Liberal Democrat members back pension changes but opposing making strikes harder

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 564 party members responded, and we are publishing the full results here over several days.

According to our latest survey of paid-up party members, Liberal Democrats want to see major changes to pension arrangements in the UK. Nearly three-quarters want to see universal benefits such as free television licenses and bus passes replaced with means-testing so that the wealthiest pensioners do not receive the same benefits as everyone else.

There is also strong support for changing public sector pension arrangements, with party members backing the government’s original proposals by a similar margin and with just under two-thirds opposing the public sector strike held on the issue. (The survey took place before news of the revised offer this week.)

However, despite those views on the strike, there is a 2:1 majority against making it harder for strikes to be called by requiring 50% of union members, rather than 50% of those voting, to back a strike.

Here are the questions in full:

Nick Clegg has suggested introducing means-testing so that better-off pensioners would no longer be entitled to receive benefits such as free bus passes and television licences. Supporters argue that at a time of financial austerity such benefits for the wealthiest paid by general taxation are unfair. Opponents argue that the principle of universal benefits is important and that means-testing is administratively complex. Which of the following statements comes closest to your own view:

I support means-testing for some benefits: 70%
I oppose means-testing of benefits: 26%

The Coalition Government is seeking changes to public sector pensions that will require public sector workers to work for longer and contribute more to their pensions. The government say that with people living longer the changes are necessary to make public sector pensions affordable in the long term. The trade unions say that changes have already been made that make current pensions sustainable. Do you support or oppose the government’s changes to public sector pensions?

I support the changes: 71%
I oppose the changes: 20%

Many trade unions voted to go on strike on November 30th in protest against proposed changes to public sector pensions, which will require public sector workers to work for longer and make higher contributions to their pensions. Do you support or oppose this strike action over changes to public sector pensions?

I support the strike action: 23%
I opposed the strike action: 65%

Trade unions must hold a ballot of their members before taking strike action and need the support of a majority of those voting to take action. In some cases, however, only a minority of workers vote in the ballot, meaning only around one-quarter or one-third of workers back the strike. Some people have suggested that the law should be changed so that a union can only go on strike if over 50% of its members back the strike, rather than 50% of those voting. Would you support or oppose this change?

Support – unions should require the support of 50% of all eligible members to take strike action: 32%
Oppose – it should be enough for unions to get the support of 50% of those voting: 60%

  • Over 1,200 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with Some 564 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 9th and 13th December.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However,’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past accurately predicted the winners of the contest for Party President, and the result of the conference decision to approve the Coalition agreement.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at

* Mark Pack is Party President and is the editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

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This entry was posted in LDV Members poll.


  • Hmm, very surprised to see 32% in favour of clampdown on strike laws. We really are becoming a right-wing bunch, being a party of Government, it seems!

  • That 32% could just as easily be the radically democratic group wanting a more convincing mandate for strike action, to protect it against the criticisms of being unrepresentative of the majority of the workforce.

  • Excellent – because we don’t want those pesky pensioners voting for us either.

    So that means that we have annoyed:

    students (Tuition fees)
    pacifists (Libya)
    Left of centre people who do not like Labour
    public sector workers (danny attacking public sector workers)
    christians (misinterpretation of the argument Nick was putting forward about marriage – Keep it simple Nick!)

    And now pensioners

    I am not saying that the policy was wrong on any of them, but, for goodness sake, can’t out leadership think about their presentation of the policies before they open their mouths

  • Means testing is not necessary. Keep it a universal benefit and adjust pensioner tax bands to claw it back from those with higher pensions.

