Why the UCU Left negotiator proposal sets a dangerous precedent

Rejoinders to the ReverseUSS! FAQ

Michael Otsuka
3 min readJan 9, 2023

This post provides four brief rejoinders to the attempt in this linked ReverseUSS! FAQ to show that Driver’s and Hersh’s proposal would not in fact set a dangerous precedent

As I spell out in Section II of this blog post, this the dangerous precedent that I and others have argued that their proposal would set:

(II) Restoring benefits on the basis of a positive funding position between full actuarial valuations would set a dangerous precedent for calls to cut benefits or increase contributions on the basis of a negative funding position between valuations.


Here is the most egregiously false FAQ response to this objection:

Reduced benefits cannot be imposed on members intra-valuation.

If only that were true. There is, however, nothing in scheme rules, legislation, or regulations that would prevent USS from issuing a revised schedule of contributions which is based on intra-valuation updating of a valuation. It is, in fact, precisely this possibility on which Driver’s and Hersh’s proposal relies!

Not only could JNC restore benefits intra-valuation on the basis of this new schedule of contributions. They could also cut benefits on this basis. Driver’s and Hersh’s proposal in fact calls for one such cut in benefits — namely, the elimination of DC contributions into pensions pots on salaries between £40k and c. £60k!

Of course, such cuts trigger the requirement of a 60 day consultation. But we know from bitter experience that such a requirement doesn’t stop USS from imposing cuts to benefits.


The following FAQ claim is also clearly in error:

when UUK proposed delaying the cut in inflation protection for two years in March 2022, no-one questioned this (positive) precedent. Why then are we questioning a reasonable request from UCU members to return benefits that were taken away without good cause?

UUK tabled this to JNC in February 2022, not March. It was an element of the package of cuts to benefits that were pushed through JNC in late February. Like everything else in this package, this two-year delay was costed on the basis of the 31 March 2020 valuation. It was not costed on the basis of an updating of the valuation in the light of post-valuation experience. Hence, this is no precedent for making changes on the basis of an updating of the valuation.


The second paragraph in the FAQ which I quote below is a word salad which is apparently intended to establish that USS provided assurance that they would restore benefits on the basis of an updating of the valuation if post-valuation experience was positive. USS has never made any such assurance. Proof: nobody will be able to provide any evidence that they have.

When USS Ltd makes cuts in benefits or increases in contributions, it tells members that the valuation is expected to be re-run in three years’ time, with interim changes possible were the cuts to be deemed unjustified. Before the current round of cuts, we were assured that were the Scheme position to improve, the changes could be reversed or moderated. That is why there is a rule permitting interim changes to the scheme by agreement. In other words, they argue that the changes are necessary due to financial constraints.


Finally, the opening sentence of this FAQ constructs a strawman:

Does the Reverse USS cuts proposal set a precedent that can be used to force through detrimental changes?

Choosing not to reverse the April 2022 cuts would instead create a very dangerous precedent, implying that pensions would not be improved no matter how much scheme funding improved.

The proposal of the majority of negotiators does not involve a choice not to reverse these cuts. Rather, it involves a choice to reverse them by means that stand a realistic prospect of success — the 2023 valuation — rather than by the following means that stand little or no prospect of success: on the basis of an updating of the 2020 valuation.



Michael Otsuka

Professor of Philosophy, Rutgers. Previously on UCU national negotiating team for USS pensions.