When you start your career, your retirement seems a long way off, (although I do recall thinking when I was 21 'wouldn't it be nice to have my old age pension now. I could start my own business!') Why wait to get an income when you can have it now?
Luckily, when I joined local government in the late 1980's, it was just assumed in my first payslip that I'd started to pay into a local government pension. After all, after the deductions had come out, it didn't seem like a big sum of money.
I'm so glad I let that one slip under the radar, for paying in kept on happening and I suddenly found I'd been contributing for almost 20 years!
Many of my friends working in the private sector didn't pay into a pension and spent the extra money they had coming in as a result on meals out, clothes and a better house or flat. They have no private pension and will be relying on their state pension when they retire.
As I approach 50, I realise I'm not that many years away from retirement and I've been aware I should be looking ahead more at what my finances are going to be like in 15 years time. I want to have a decent quality of life, to travel, enjoy the odd meal out and be able to pay my bills.
Yet again, the goal posts are moving and I really do feel that the 'baby-boomers' born in the 60s and early 70s are again losing out. The recent announcement to introduce a flat-rate pension (in today's prices around £144 a week) initially had me thinking it should get rid of a lot of complicated bureaucracy. But upon reflection, I'm starting to wonder. Yet again, it seems that public sector workers who have paid in (in good faith) year on year to their public sector pension will lose out once more. Not only are we having to work longer, we'll pay in more and probably get less as our public sector pension will be set against the old age pension.
I thought Janet Street-Porter (in her own indomitable style) created an interesting debate on last week’s This Week programme (a brilliant, witty take on the week in politics which is on after Question Time on Thursday nights if you can stay up a bit longer!). Janet stated that she felt as she’d paid in to her state pension all her life (and hefty tax I’ll bet too), she was entitled to her pensioner’s bus pass and winter fuel payment and saw it not just as an add on but as a recompense for her contribution over the years. In other words, if you put in, you should get something out and I suspect like many of us, she’s contributed a lot more than she’s used in public services. Wasn’t that the very point of the National Insurance system when it was first set up?
It was also created to support the less well off. I don’t have a problem with that. I accept that through sheer hard work and sacrifice (staying on at school, studying and getting qualifications, saving money instead of spending it) that I have a social responsibility to support those who, for whatever reason, are less well off.
But it also seems to me that the people I know who chose to live in the moment and not think longer-term, who blew their money on material things, are going to get something for almost nothing.
But I expect those universal benefits in our old age will now disappear; the things many old people I know who have a few thousand in savings (not much but just enough to not qualify for council tax or rent support) will find they are too ‘well off’ to get a free bus pass and a winter fuel payment. The difference pays for a little ‘luxury’ in life (if you can call it that), like an annual membership to a bowls club, a coach trip to the Scottish Highlands or an adult education leisure class.
So, I’m going to challenge you in my own way, just as Janet-Street Porter did! There’s a lot of talk about the very rich and the very poor in Britain at the moment and the political debate seems to be polarized into this black and white argument. What about all of us in the middle? We will never be rich, nor will we ever be poor. It seems to me that the incentive to save and pay into things is hardly worth it. I might just 'spend, spend, spend' and you know what? When I have no money left, I’ll be taken care of better than if I stay doing what I’m doing.
Politicians really need to think about old age and how we are going to sustain the vitality and health of everyone over 65. After all, as Janet says, if they get this wrong, it will be at their peril. For the people elected to run our local authorities, sit on NHS trust boards and act as police commissioners … well many of them (and those who bother to vote) are a little grey at the temples. Perhaps it’s time we started to flex our bingo wings and drooping muscles a bit?
Happy New Year everyone! I hope you had a relaxing festive break. I must admit as someone who is self-employed, it's really difficult to stop working. There's always something more to do and I often wonder if I stop, the old grey cells won't find it hard to get going again!
One good thing about the festive season is that the vast majority of the country grinds to a halt (I know people in the NHS still keep on working damn hard, but I'm talking generally here). This means I have to stop and relax and enjoy the time off.
I suppose cooking and cleaning and washing up with the family is a different kind of work, but it's enjoyable to give everyone a good time, loads of food and the odd few glasses of wine.
