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Martin Cakebread: Rather than cut the Forces' pay, isn't it time we cut final salary pensions for all MPs and civil servants?

Picture 3 Martin Cakebread is a former elected Board Director of the independent defence and foreign affairs campaign group UKNDA and a former strategy consultant on the David James report. Here he responds to the news on the front page of today's Daily Telegraph that paratroopers who have just returned from Afghanistan face a pay cut of as much as 10%.

I, like many of you, am all for economic stability. I have advocated it, I support it and I believe in economic security. What I do not agree with is cutting our Armed Forces' pay, particularly those men and women who have risked their lives,
served on the front line and faced the enemy head on.

It is not right. It is not clever. It is not something I support. We all acknowledge the need to resolve the UK's ballooning deficit and debt.

Yet we seem unwilling to face the biggest liability of all - public sector final salary pensions. Most recently estimated to cost each and every one of us over one trillion pounds. Reform of those gold plated pensions has barely been touched. And to suggest that MPs pensions are "sacred" is frankly insulting at a time when the rest of the country can just about survive.

Our Armed Forces are not expendable. Nor are they mugs. I have the upmost confidence in the Government, however, there are times when some greater thought needs to go in to the decisions that directly affect the lives of a brave minority who are time and again asked to do 'more with less'.

For soldiers, sailors and airmen returning from active service, having to face the prospect of a pay cut is not right. In this period of austerity civil servants and MPs need to accept that their pensions are unaffordable and selfish.

Our men and women in uniform deserve better and whilst there have been improvements in their treatment, moves like this merely lead people to believe that our political masters do not care about their people.

Having campaigned for longer than I can remember for better equipment, support and conditions for our men and women in uniform, it pains me to watch such petty decisions, that frankly have very little impact on reducing the deficit. When will our political masters accept that public pensions are the biggest cost by far, in comparison to health, education and defence combined?

If I had the ability to ask the Prime Minister, Chancellor and Deputy Prime Minister to think again, I would ask them and appeal to them all not to follow through with this decision.

Deficit and debt reduction needs to tackle the major expenditures the UK faces, not the minor costs, which have no effect. Moreover, the loss of capabilities associated with this payment to the Paras will leave our forces short of vital skills. That goes no way to explain the significant loss of morale our men will face, after such heavy conflict.

Sometimes seeing the wood from the trees is not easy. The economic challenge facing the UK is serious. I hope at each cabinet meeting a chart is displayed on the wall indicating the cost each week of public sector pensions versus the cost of the Armed Forces. Perhaps then our political masters may, and I say may
think twice about this decision.


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