Sean O'Grady: Austerity means different things to different folk

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Public sector unions are on their own if they want to fight the Hutton reforms. The reponse by Labour's shadow treasury minister Angela Eagle was thunderous in its ambiguity: "significant and very challenging report... examine the proposals carefully... tough choices..." In other words: "We're not going to go to the wall on this one – especially as we tried to do much the same in government (but failed)." Nor should unions expect sympathy from the wider community. As Ms Eagle says, Lord Hutton has reminded us that the obscene retirement funding enjoyed by BBC bosses, local authority chief executives and top civil servants are far removed from modest pensions of, say, retired midwives or science teachers. The average public sector pension is £6,500; in local government, £4,000. Most cats can't get fat on that. But the greed of those at the top brought the whole system into disrepute. Private sector workers will still wonder at the generosity of public sector pensions; most having long since lost their final salary schemes and seen pay and conditions fall behind. The old deal saw the public sector paid a rotten salary, but you had security of tenure and a decent pension; the private sector the reverse. Now we all are hammered down. That's what they mean by "austerity".