Insight: Professor Anne Trefethen on staff benefits

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I hope colleagues have had the opportunity to take a break over the summer, and given the surprising amount that has happened in the last couple of months regarding staff benefits I thought it might be helpful to provide a summary of the changes. 

A salary increase of 1.5% has been implemented from August for all non-clinical staff, with higher percentage uplifts for those on the lowest points on the national pay spine.  

It takes time to change to the payroll system and so the increase won’t occur until September, but it will be backdated. The uplift for those on the lowest scale point – the Oxford Living Wage – will be 2.45%. This is a result of the national pay negotiations. We are aware that the trade unions who participate in the pay negotiations have rejected this salary increase; we are following guidance issued by UCEA to implement the pay award in the interests of ensuring colleagues receive the pay offer as quickly as possible. 

Members of USS have been receiving emails from me through the summer to keep them informed of the progress of the USS pensions negotiations. Earlier this year USS had proposed increased contributions of over 50% of salary, which were totally unaffordable. Universities UK (UUK), who represent the universities and other employers in the scheme, developed a proposal to try to keep the contributions made by employers and members as close to the current state as possible by making changes to the existing scheme and benefits, and requiring commitments from employers to have levels of borrowing monitored and, in some circumstances, restricted. As an employer, the University agreed to support the UUK proposal to prevent the unaffordable rises in contributions but with the conditions that there should be a governance review and also a working group to consider pension models that would allow a better-value and more sustainable scheme. 

I am pleased to say that these conditions have been met: during the summer a decision was made to take forward the UUK proposal together with commitments to put in place a USS governance review and to explore alternative scheme designs. The news this week is that USS are accelerating their consultation with employers to be completed by 20 September. Subject to consultation, members may contribute an additional 0.2% of their salary from 1 October, rather than the 1.4% that was planned. 

Alongside that is a commitment to develop flexible, low-cost options for lower-paid staff; these seem likely to be ready for implementation next year.  

Members will be invited to a consultation on all of these changes in November, and to join a webinar to discuss the scheme changes with members of the USS Working Group on Wednesday 29 September, 12:15 to 13:15. Other communications will be provided to staff in the coming weeks.

I very much hope that all of the above means that the current changes to staff benefits will be temporary, that contribution rate increases will be minimal and that we will see some real and lasting changes in the coming years to improve our pension scheme for everyone. 

Some of you will be aware of that at the beginning of the pandemic the University created the COVID-19 Hardship Fund to provide support for colleagues who might have sudden financial commitments due to COVID-19 that they could not meet. This fund sat alongside the Littlemore Trust, which supports staff members, retirees and dependents. I’m happy today to announce the Staff Top-Up Fund, which brings these together under a single umbrella and we hope provides a simple mechanism for colleagues to apply for financial help when they are facing unexpected financial difficulty. For further information or to apply, visit the Staff Top-Up Fund page.  

I also wanted to remind everyone that the Work + Family Space service is a University benefit for all staff. It offers access to emergency back-up childcare and adultcare, a ‘speak to an expert’ phone line, and a wide range of guides and webinars. I had occasion to use the service myself in the last few weeks to seek advice and it worked fabulously. Access to the advice services, phone lines and web guidance is free for University employees – if you need help or advice just give them a call. 

Further information on benefits for University staff can be found online.