I disagree with Matthew's argument that unions are in part to blame for the collapse of DB, because they weren't willing to negotiate a partial retreat (though in the comments he says he's taking his cue from the lack reform of public sector schemes). I think most union pensions bods actually despair that they were unable to do more to mitigate the dismantling of DB by private sector employers. In reality the unions (for various reasons) were unable to put up much organised resistance.
Calvin meanwhile takes aim at the ACA's argument that public policy is to blame for the decline:
the plethora of reasons why quality schemes have been closed in recent years stacks so high that to pick out failures of public policy seems, by itself, to be somewhat perverse: in my view, reasons why company schemes are closing are little to do with public policy and more to do with companies exploiting a period of worker weakness to erode a vital (and admittedly costly, at the moment) part of employees’ terms and conditions of employment based on short-termist considerations and fuelled by accounting standards that are unsympathetic to the long-term nature of pensions provision. The tide of scheme closures, in the face of DWP attempts to deregulate provision, seems evident proof that the policy ‘failures’ lie less at the public level than the corporate one.
Likewise, any attempt by employers to use auto-enrolment to reduce their investment in pensions at the individual level, on the grounds that quto-enrolment will increase overall costs, needs to be seen not as a failure of public policy but a function of the same attack by employers on terms and conditions.
Not surprisingly this is much closer to my view of the world. I would only add that the really big factor in all of this is life expectancy. It is the thing that has really pushed costs up and it is also the factor that is not being adequately dealt with (which is where I reconnect with Matthew's perspective).
The private sector has not addressed the issue of longevity. It has simply passed the buck back onto the individual, whilst at the same time reducing its commitment. Moving from DB to DC does not.... err... affect how long people live. But it does affect who carries the risk, and how much they pay for it. Inb effect then, as Calvin suggests, the removal of DB is not much more than a deferred pay cut, affecting millions who don't realise it. It's as simple as that. And the Right's campaign to destroy DB in the public sector is nothing more than an argument for massive levelling down.