Harriet Harman

Labour Member of Parliament for Camberwell & Peckham

Update for Camberwell and Peckham Labour Party: Public Sector St

Dear Member of Camberwell and Peckham Labour Party,

I wanted to let you know my view about today's public sector strike. This is a digest of what I said on the BBC’s ‘Any Questions’ on Friday.

"I don’t want to see anybody have to cancel their flight; or have their operation cancelled; I don’t want to see anybody have to take a day off work and lose pay because the schools are closed but nor do I want to see a million people voting for a strike because they feel that they have been backed into a corner and that a strike is their only way they can make the Government listen. They care about the public services they work in.

But the Tory-led Government is refusing to negotiate. The Tories’ approach is not about the sustainability of public sector pensions: It’s about paying down the deficit too far and too fast. And far from making the scheme more sustainable, these changes threaten the sustainability of the pension scheme as many will withdraw as the cost goes up.

A million people, three-quarters of them women, most of them low paid – and many working part-time actually earning less than £15,000 a year - are being told ‘we are going to make you pay 3 per cent more in pension contributions. You didn’t cause the global financial crisis and you are low paid but you are going to have to pay for it.’

It is not true to say public sector pensions are "gold-plated".  The average public sector pension is £5,600 – to which they have contributed.

The government is being divisive and setting the private sector against the public sector. We want good pensions in the private sector as well as the public sector that's why when we were in government we set up a scheme for everyone to have a pension at their work which their employer would pay in to.

There is something about the Tories’ attitude to the public sector which leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. They think the public sector is a millstone around the country’s neck, that somehow public sector workers are unproductive. But our public services are part of what makes Britain the sort of place that people want to live in.

It is wrong to say the public sector is "bloated". The Government are cutting police by 16,000 and the UK Border Agency by 5,000. But we need those services – and we need the nurses and teachers and council workers too. They are not "bloated".

The Government criticises the public sector as wasteful and inefficient. And of course every effort must be made to make public services efficient. But there is waste and inefficiency in
 the private sector too. And there was gross irresponsibility in the private banking sector which caused the global financial crisis.

The task of the Government is not to point the finger of blame at the public sector but to negotiate in good faith and resolve the dispute.”

Please let me know your thoughts.

With best wishes,

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