Last Friday The Times carried an interview with a teacher from my old primary school, St.Margaret's Plumstead Common. This 59-year old complained, 'I'd like Michael Gove to come and spend a week doing my job .. When he does that he can come and tell me about cutting my pension.' Given that she is near retirement age, her pension is unlikely to be affected much.
Even if the Government's proposed changes go through in full, those in the public sector will still be much better off than those most of those in the private sector, many of whom do not have a pension worth speaking of or have to make their own provision in schemes which are vulnerable to stock market fluctuations. If vox pop and radio show texts are anything to go by, many in the private sector resent what they see as the privileged treatment of the public sector.
There are two answers to that view. One is that relatively good pensions form part of an overall renumeration package which public sector workers signed up to as part of their contracts. But that is an argument for phasing in the changes not abandoning them which is what is proposed anyway. And if the grass is greener on the other side ...
A second argument is that poor private sector pensions need to be tackled rather than reducing those in the public sector. Employers should be 'required' to provide them. In other words labour costs in the UK should be substantially increased which wouldn't do much for competitiveness.
Career average pensions could actually benefit the less well off and the unions seemed to be prepared to concede that point. As for working longer before pensions become available, trade unionists complain that they are being made to pay for the banking crisis.
But the banking crisis didn't lead to people living longer. It's one thing to pay a pension for seven years after someone has worked for forty years and another thing to pay it for thirty years.
Where the unions do have grounds for complaint is the increase in contribution costs at a time when the pay of their members is frozen for all except the lowest paid. In other words this means a further cut in take home pay.
It is actually not as much as the figures suggest because of the generous tax treatment of pensions - something that is never really discussed. Even so, it is substantial and it is here that the Government may need to give way, although by doing so they place at risk their deficit reduction strategy. But a hot autumn could damage the Government's standing. In other words, there might be a political price to pay for failing to give concessions.
It's a tricky tightrope and while David Cameron is good at tactics, he may be less good at strategy. Given the recent proposals on paying for care, one thing that does need to be thought about is whether those of pensionable age should continue to be exempt from National Insurance contributions.