The New Year is always a hard time for everyone though. Out of pocket, over fed and feeling like the liver has taken a battering. So, by the second of January, I feel like I'm ready for action, be it in a sluggish way.
Sitting with a friend catching up on her Christmas, she asked me what my New Year's resolutions were. I hadn't planned any. Am I in the minority here? After all, moving from the 31st December into the 1st January is only a measurement of time. Should a new year really make that much difference? Shouldn't I be clear all year round what I want to do more (or less) of?
This is obviously a habit that's gone into the national psyche, so I thought I'd look up the history of New Year's resolutions to see if there was something in it and I've been missing a trick.
A New Year's resolution is a commitment that a person makes to one or more personal goals or the reforming of a habit. The idea is that what you commit to, you do for a whole year.
The Romans made promises to their god Janus (January is named after him,) Medieval knights took a peacock vow to re-commit to chivalry and I figure that if people have been doing this for hundreds if not thousands of years, there must be something in it.
In fact, it’s said up to 40% of us make a resolution or two each year. Looking back in history, many resolutions were about doing more good works for others. Apparently in today’s society, we tend to focus on ourselves, for example losing weight, drinking less, earning more and spending more time in leisure pursuits.
A 2007 study by Richard Wiseman involving 3,000 people showed that 88% of those who set New Year resolutions fail despite the fact that 52% of the study's participants were confident of success at the beginning. Men achieved their goal 22% more often when they engaged in goal-setting (a system where small measurable goals are being set), while women succeeded 10% more when they made their goals public and got support from their friends.
So, I’m thinking hard now about my resolutions and I’ll be sharing them with my friends. They will focus on making people have fun, bring a little joy into someone else’s life and to help others wherever I can. Sounds altruistic? Maybe. But in the bigger picture, if we all focused on doing little acts of kindness for others, the UK would rock!
I’ve been following the workings of the Leveson Enquiry on the phone hacking scandal with great interest. Over the past few months, it’s been fascinating to see ‘the great and the good’ being wheeled out in front of the TV cameras to tell their story.
Most harrowing of all were the people just like us - who through no fault of their own, were thrust into the full glare of the media through fate, chance and often, family tragedy. Set against politicians, celebrities and media pundits, their stories of mistreatment seemed like beacons of light shining in a dank cave of distorted truths and glib sound-bites. When someone is wrongfully accused of theft, murder and deception and hounded from pillar to post, that can’t be right. When people’s privacy is invaded, clearly not in the public interest (unless we now define gossip, innuendo and tittle-tattle as being ‘in our interest’), this too, cannot be right. The old gender-biased saying ‘an Englishman's home is his castle’ should mean something, even in the twenty first century. The right to privacy if you have done nothing wrong is sacrosanct.
That said, having run a borough library service, I’d be the first to stand at the barricades to protect our right to free speech. You’d be surprised to learn how many times the public demand library staff to remove books because they deem them offensive. This has ranged from popular children’s books (citing tales of the supernatural as ‘work of the devil’) to books with mild sexual content (offensive to personal morals.) What worries me is if we cave into the standards of the few, they decide the knowledge base of the many. Therein lies the rub. I have no context for how many times the printed press have besmirched the names of good people, but because we know of the big, recent cases, this looms large in our minds. But in a wider context, is it merely a small amount of the huge volume of news reported?
The UK has some of the finest journalists on the planet. Their investigations on holding those who govern and police us are the envy of the free (and the un-free) world. I’m quite sure, having worked in some jobs where the leaders were rotten in terms of the values and beliefs I held, that when you are lower down the pecking order, your ability to influence your leaders is scant. These good investigative journalists need to be allowed to seek the truth when people are abusing their power.
History tells us that the loss of free speech is the thin end of the wedge. The next steps are banning publications and hounding the people that write them, and the press has done a pretty good scaremongering job of linking their being legislated to all we have feared about fascist and communist states and their control of the media. The reality of good old Blighty is that we will always be pretty middle of the road in our politics. On balance, we should protect the rights we earned from the Magna Carta onwards. As long as any media watchdog provides a swift process for justice and redress for those appallingly treated (this should at least be on the scale of fines awarded for slander in the courts and front page apologies in large adverts), plus the possibility of taking individuals who maliciously wrote or sanctioned the printing of such untruths, then it’s the best option for where we are now.
