New survey shows public more willing to take action over pensions

Seven in ten voters would take some form of action if their pension contributions were to increase while promising lower returns, writes Neil Foster.

By Neil Foster of Progressive Polling

Seven in ten voters would take some form of action if their pension contributions were to increase while promising lower returns.

The findings from Survation in a public opinion poll commissioned by Unite shows that of those taking action 40% would opt for lawful industrial action, 5% would opt for legal action and 46% would want to leave the scheme outright.

The importance of pensions is also illustrated by several poll findings.

Survation show that 60% believe a pension is the most important benefit an employer can offer. This is considerably well ahead of flexible working (12%), health insurance (8%) and a bonus (7%).

A YouGov survey (pdf) from November 15th revealed 36% viewed pensions to be the “most important issue facing you or your family right now”, second only to the economy.

Given the importance of pensions to people, the issue of trust becomes increasingly critical in forming settled opinions. Survation’s poll lays bare the lack of public confidence and trust in the government.

A staggering 99% of voters don’t ‘fully trust’ ministers on pension affordability. In fact the government is one of the least trusted bodies to provide accurate information on the topic at all.

In stark contrast trade unions topped the opinion poll as the public’s most trusted source of accurate information at 33% – three and a half times more trusted than ministers (9%). Also behind unions in terms of trust on accuracy over pension affordability are think tanks (19%), newspapers and TV (13%) and business leaders (13%).

This suggests the government will struggle to convince the wider electorate of its central argument and justification of pension changes.

That trade unions are so much trusted on this topic shouldn’t be an entire surprise to poll watchers. Ipsos Mori’s ‘Veracity Index’ (pdf) has seen unions consistently outpoll governments in trustworthiness since the survey began in 1983.

Trade unions have also been seen as more ‘truthful’ than business leaders for 11 consecutive years and have outpolled journalists since 1993.

Add the fact the second most trusted profession of all is teachers (81%) and that this profession has overwhelmingly backed industrial action, then unions have a real opportunity to establish facts and tackle myths.

For example today’s Survation poll shows how vulnerable the government is when people are presented with the information.

For example fewer than 1 in 12 (8%) would describe a £6,000 a year average public sector pension as ‘gold-plated’ – a claim that has repeatedly made by Conservative-aligned newspapers and politicians. Instead nearly 3 in 4 (74%) believe the government’s pension proposals to reduce pensions would increase pensioner poverty in years to come.

The findings also show a huge dissatisfaction that those in well-paid positions are being asked to contribute too little to economic recovery, while those with the least are being made to contribute too much.

Eighty six per cent of the public believe chief executives of organisations are not “making enough personal sacrifices to help the economy during the downturn”. There is a clear mismatch when compared to those likely to take some form of action on November 30th – just 17% believe teachers and refuse collectors should make further sacrifices with just 9% thinking the same for nurses.

The coalition government should be wincing at the news energy minister Charles Hendry has recently bought a 20-bedroom castle outside of his constituency. This poll conducted prior to this news shows 78% believe cabinet ministers have not made sufficient sacrifices.

In conclusion, trade unionists and campaigners should take some heart from the fact they are much more trusted than the media and politicians dare admit. In the coming days the more frontline workers who are able to take on the government’s myths with objective facts the better.

There is a hardening mood across the country that the ‘little guy’ is already picking up too much of the bill for a crisis caused by others. There are worries the future people plan for and expect now looks increasingly bleak.

If the unions can successfully tap into this mood and highlight the unfairness of proposals and present alternatives, then they have an opportunity to win wider public support.

See also:

More evidence Gideon’s savage attack on public sector pensions will hit women hardestNigel Stanley, November 21st 2011

Hutton repeats his big fat lie on public sector pensionsAlex Hern, November 4th 2011

Hutton should read his pensions report again before leaping to Cameron’s rescueMichael Burke, September 16th 2011

Don’t buy the right-wing spin: Public sector pension costs set to fallDaniel Elton, September 15th 2011

Danny Alexander repeats the ‘big lie’ that pension reform needed to stop spiralling costsDaniel Elton, July 28th 2011

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.