Wednesday, 28 September 2011

What could you do with £400? – On the PhD stipend freeze

by Amy

What could you do with £400? Pay a month’s rent? Get a laptop which won’t crash when you try to write your thesis? Be able to eat for several months? In previous years research councils have increased the stipends given to PhD students in line with the GDP deflator. For the financial year 2010-2011 this was 2.97% (1), so it would be expected that then minimum PhD stipend should have increased by £403.62, roughly equivalent to a term doing supervisions or just under 40 hours demonstrating practical classes. This year, however,

“in line with the Government freeze on public sector pay, the Research Councils have agreed to freeze the national minimum doctoral stipend at the 2010/11 level.” (2)

Across the public sector millions of workers – teachers, social workers, firefighters – are facing a two year pay freeze (3) At present the Retail Prices Index (RPI) annual inflation stands at 5.2% (4), meaning they, and us, are facing a 10.4% cut in pay for the next two years. Many costs are increasing at a rate higher than RPI. In Cambridge, for instance, colleges have increased rent by 10% (or more), and train fares in some areas have increased by 12.7%.

The attack on pay is taking place in the context of a wider assault by the condem government. It is expected that in the next 5 years 500,000 public sector workers will lose their jobs as a result of austerity measures being driven through (5). Undergraduate students face fees of up to £9000, meaning that they will leave university with at least £36000 worth of debt (interest on which increases with inflation!), with the prospect of higher education as we know it being destroyed as a result of the HE white paper. The proposed changes to pensions mean that we are all going to be expected to work longer, at present until at least 68, contribute more – 50% and upwards, and when we do finally get to retire we’ll get much less. Already many young workers, if they want to be able to have a roof over their heads, or be able to buy food can’t afford to pay into pension schemes, and with the proposed changes we are set to lose hundreds of thousands of pounds (6).

Cameron’s rhetoric that “we’re all in this together”, simply isn’t true.  Average pay per employee at Barclays capital rose 23.6% in 2010-11 (7). John Varley, who succeeded Bob Diamond at Barclays, pocketed a 239% pay rise to $5.94m according to the Financial Times, and has now retired, at 54, with a pension pot worth £18.2million. RBS chief executive Fred ‘the shred’ Goodwin who presided over the financial crisis gets a ‘reduced’ pension of £342,000 a year from a bank that is 83% publicly owned. MP’s including millionaires like Cameron, Osborne and Clegg only require 15 years in office to get a pension on £24,000, when in local government the average pension for women is only £2,600 (8).

We need to fight together with all those suffering due to the Tories ideologically driven attacks on the entire working class. In pre 92 universities industrial action over attacks on pensions starts in less than two weeks. On the 30th November, following fantastic action on the 30th June, around 3million workers could be out on strike. We have to make sure we stand in solidarity with these striking workers, because this fight is about more than pensions and more than pay. It’s a fight to stop the Tories wrecking the entire welfare state, and by sticking together we can beat them.
  • March on the Tory conference – Sunday 2nd October, Manchester
  • Join UCU -
  • Support the strikes on 30th November.
(8) SWP The Great Pensions Robbery Sept 2011

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