Monday, December 5, 2011

Off With Their Heads

[Jeremy Clarkson put his foot in it on BBC1's The One Show by calling for striking public sector workers to be taken outside and shot in front of their families]

 If Jeremy Clarkson had called for strikers to be beheaded, rather than shot in front of their families, he would have provided a perfect link to my story of how I nearly decapitated him. During the first series of Robot Wars, an errant blade flew off a robot at hundreds of miles an hour and embedded itself in a concrete wall directly behind Clarkson’s enormous head. The slow motion replay showed it missed his scalp by inches.

Had my robot been a little more accurate, there would have been nothing for 21,000 people to complain about to the BBC last week. Nor would the massed ranks of ramblers, health and safety executives, lorry drivers, Mexicans, families of train suicides and other Clarkson targets have had to suffer his ill-considered outbursts over the years. So to them I sincerely apologise. Given another chance, I will try harder next time. And I’ll make sure his family is watching.

The argument over public service pensions has produced lots of misinformed rants. If I hear one more outraged private sector employee complaining that they resent paying for the gold-plated rewards of our nurses and teachers I shall scream. Most people in the private sector, which, statistically, is most people, don’t understand the issues, because the majority of them have never made a pension contribution in their life. They’ve paid their national insurance contributions, of course, but that isn’t the point. This is about saving for your retirement, which most people have never bothered to do. Now it’s catching up with them and they’re looking for a scapegoat.

Here are a few statistics to get your Weetabix spluttering. 29 million people make up Britain’s workforce. Of these, only 6 million work in the “public sector”. 87% of these have been doggedly paying some of their salary into a pension scheme. Their employer has been contributing too: it’s in their contract of employment. Now they’re being asked to pay more and get less. Their employer is reneging on the deal. So they’re cross. I would be too.

Why there’s such a fuss is because that employer is me and most of you, and all the public sector workers themselves: all of us are taxpayers.

Of the 23 million workers not in the public sector, just 3 million or so pay some of their wages into a pension scheme to which the employer also contributes. These are good employers that care about their staff, like the employers in the public sector. Most companies don’t bother anymore. They treat their workers as temporary residents in the business, generating wealth for the owners in good times, before being thrown onto the scrapheap of redundancy when times are tough or when they are too old to continue. It’s the way the world was in Victorian times and it’s become the norm in our 21st century.

6 million other people, including self-employed workers like Jeremy Clarkson, are building a safety net with a personal pension scheme. Anyone over the age of 21 would be mad not to contribute something to one, however little they earn, but very few do. My children refuse to, much to my frustration. In this consumerist world, saving for retirement is considered a pointless dilution of scarce funds. Most people would rather have an iPhone 4S now than worry about the electricity bill in their old age.

Well under half the people in the private sector have no pension at all, preferring to spend all their income now with no thought to the future. It is many of these who are now complaining about the nurses and teachers.

They’ll be the ones badgering for an increase in the old age pension when they’re 70. And, without consideration for those who’ll be paying tax on income from their private and public sector pensions till they die, some of these people will selfishly carry on living till they’re 110. Just imagine what Jeremy Clarkson will be saying about them then.