  • LondonLiberal 21st Dec '11 - 4:58pm

    if we want to save taxpayers’ money we should seek the outcome named in this epetition:

  • Dave Eastham 21st Dec '11 - 6:33pm

    The last Lib Dem Voice survey, whose results are being currently released is I think, in danger of being a case of getting the answers “wanted” by those asking the questions.
    Means testing of universal benefits for instance. This is a case of the desirability of the aims and outcomes of something, (the fairest way of distributing support to those that need it) being confused with the mechanism of achieving it. Means-testing is an easy and a rather glib way of describing one way of achieving the outcome. Trouble is that it is not a very good method for achieving it. First of all what are the stats (evidence base) for the number of “well off” pensioners who don’t “need” these benefits and secondly, the administrative overheads?. The costs of the actual means could be very much more than was actually saved. We simply don’t know. Nick may be right in raising the question but to answer his own question in an evidence free way, is not particularly helpful. The whole Lib Dem opposition to Tax Credits was not based on the principal of the credits themselves but rather the likely administrative overheads of implementation. So whilst there is nothing inherently wrong from a liberal perspective, in wishing to see a more “efficient” use of the resources. The mechanism to achieve that as suggested has flaws which certainly on balance, made me to tick the opposed to means testing box on the questionnaire. So the question itself is, I suspect not “fit for purpose” in determining where the party members may be on the issue.
    Similarly, the current furore over public sector pensions. The information presented to the public at large has been frankly dishonest. In the area I personally know best, the NHS (declaration of interest here). The NHS pensions are not unfunded and a tax payer burden. It is only “unfunded” in the sense that there is no separate investment fund as such producing revenue. Contributions going straight to the Treasury, from whence the pensions are then paid from current income. Currently, this produces a 2 billion a year surplus to the Treasury and it is true, not just “trade unions say that changes have already been made that makes current pensions sustainable”, the NHS pension was adjusted in 2008 to deal with long term needs. It is very hard not to regard this as, (1) Just a simple attempt to increase the “surplus” returned to the Treasury, or, in the words so beloved of the Tories a few years ago, a simple “Stealth” tax; and (2), An attempt to undermine the whole scheme to make the changes in the NHS easier to achieve. In fact Danny Alexander more or less said so in his statement yesterday
    “Replacing so-called bulk transfers of pensions with continued access to public sector schemes means that we continue to protect public service workers’ pensions, manage the risk to the taxpayer, and forge ahead with our ambitious plans on public sector reform.“
    Sounds reasonable perhaps but there is a long very unpleasant tail to that statement.
    Danny’s habit of trying to “negotiate” the issue by public statements, whilst refusing to actually give the Unions any meaningful information has not been very helpful. The proportion of the answers to this question I fear, rather reflects more the general level of appreciation of the background information to all this, presented, as some rather misleading assertions in the public prints, rather than a judgement on the realities involved.
    The question on approval for the 30th November strike or not which elicited a rather large “disapproval” of the strike action I think, simply reflects the general “appreciation” of the background to the dispute and of itself, this question was largely meaningless.
    The last question regarding “quotas” of turn out in strike ballots, got a response which is clearly the opposite of the trend of the previous questions in this report. Perhaps it actually provoked a response that was more in line with Lib Dem sense of fairness and wider appreciation of elections in general. As has been pointed out elsewhere, (Private Eye for one) the actual support for the strike ballot, in terms of proportion of the potential electorate in some cases was the same as, or higher than, the electoral share of a large number of Tory M.P’s at the 2010. 23% when expressed in terms of a proportion of the constituency’s electoral register.. (to ignore for a moment those who have failed to register on the Electoral Roll, which seems to be generally higher than first thought – making the electoral support of a large number of M.P’s somewhat less than the strike ballot figures!) So perhaps we ought to introduce the 50% rule for Parliamentary Elections, as the Tories seem to be suggesting?. Did someone mention P.R?. Will it ever catch on?

  • Andrew Suffield 21st Dec '11 - 6:51pm

    Why should a law requiring 50% to vote in a ballot to strike be imposed? When we have a government led by the Tories with only 31%.

    You do realise that the Lib Dem party has been campaigning for years for electoral reform to change that? There is nothing remotely inconsistent about that position.

