LUCU News: Pensions Update

LUCU News: Pensions Update

Today is April Fools’ Day. It’s also the day when Universities UK’s cuts to USS come into effect. What’s happening to our pension scheme is as ludicrous as the great April Fools’ pranks of the past (spaghetti trees, the island of San Serif), but, unfortunately, not as funny.

As a result of these cuts, the pension you will earn today is between 15% and 35% lower than the pension you earned yesterday. Coupled with the 21/22 pay award of just 1.5% and an inflation rate currently running at 6.2%, the assault on our pensions means that this year will see the biggest cut in our real-terms renumeration since at least the 1970s – potentially the biggest cut ever.

The changes taking effect in USS from today have other implications, too. From now on, the University will be spending around £5.8m per year on servicing the ‘deficit’ that USS calculated existed on 31 March 2020, at the height of the pandemic. In the Trustees’ interim monitoring report of 28 February 2022, USS accepted that this ‘deficit’ had shrunk from £14.1bn to £2.0bn. Remarkably, to create even this trivially small £2.0bn ‘deficit’, USS had to lower its growth assumptions below even the ‘excessively prudent’ assumptions used in the 2020 valuation: USS is now assuming 0% growth in real terms (since 2020 it has achieved 33% growth).

You may need to take a moment for this outrage to sink in. This £5.8m per year is real money, taken from the University’s bank account. So, the next time you are told there is no money to fund your PhD student to attend a conference, no money to replace your faulty computer, or no money to buy a new heater for your cold office, please remember that there is enough money in the University to spend £5.8m servicing a deficit that doesn’t exist.

What now?

There are two immediate ways in which the dispute could be resolved.

First, USS is being taken to court by a group of UCU activists. The hearing is scheduled for 5 April, and you can find out details of the case at the CrowdJustice page.

Second, Universities UK could insist that USS issues a new deficit recovery plan in light of post-valuation experience. Because the current ‘deficit’ is so low, this would be likely to reduce deficit recovery payments to zero, thereby providing scope for devising a new schedule of contributions and higher benefits. Critically, to improve benefits does not require the same lengthy consultation and legal process as is needed when benefits are cut.

To date, Universities UK has refused to call for a new valuation, or for post-valuation experience to be taken into account in drawing up the deficit recovery plan; instead, it has preferred simply to cut staff benefits. Without concerted pressure from UCU members, in the form of a high turnout and a strong ‘yes’ vote in the current ballot for continuing industrial action, UUK will continue to erode our living standards.

Sign the petition

Please urgently join UCU’s call for Universities UK (UUK) to revoke the cuts by signing the petition here: https://speakout.web.ucu.org.uk/uss-cuts-are-not-necessary/

Please vote

The ballot closes a week today: 8 April. We urge you to return your ballot papers, if you have not already done so. The last safe day to post is Wednesday 6 April. Thank you.

LUCU Committee

USS & Four Fights Strike Update – 15th March

USS & Four Fights Strike Update

Additional Strike Days Announced 

We will be taking an additional 5 days of strike action over USS & Four Fights from Monday 21st to Friday 25th March to put additional pressure on employers. Thank you to all our members who’ve been part of the action.

Picket Details

We will be picketing the gates of Loughborough University again from the 21st to 25th March. Picketing will start at 8am and conclude around 11am. Please let Marc Gibson know if you will be able to join the pickets.  

Re-balloting of Members 

Our current strike mandate runs out on the 3rd of May and the UCU HEC have decided to re-ballot all members at Loughborough (and the 148 other HEIs) on both Four Fights and USS to extend the strike mandate. The ballot will open on Wednesday 16th March. Please check your postal details are correct on MyUCU now, and please look out for your ballot pack arriving in the post. It should contain 2 ballots, one for USS and one for Four Fights. Please complete both and return as soon as possible. The ballot period will close on Friday 8th April.  

USS Legal Action – Crowdfunding Appeal 

This is a joint effort from many university branches who believe in fair pensions and a living planet. Its organising group includes Dr Neil Davies, Bristol UCU, and Dr Ewan McGaughey, KCL UCU and the below is taken from their latest update.

We wanted to update you about the legal action against the USS directors over cuts to our pensions and management of the USS. As you may have heard, we won our first oral hearing, and now we need to raise more to cover costs for the next on 28 March. 

If you can donate it will make a huge difference. The current pensions cuts leave many of us £100,000’s worse off in retirement (see modeller). If we win, we could get an injunction against the cuts that will happen on 1 April. We have 3 weeks to save the pension, so please donate now, and share with everyone you know!  

Legal case progress to now – In August last year, we raised £50,000 to start legal action against the USS directors. Many thanks to the over 1700 people who contributed. These donations paid for our legal team to develop our claim, which we submitted last Autumn. On the 28th of February, our barrister presented the case at an initial hearing at the High Court judge and requested permission to proceed to the next stage – a full contested hearing. We were successful, and the judge recognised the urgency of our claim and granted us a contested hearing on the 28th of March. He ruled that we have a prima facie case and that we were acting in good faith. If we are successful at the next hearing, we will be able to proceed with the legal action against the directors, which may be paid for by USS Limited (the company that runs our pensions). We have four claims: 

  • That the 2020 valuation was flawed and unnecessary 
  • USS costs are excessive 
  • The changes discriminate against women, younger and minority colleagues  
  • The USS has failed to have a credible plan to divest from fossil fuels, and this causes significant financial detriment 

Crowdfunding – However, to proceed with the next hearing, we urgently need to raise more money to cover the legal costs of the full hearing. So we would be very grateful if you could contribute to our crowdfund. Time is short, so if you could donate here asap – we would greatly appreciate it! If there is any money remaining in the crowdfund after the legal action is complete, we will use it for further legal action over the USS, for example, seeking judicial review of The Pensions Regulator. If there are no further legal options, or we get everything we want (a reasonable valuation, a cost-effective pension scheme, a pensions proposal that is not discriminatory, and divestment from fossil fuels), then we will donate any remaining funds to a charity.  

LUCU Committee 

Ballots Now Out and Video Update

Ballots Now Out and Video Update

Ballots have now been posted out and those being balloted in the USS and Four Fights disputes should have received them in the post. Look out for this envelope:

When you receive your ballot please open it up, vote Yes & Yes and Yes & Yes on the ballots and put them in the pre-paid return envelope provided. Please then post this back as soon as you can. 

Please click here for the latest video on the USS dispute, where Marc Gibson, Branch Secretary gives his views on the USS dispute.

To see previous videos the branch has released during the dispute please go to our YouTube channel, don’t forget to subscribe so you are notified of any new videos we post.

LUCU Committee