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My pension has been squandered: the USS pension fiasco

Blog Author Swati Nehete

Blog Date 13/03/2018

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I knew early on that I wanted to be an academic. I have a passion for learning and teaching, I really wanted to do something that would enable me to give back to the community, by sharing my skills and knowledge, and helping to shape the dental workforce of the future.

I graduated abroad and came to the UK to develop my postgraduate career. I did my postgraduate degree at the Eastman, got my MJDF, and worked in a variety of maxillofacial and restorative roles across the UK.

I then became a full time Clinical lecturer, and am now a Senior Clinical Lecturer at Barts. I teach students five days a week, I do research and see patients at the hospital, to keep my clinical skills up to date.

To get to where I am today, I invested a great deal – emotionally, financially, personally, into my career and although at times, it was hard, I felt it was all worth it, as it was what I really wanted to do.

I had to make sacrifices, many hours studying, trying to juggle roles, at both home and work, I have many people to thank for both putting up with me, and helping and supporting me on this journey.

I was also well aware that choosing a life in academia wouldn't be the most profitable route I could take in dentistry. I could earn a lot more working as a GDP in a mixed practice, or as a private dentist, or even as a dentist with a special interest.

But I felt that academia was a stable environment, less risky than being self-employed, and offered me a certain level of financial stability. I'd earn less, but the terms and conditions were fixed – and my pension pot was safe and sturdy.

But that rug has now been pulled out from under me.

The £7.5bn deficit in the USS pension scheme means that my 'guaranteed' retirement income appears to have been swallowed up. My concern about the UUK proposals for the new USS scheme, are that it'll change my pension from a guaranteed pension, to a riskier pensions savings pot.

I feel my pension fund has already been mismanaged. Why should I have any confidence that it is going to better this time around?

There has been little transparency in the process. We've not been invited to any meetings, no-one has come to talk to us. The only information I have had is from the BDA.

The information published by UUK and USS is very complex, written in financial terminology, and very difficult for anyone who isn't a financial consultation to understand.

We haven't been given any good illustrations of how our pensions might pan out based on certain salary levels, length of service, etc, to help us get a clearer picture of what the best course of action is for us.

I'm really frustrated by the lack of engagement on this issue. And there's a great deal of anxiety amongst members of staff, which is really not helping anyone's stress levels or feelings of motivation.

It feels like we are in a position of divide and rule. In my department, not everyone is a member of USS, some stayed on the NHS pension scheme (I'm starting to wish I now had…) and people are members of difficult unions (some UCU, or BMA, or Unison, and some BDA, some none at all) – so UUK know we are not united, and therefore may just have the upper hand.

There's no clarity of whether I can now switch back to the guaranteed NHS pension scheme if I wish, or if that might negatively affect my expected pension pot.

New members of teaching staff are asking me what they should do, should they stay on the NHS Pension or should they move to USS? I have no idea what to tell them and feel powerless to support them, at a time when they need advice. It's upsetting.

And I've no idea what I should do, either.

What I really want is the pension I signed up to at the beginning of my academic career. The guaranteed pension I was promised, and one of the reasons why I choose the career I did.

I want a stable, secure investment, that will help sustain me financially when I retire. That retirement feels a long way off, but we are told we need to save into our pension. Retirement planning is a complex business that is why it has been good to have the security of a decent pension scheme which offers a safety net in old age which I don't have to think or worry about. 

Unfortunately, the proposed replacement removes that safety net, and requires members to be much more financially savvy than many of us would feel comfortable with.

These proposals do nothing to help us find people who are going to fulfil these important, inspirational roles in academia that will guide the next generation of dentists. We are already experience difficulties recruiting into the academic sector, and particularly at senior level – recent BDA evidence points to a permanent 10 per cent vacancy level amongst senior clinical lecturers, the backbone of clinical undergraduate teaching.

And the fiasco over the USS pension scheme will do nothing to help alleviate that.

Swati Nehete

Senior Clinical Lecturer


Changes to academic pensions

Read our briefing on the proposals.

We are keen to gather as much data as we can on current BDA members who are in the USS scheme – this will help us get a picture of how many people will be affected and to what extent.

 

Please get in touch with Phil McEvoy, BDA Pensions Head Phil McEvoy or tel: 020 7563 4161. Any information you give us will be treated in strictest confidence.

 

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