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In the news 6 September 2019

6 September 2019

USS members £240,000 worse off as costs rise and benefits cut 

USS members are paying far more for their pension, but will lose tens of thousands of pounds in retirement because of a series of detrimental changes made to the scheme (USS) since 2011, according to analysis released on Wednesday.

The Guardian reported that the analysis showed how university staff will be more than £200,000 worse off under new pension arrangements as a result of rising contributions and reduced benefits. The FT said that a typical member will pay around £40,000 more into their pension but receive almost £200,000 less in retirement than a hypothetical member who also joined in 2011.

The Times said that with the strike ballots due to start on Monday, universities were preparing for a repeat of last year's industrial action and the Independent agreed that "fresh walkouts loomed" as UCU highlighted the loss of benefits since 2011.

Times Higher Education produced an in-depth look at what the changes meant for different members of USS and UCU general secretary Jo Grady told the magazine that members had "had enough". She said: 'Universities have to recognise the anger and frustration that members feel about the recent changes, how the scheme has been valued and how it has been run. It is not good enough to come back time and again with proposals that force members to pay more for reduced benefits.'


Coups, no-deals, no-elections, culls and resignations

To put it mildly, it has been quite an extraordinary week politically. Before MPs returned to parliament to deliver a host of embarrassing rebukes to the prime minister, there had been weekend demonstrations around the UK trying to "stop the coup". UCU general secretary Jo Grady spoke at the one in London.

A limited highlights package of what then happened in Westminster would probably show the prime minister's proroguing and no-deal Brexit plans in disarray after he lost his majority live on TV, sacked 21 MPs (including his hero Winston Churchill's grandson), became the first prime minister to lose his first three parliamentary votes and was told by MPs that he couldn't have a general election.

Then his brother - Jo Johnson the universities minister - said even he couldn't stomach what his brother was up to, quit the cabinet and resigned as MP for Orpington. This means we have now had four universities minister in two years and Times Higher Education reported that of the last four Conservative universities ministers, Greg Clark and Sam Gyimah have been expelled from the party this week for rebelling against the government, while Jo Johnson is to quit as an MP.

Speaking after Jo Johnson resigned, Jo Grady described the prime minister's approach to Brexit and democracy as so reckless that not even his own family could support him. She said: 'In the face of ongoing uncertainly, those working and studying in the UK desperately need a champion who is prepared to fight for the sector at a time of unprecedented political upheaval. And a prime minister who will allow them to make that case.'


Dig deeper says UCU as government sizes up pre-election spending bribes

The prime minister had hoped to start the week with a number of pre-election giveaways that started to be fed to the press last Friday afternoon. Strengthening the case that the government doesn't really care about further education, the funding details for colleges was sent out at 5am on Saturday.

Responding to the weekend stories, Jo Grady said that the £400m pledge for colleges came on the back of "tireless campaigning" from unions and others and called for staff to the be the top priority for the additional spending.

By the time the chancellor finally stood up to give his first speech on Wednesday, Westminster was on the verge of wrestling back control and cancelling the plans for an election. By that point UCU was among the voices that calling out the funding pledge as frantic electioneering rather than a long-term commitment.

Jo Grady said: 'The rushed spending round appears more like frantic electioneering than a long-term commitment to boosting further and higher education. The funding promised to further education will do little to reverse the cuts of over £3bn in real terms that have blighted the sector over the last decade.'


Lobby of TUC as University and College Union calls for climate walkout support

School students and supporters will urge delegates at the TUC Congress in Brighton on Sunday to back the global climate strikes on 20 September. The lobby, organised by the UK Student Climate Network (UKSCN), starts at 3pm outside the main entrance to the TUC Congress, which kicks off at 4pm.

UCU has submitted a motion to the four-day conference calling on trade unionists to support the school students' efforts and to join them for 30 minutes in a solidarity walkout on 20 September. That motion will be heard on Tuesday afternoon as part of the debate on the economy.

Jo Grady will also be speaking at a fringe event on climate change on Monday at 12:45pm alongside shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey. Jo Grady said: 'The work done by Greta Thunberg and school students around the world has been inspirational. Now it's time for the rest of us to catch up. As trade unionists it is important that we raise awareness of the impact of climate change, and we hope delegates in Brighton will back our motion.'

Last updated: 6 September 2019