    It would appear we are turning right-wing if many wish to deny an employees right to strike when all other means have been exhausted.

    Rubbish. Nobody is attempting to deny employees the right to strike. This is about whether a <30% minority should be able to command a union strike, and hence cut the pay of the majority. You won't find many people in the party willing to argue that the current system of union ballots is democratic or reasonable; opinions are more divided on what a better system would look like. (A flat 50%-of-members requirement is a bit crude, we should really be able to come up with something better – my personal favourite is direct democracy: a system where the strike only includes people who voted 'yes', and the union can set whatever threshold they like)

    So perhaps we ought to introduce the 50% rule for Parliamentary Elections, as the Tories seem to be suggesting?

    That’s basically STV. Yes.

  • Leekliberal 21st Dec '11 - 7:26pm

    Mark Yeates says:
    ”Where does these results and the direction the party is taking, leave those of us, on the left of the party? As a social liberal?’
    As another social liberal who understands percentages it leaves me and you in a majority of 2:1 in the party so what’s your problem?

  • Re strikes, Simon Shaw writes: “How is it decided if all other means have been exhausted and who is to decide that?”

    Contrary to Daily Mail myth, strikes are not called at the drop of a hat. They are very much a last resort – no one wants to lose a day’s pay (or more) especially in these straitened times. Our labour laws are already more restrictive than most of our European neighbours and I see no justification for making unions and workers jump through more hoops by having to meet some sort of minimum support threshold (especially when no equivalent threshold exists for national or local elections).

  • I am amazed at the lack of sympathy for the Trade Unions from so -called Liberals. The strike was because people felt thet they had a contract of employment which included a pension scheme. They were told that things are worse in the private sector which is insulting. If Private Sector employers aren’t interested or competent enough to look after the interests of their employees is that the fault of Public Sector employees?
    The current schemes are unaffordable so the changes had to be negotiated. I don’t know how much experience of this complex process was gained by Danny in the Cairgorms National Park but it didn’t exhibit itself. There were at least 3 different schemes for a start each requiring a differrent solution.
    Does anyone really believe that the ATL Union which hasnt had a strike in its 120 year history is run by radical hotheads? The General Secretary revealed that she hadn’t been shown any figures which, if true is incompetence

  • Andrew Suffield 22nd Dec '11 - 7:33pm

    I am amazed at the lack of sympathy for the Trade Unions from so -called Liberals.

    That’s probably because over the past few decades the trade unions in the UK have repeatedly and consistently proved themselves to be the enemy of liberalism, fundamentally opposed to the concept, and spend vast amounts of money on electing and supporting authoritarian governments.

    If they don’t want to be liberal, why should liberals support their actions?

  • Like you, Brian D, I can’t see where this anti Union position in the Lib Dems come from.

  • Simon Shaw wrote: “If a strike were held before “all other means have been exhausted” are you saying it should be banned?

    If so, how would that be decided?”

    My point was that strikes are not called at the drop of a hat, as the right-wing press sometimes implies, in most cases they are very much a last resort. I don’t think a law insisting strikes should only be held after all other means have been exhausted is practical – how do you define when that stage is reached? There would be a temptation for employers to endlessly spin out talks, so that unions never got to the stage where they could legally strike.

    Britain already has some of the toughest employment laws in Europe and I see no justification for making it even harder to organise a legal strike. To his credit, Vince Cable has also said he sees no case for fresh legislation. I think LibDems should be extremely cautious about adopting an anti-union line being driven by the Tory press (Mail, Telegraph), some right-wing Tory MPs and Conservative think-tanks.

  • Andrew Suffield 23rd Dec '11 - 8:35pm

    I think LibDems should be extremely cautious about adopting an anti-union line being driven by the Tory press (Mail, Telegraph), some right-wing Tory MPs and Conservative think-tanks.

    And similarly, given the anti-liberalism line adopted by the unions, Lib Dems should be extremely cautious about anything the unions do.

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