UK - John Hutton, author of the recent government-commissioned report on the future public sector pensions, has attacked the belief that "pension reform means a race to the bottom", with debate polarised between equally unacceptable positions of "slash and burn" and "steady as you go".

He told a Chatham House conference this week: "Reform has become synonymous with a race to the bottom - everybody pays more and gets less - but that's not inevitable."

Lord Hutton argued that piecemeal attempts at reform had failed to address the fundamental problem of longevity.

"Longevity does not herald the end of the world as we know it, but it will mean financial, economic and social failures if it isn't addressed," he said.

The problem is especially acute in the public sector, with teachers and civil servants having the highest life expectancy of any group.

He said the current design of final-salary schemes was inherently volatile, creating a mismatch between contributions and payments.

"The design features aren't the result of a planned, coherent process - they have more to do with the civil service terms of 200 years ago," he said.

In particular, he attacked effective cross-subsidies whereby "civil service high-fliers get double the pension and low-fliers pay for it".

The UK presumed "rightly" that individuals should shoulder the largest burden.

"The state can help to some extent, but policy has been calibrated to support individual responsibility," he said.

Describing himself as "a recovering politician" - he was a cabinet minister in the previous Labour government - Hutton said: "Some politicians are attracted to sound of gunfire; others are repelled by it. But it's no longer optional whether they enter the pension debate."

He added: "The debate will generate noisy headlines and political reaction, but it must be based on facts, whereas politicians tend to torture the data until it confesses.

"Those on the left say I've gone too far; those on the right say I haven't gone far enough; I hope that means I've struck the right balance."