Tuesday 5 July 2011

Pensions: the ideal excuse for an evening in the boozer

My father left school at the first opportunity and saved for a pension all his working life. He retired at 67, invested all his savings in an annuity, and dropped dead at 73.

Which was sad for his family, but good news for the pension system. Because it helped to boost the profits and share price of his insurance company, which in turn increased the worth of its major investors: pension funds.

This may sound too good to be true, like an entire community supporting itself by taking in the neighbours’ washing, but it all worked pretty well so long as people considerately died not too long after they stopped working.

The essential problem today is that too many of us are living too long. Not only that, but our careers are being shortened by spending longer in education, taking gap years and expecting paid leave to be a parent. How can we possibly aspire to retire early, too?

Frankly it’s just not on. Unless you are a successful entrepreneur or have clawed your way to the very top of the greasy pole in business, you have no hope of saving enough to fund decades of comfortable retirement during less than 40 years at work.

While if you’re employed in the public sector, sadly the rest of us just can’t afford to maintain your current pension arrangements, either. Terribly sorry and all that, but you’re going to have to soldier on for longer and boost your own pension contributions, too.

Unless, perhaps, you are willing to enliven your retirement with dangerous sports or other risky pursuits that stand a chance of reversing the relentless upward trend in UK life expectancy, which is currently increasing by three years every decade.

A truly astonishing statistic, given that one cannot open a newspaper without reading how global warming, superbugs, obesity and drink are going to do for as all any minute.

Talking of risk and drink, a 65-year-old non-retired friend of mine recently climbed 23,000-odd feet up Everest, helped along by a supply of fine wines and vintage Cognac. I have not dared to ask how he feels about the recent advice that people of his age should drink no more than 1.5 units of alcohol a day.
That is about half a pint of beer, or less than a standard pub measure of wine. Surely all part of the health professionals’ relentless drive to prove that the only safe limit for booze, as for cigarettes, is a big, fat, round zero.

This is quite a laugh considering that some of the biggest drunks I know are doctors, while nurses are fiercely locked in combat with ballet dancers for the title of most dedicated smokers.

The arguments for reducing our intake of booze are always presented as being for our own good. Cut down on it, and we could all live longer lives. Well, possibly. Then again, they might just SEEM longer. And haven’t we already established that living ever longer is not necessarily an unalloyed good?

Ah, but we would also be healthier and thereby help to achieve that sacred goal of saving the NHS money. Except surely not, in the long run. Because until someone invents a foolproof way of ensuring that we all go to bed in perfect health one evening, then pass away peacefully in our sleep, sooner or later we’re all going to die of something unpleasant and probably lingering, in which the NHS (or its Cameron-Lansley privatised successor) will almost certainly feel obliged to get involved.

It’s a conundrum. My own advice is that we should all discuss it further in the course of a long an evening in the pub. Which will help a threatened local amenity, cheer us up, and might just help to pull the whole pension system back from the brink.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

1 comment:

CC said...

Here, here!