Over 60s club together to offer their experience

Bernard Smyth attended ADM on behalf of Bristol branch as an observer and to attend the launch of NUJ 60 Plus. He reports…

A new “club” for NUJ members over 60 was launched at ADM on November 19. NUJ 60 Plus will be open to the 6,000 members who qualify. At the launch Deputy General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet said the organisation could bring lots of advantages to the union.

NUJlogoThe members – many of whom were not involved in the union at the moment – could enrich its work. The NUJ needed to tap into the experience of its older members, who could mentor freelances and others who work alone, Michelle added.

Launching NUJ 60 Plus, former Observer columnist Katharine Whitehorn, still working as the Saga magazine agony aunt, said we faced an odd situation where the young often knew more than their elders, especially where new technology was concerned.

There was concern that there were not enough young people working to pay the pensions of the growing number of old folk. But then it was proposed to change the retirement age. “You can’t have it both ways,” she added. As the Saga agony aunt, Katharine dealt with old people’s problems, which included, for example, daughters-in-law from hell and questions over whether to move house or not.

When government policy was drawn up, no one seemed to think of the effect of change on older people, she said. For example, it was proposed to reduce the time available for pedestrians to cross the road. Katharine also railed against the use of small typefaces that were difficult to read and bicycles ridden on the pavement. So the more groups there were to look after the interests of old people the better, she added. She urged the government to take on board the problems of old people and to keep their promises.

Pat Healy, chair of the union’s pensioners’ committee, who also chaired the meeting, said NUJ 60 Plus was restricted by rule 22 so that it could meet only once a year and could not table motions to ADM.

So older members needed to go back to their branches and get them to propose changes to this rule. She also urged branches to affiliate to the National Pensioners Conventions regional bodies. Pat also said there were different types of retired members with different rights. Some could vote on union matters, some could not, for instance.

One member said one meeting a year was not enough – older members needed to know what was going on and to debate what should be done.

General Secretary Jeremy Dear said some branches such as London Freelance might have funds to host meetings of NUJ 60 Plus and the group could also use the union website. Pat Healy, who said HQ had a database of members over 60 so contact could be made with them, suggested that the next meeting should be in September 2010, whenever ADM was held.

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  1. Michael Joseph says:

    Well done Bernard – and the NUJ, if belatedly. As a soon-to-be pensioner, might I suggest one area which the union, on behalf of its older members particularly, might like to direct its energies.

    The final salary pension schemes enjoyed by our members in the public services but by few in private industry (retirement at 60, inflation-proofed pensions based on length of service) will soon be going the way of the dodo.

    This will mean our members being thrown back on a totally inadequate state pension and, if they are lucky, some private pension provision which they have been able to accumulate during their working lives.

    Such terms as SIPP (Self-Invested Personal Pension), MVA (Market Value Adjustment), BMF (Balanced Managed Fund) will soon become common currency between NUJ members and not just the parlance of pension nerds such as myself.

    Let me suggest one campaign the union might support (no, not self-defeating headline-grabbers such as “Hands Off Our Pensions” and “No ConLib Cuts”) but one which might have a faint chance of success.

    This would focus on the restoration of Pensions Income Tax Relief (stay awake at the back
    there!). In order to understand what this is about I need to take you back to 1997 and the first masterstroke of our Great Chancellor and subsequent Great Leader Gordon Brown.

    His little-noticed abolition of the aforesaid Pensions Income Tax Relief in his first budget was presented as a totally painless way of paying for Labour’s Brave New World (it wasn’t). At a stroke Gordo grabbed £5 BILLION a year from our pensions, consigning many final salary schemes – which were already facing difficulties – to the scrapheap and other Money Purchase schemes (whose value is entirely dependent on the investments they hold) into prolonged decline.

    Why did this happen? Well, all pension schemes are based on a fund of cash, apart from public service pensions which contain no funds at all except for the contributions of present and future taxpayers (Nye Bevan – one of the founders of the welfare state – jovially admitted: “The great secret about the National Insurance fund is that there ain’t no fund.” – Nice one, Nye.) Pension funds hold mainly shares, and the type of shares they prefer are large companies which pay annual dividends – say 3 to 6 per cent a year – because this provides income for the pension holder and, hopefully, growth in the capital value of the fund (which pensioner at the back there did I hear say “Dream on”?)

    By removing Pensions Income Tax Relief Gordo made the schemes much less profitable and less likely to deliver improved returns. The subsequent implosion in world financial markets delivered the coup de grace.

    Indeed we have now reached the stage where it is questionable whether it is worth investing in a pension scheme at all – certainly without a significant contribution from a company (those of you fortunate enough to be in work), I would advise again it. You would be better putting your money into stock market ISAs. You will forgo the 20pc tax top-up from the Inland Revenue but any capital gain can be taken (in the form of regular income if you prefer) entirely tax free. Income from a pension is taxed as normal so you can find yourself migrating into a higher tax bracket.

    Enough you say (those of you still awake). And you are right. But remember this. You youngsters are likely to live to 90 and beyond – and that is an awfully long time to be envying those MPs (and union leaders) retiring on pensions you can only dream about.

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