in payments to existing pensioners. With the impact of falling birth rates and rising life expectancy some see a social divide between young and old.


Silvio Berlusconi the Italian Prime Minister in his capacity as President of the EU has stated his aim to make pension reform a priority. The work done by José Lidón for our European Group “Social Protection for Elderly People in Europe” shows that pension provision in our member states vary enormously. It will not be possible to produce a European solution on the basis “One size fits all” Never the less there is no doubt that European initiatives to tackle the pensions crisis will impact on all our countries. I don’t believe that trade unions can be relied on to protect our pensions. The bulk of their members are not  retired and face a bleak future when they are. It is for this reason that I believe the political aspect of our European Group is essential. Our affiliation to AGE must be a step in the right direction. The larger the pensions pressure group the greater the influence at European level. At individual national level we are bound to see rising anger and opposition In the U.K. we are seeing the rise of “Grey Power” For the first time we are seeing pensioners who only received a 1.7% pension increase refusing to pay local taxes increases of up to 20%.



I believe the contribution our group can make is to recognise the different pension provision in our various countries. Even if we, as individual pensioners, escape the worst of this crisis I believe we have a duty to those who follow us. The British Government likes to talk of “Joined up policies” At the same time they have forced students to take out student loans to finance university education. They will leave full-time education and hopefully find a job. With their student loan to pay off they have somehow to get on the housing ladder. Only then can they think about their pension future. When they realise that State provision may well have withered away by the time they retire they may well question why they are paying for our pensions. The prospect for inter-generational co-operation is not good.






At least Pensions are now high on the Agenda of most European countries. We must be part of this debate.



Barry Ingham (Liverpool)

President of TSB Bank Retired Staff Association.

Manchester Region