UK Politics

Fact check: The value of public sector pensions

Ministers and union leaders have clashed over the value of public sector pensions as strike action by workers over the issue looms.

Unions maintain the value of their pensions is being eroded but the government says publicly-funded pensions need to be more affordable

But how do the figures being quoted by each side stack up?

CLAIM: The PCS union says the average annual pension paid to retired civil servants is £4,200. It says more than 100,000 people receive less than £2,000 and 40,000 get less than £1,000.

FACT CHECK: All these figures should be treated with some caution. The PCS admits its figure excludes the highest earners while any average figure includes everyone entitled to a pension, regardless of whether they spent their whole career in the public sector or just a few months as well as those who worked mainly part time or took career breaks.

The TUC says most public sector workers can expect a pension of between £5,000 and £8,000.

The Hutton review of public pensions, which recommended the changes now being contested, found there was "considerable variation" in average pension values.

While the average in 2009-10 was £7,800, once you factor in pensions paid to dependents, the figure fell to £6,500. Half of workers received less than £5,600 a year while 10% got less than £1,000 a year. There was also a big difference between men and women - with men receiving on average about £8,000 and women £4,000.

CLAIM: Ministers say a civil servant on an average salary of £23,000 would have built up a pension pot of £500,000 after 40 years employment - paying an annual pension in retirement of about £15,000 a year.

FACT CHECK: Once again the figure should be treated with caution. Although Mr Maude said this was the "typical" scenario, many people have not worked for the civil service or another public sector organisation for 40 years and been able to build up such a pension pot on an uninterrupted basis.

The Hutton report found the average pension payments - including workers and dependents - in 2009-10 were as follows:

  • Local government worker: £4,052
  • NHS worker: £7,234
  • Civil servant: £6,199
  • Teacher: £9,806
  • Member of armed forces: £7,722

It concluded that 10% of public sector workers received annual pensions of £17,000 or above, with retired policemen and fire officers most represented in this category compared to other sections of the workforce. It found that 1% of workers got payouts of £37,000 a year - two thirds of those were NHS doctors and consultants.

CLAIM: Ministers say no-one in the private sector could now get the average size of pension accrued by a civil servant.

FACT CHECK: Financial advisers Hargreaves Lansdown have calculated that private sector employees would need to build up a pension pot of £189,151 - equivalent to £6,300 each year for 30 years - to receive the average annual pension paid to civil servants.

It estimates the equivalent comparative figures for NHS workers and teachers are £221,155 and £298,596.

However, it stresses that these figures are "indicative" and do not "tell the entire story" due to the wide range of different pension entitlements in the public sector.

Accountants PriceWaterhouse Coopers have estimated that private sector workers would need to contribute about 37% of their salary to their pension pot over their working lifetime to match the retirement income paid to a public sector worker on an equivalent wage. They say this a "broad average" across final salary schemes in the public sector.

PwC says the average public pension figure reflects how many low-paid workers there are. But it says many private sector workers are also low-paid but do not have access to a employer-based pension scheme.

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