FOI Man argues that the rhetoric of jealousy in discussions of pension reform isn’t helpful.

I appreciate that this subject is slightly off-topic for a blog about FOI, but of course FOI Officers are all public employees, so there is a tangential relevance. I hope you’ll indulge me in my occasional forays off the beaten track like this from time to time. If not, be assured that normal service will be resumed next week!

I think I’m an unusual public sector worker. I’m really not that exercised about pension reforms.

My view is that politically certainly, and quite possibly economically, current pension arrangements are unsustainable. Things have to change, one way or another.

The thing that bothers me is the tone of the debate. There has always been an element of political posturing involved in trying to get the upper hand in industrial disputes. It’s not unusual for public sector workers to be portrayed as having better working conditions than private workers, as whatever the truth of this (and it is questionable), it strengthens the Government’s hand in negotiations.

But I feel that under this Government it’s getting out of hand. Am I the only person who finds it rather odd for millionaire politicians and captains of industry to be using the rhetoric of jealousy to make their case? Especially when they’re suggesting that people should be jealous of teachers, prison officers, police officers, etc? What’s more, it strikes me that those who are most prone to argue vocally that the public sector has it too good are often the same ones who equally vocally defended bank bonuses, arguing that criticism of them was just jealousy. Ironic, isn’t it?

I once considered training as a teacher. But the thought of standing in front of a classroom of teenagers ready to leap on my every weakness just didn’t appeal (though now I metaphorically stand in front of a network of (mostly) adults ready to leap on my every weakness). I chose a different route. When a friend who is a teacher tells me about having to confiscate knives from kids that tower over her, I find it a wonder that anyone would want to do that job however much they are paid, or however good their pension may be.

Similarly, I can see that people who have set up their own businesses and are struggling with overheads in difficult times are in a tough place. But they chose to do it for the most part. They do it because they enjoy doing what they do. Because they value their independence. Or for any one of a dozen or more different reasons. But at some point along the line they made a conscious decision to make their living that way, and to accept the consequences of that.

People choose different paths in life. We’re lucky to live in a free society where we can do that. We shouldn’t be jealous of others who chose other paths. And certainly our leaders should think carefully before they try to encourage such jealousy. It might win short term political battles but it really does great harm to the harmony of our society to perpetuate these (mostly artificial) divisions.