Friday, June 29, 2012

It's not the money..silly


It's interesting to see responses to blogs...either in private or via other social media vehicles I regularly use ergo Facebook and twitter. The question has been whether I have ever quite taken a stance as to whether we should fight for our pensions or not. "Foot in both camps" was the term used and when it came from a junior doc who, I must admit, reminds me a lot of myself ( the brashness, the desire to fight the world, the tongue in cheek humour, the burning sense of "we have to make it better"), it felt like it was appropriate to take a fresh new look at the issue. Take the politics away, forget the posturing, forget the Daily Mail headlines about greedy doctors and see it for what it's worth. So I did...spent some time on the DH website, looking at the pension calculator and thought would use myself as a case study.

A bit of a struggle to actually work all the details out, what with the multiple websites, resetting of the pension bar multiple times ( so do excuse if the figures are a bit off, though not by much) but as per the pension calculator, if nothing changed and somehow miraculously, we managed to reverse the pension plans, I could retire at 65, get approximately 43k/ year and on top of that get a lump sum,tax free of 130k. For that, I contribute approximately 8% of my salary to the pension scheme. So far so good and crystal clear.Based on that, I had made some plans looking at the future.
Then comes the change scenario. Now the government wants me to pay, in an incremental basis up to 14.5% of my salary to the pension pot which would ask me to work up to 68, get 44k/year and a tax free lump sum of 115k.Again...crystal clear. Further variations to those numbers exists if I chose to take a bigger lump sum, which would drop my yearly pension, but roughly those are the figures. Compared to the past scheme, I work a bit more, pay more into the scheme and get a bit less.

So lets have a look at the arguments. The main gripe is that the goalposts have been changed and it's true that we have had a pension shake up in 2008, so why again? The reverse question from me to all them is this...forget the past for a second and answer this...if someone offered you a job worth 6 figures for life and a pension of 44k, along with a tax free lump-sum in 6 figures,when you retire at 68, would you take it or not? Agreed that in comparison to the past it looks less attractive but if you don't compare, what would you say? My gut feeling is most would accept and dare I say our nursing colleagues would bite anyone's hand off to have even a part of that. Again, I maybe wrong but that's my feeling. Yes, it was fantastic in the past but we are where we are now, so what to do about that?
Then comes the argument that we pay less than other folks in different walks of lives eg: MPs and as before it becomes a comparative exercise. Similar to the comparison to the past, this one is a comparison to other professionals. Yep, so it looks unfair; yes, it looks like we have been singled out but again, the question is not how it looks compared to other available schemes..the question is how does it look in isolation?
Most importantly , if this is being done to you now- and you are 30 years old, do you have time to adjust for the future? My plans are surely scuppered by the pension change, but that doesn't mean I join the picket lines, it means, at least for me, a meeting with my financial advisor and planning ahead. Still 30 years till I retire..with a very VERY distinct possibility I am unlikely to work that late.

And that is EXACTLY where the biggest problem for me lies with the proposed scheme. it's not about the money, it's about the 68 year old doctor. Now I am no ageist, but I am not convinced or keen to be operated upon by someone who is 68 till I am 100% convinced that that particular Consultants skills or ability to make sharp, quick decisions, ability to keep up with the advances of modern medicine hasn't been dimmed by the advances of Father Time. And that is where the BMA have missed a trick. This battle could have been about patient safety, fighting the case whereby working till 68 may not be a safe option for patients. With the greatest respect to all other walks of life, this is a profession whose quick sharp judgements decides whether someone gets better or not, whether someone lives or not. Is that worth fighting for? Definitely. Would we have engaged the public on this issue? Absolutely we would have. Now, as a double whammy, the BMA wants a repeal of the Health Bill,considers whether to engage with the commissioning process.In isolation, a good plan, as most trade unions who don't agree with a policy direction of their employers would do...problem is, now it looks like we are wanting to do all this because the money being offered as pensions isn't "enough". So in 2 strokes, the BMA have missed the opportunity to get the patients on their side and perhaps some political backing too. Golden rule of negotiations? Never let the other person call your bluff...BMA decided to strike...the other party shrugged their shoulders, no patient support, unsympathetic press, no peer group, co-professional group support...lesson? don't say "raise" when you have such a weak hand.

Finally, the last argument I have heard is that why should we support others pension deficit ( as the doctors pension pot is already in surplus etc etc). Forgetting the socialist argument that we earn more and should perhaps contribute to others (and yes, so should all others who earn more than 100k in the public sector)...and you believe in the view that what I earn is mine/ I have no intention of contributing to others pensions working in the public sector...well, bottom line is...don't like it...fine, why don't you leave the scheme? I am intrigued to hear what my financial advisor says...after all the changes, is the NHS pension scheme still the best or could I put that 14.5% of my salary somewhere else? That is my individual choice and is based on what I think will make MY life comfortable later. For that, to make a point, I will not strike work and as I have said before, let's not kid ourselves that patient care is not harmed by downing tools, elective or non elective. Whatever the label, a patient sees me in an appointment because they are not well in some shape or form, not to discuss the weather.

So to those who still think my position isn't clear..here you go. On face value, the pension being offered is good enough for me. I don't like the fact that goalposts have been changed but it's not going to drive me to poverty and I have plenty of time to adjust accordingly. If my financial advisor says there's something better out there, then I leave the NHS pension scheme, simple as that. What concerns me more is the age uplift due to patient safety, and that is something that SHOULD be looked at.  
Finally, do I say that to curry favour or an ambition to be a politician? Well, there's no hope in hell I will be a politician with my lack of political correctness, and frankly I have moved through the management ranks because of my desire to stay outside the conformity box, not inside. I am not asking anyone else to follow or agree with what I am doing, but it's my life, my finances, my pensions...and that's what I am doing. As I have said previously, what I say in my blog is my individual view and if you don't like it, heck, that's democracy. 
Dennis Waitley once said.."Chase your passion, not your pension". The day my passion to improve diabetes care dims, I will start concentrating on my pension. Till then..the picket lines are not for me.



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