Or maybe the moment has gone anyway? With the rise of the internet, phones, social media, tablets and PC’s have become the new opiate of the people. No matter how the printed press behave in the future, we can side-step them and get the dirt on the internet. That poses a graver threat to the truth and personal freedom than any mud the ‘traditional media’ can sling. It will be interesting to see how cases fare like those being brought by the grievously wronged Lord Mc Alpine. For it takes people like him, with courage and kind hearts, to wade through the muck for all our sakes. In my view this is how people who have had a lot of luck and good fortune in their lives can protect and serve those less able to defend themselves.
I woke up at 5:30am for no apparent reason and couldn’t get back to sleep. So I tuned into the television and watched the US presidential election results. In an election ‘too close to call’, President Obama seemed to be well ahead. I’ve never fully understood the nuances of the American political systems with all their ‘houses’ and electoral systems. I’m used to seeing the UK turn red, blue and yellow, plus other shades of colours, in a first past the post system. So you can come within a few hundred votes of your opponent and loose the whole state, some as big as the UK itself! Although the popular vote was neck and neck, therefore, the collegiate total showed a near landslide for the Democrats.
After a ridiculously expensive TV, radio and press/social media campaign for all sides (which turned off, rather than tuned in the voters), it looks like our ‘friends across the water’ ended up in pretty much the same place! So what of the substance of the campaign itself? It was hard to glean what Obama and Romney stood for in terms of strategy and policy. In fact, I’m not sure even the political pundits could add much here.
I realised it all came down to values. The USA is fiercely divided (almost in half) about the way the country should go. The split is around fundamentals: the democrats around equality, respect of diversity and inclusivity; the Republicans around self-determining wealth, creation and innovation, and an arguably less tolerant view of the world.
Interesting that in the UK, nearly 75% of people would back Obama - perhaps because they know of him better or because the Democrats values more closely match our own. We are, in the main, a nation that dislikes extreme views of any kind and our politics is won by those who hold the centre ground most convincingly. Obama did that in the US more convincingly than Romney. I suspect the Republicans will be considering how they can gain that space, to reflect the changing demographics of their nation. Those that don’t adapt don’t survive, as Darwin’s Theory of Evolution espoused.
The only other thought I had about the differences between our two great nations is that the Americans value their right to vote. The high turnout reflects this. I only hope by the time we have our next general election, more of us exercise our vote. If you don’t take part, you run the risk of being governed by someone who does not reflect your values; the guiding principles that make a nation and define it in the present.
The Party Conference Season is on.
In wind-swept seaside towns and cities across the UK, stalwarts of the main political parties meet to discuss their plans for the future and successes over the past year.
With our economy and those of our neighbours in such a perilous state, I’ve listened to some of the speeches. I’m interested to see what all these clever politicians we’ve elected are planning to do to get us back into economic prosperity.
The fact of it is, I haven't understood a thing.
Am I the only person out there who is deeply disappointed with the quality of the debate, the ideas (not) generated and the lack of vision and vigour?
When you listen intently to any of the speeches, they are empty of content; just a series of sound-bites, nit-picking at the other parties and self-posturing on a grand scale.
There may be one or two ideas (an extra bit of money bunged at kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, or using mobile phone license income to build more homes), but these are the sort of ideas that get mentioned in press releases on a daily basis and are tinkering around the edges at what’s really needed: a total re-think and reform of the way we do business in UK PLC.
Whilst people clap themselves on the backs to dizzyingly awful music, I get a sense of smug, self-congratulatory people without a clue of what’s going on in the real world, without a thought that would barely fill the back of a fag packet.
Is it any wonder the good old UK citizen is turning away from politics in their hundreds of thousands?
I find that terribly sad, for some of our brave ancestors fought (often with their lives) to give us ‘one person, one vote’. Something that is our right is also a privilege, lest we not forget places where the right to vote is forbidden and the civil and economic freedoms we have taken for granted for so long get eroded or removed.
The connection between what happens in a small part of Westminster and the media that report on this is like a small Victorian gentleman’s club. Surely if we can organise two amazing Olympic Games, it is within our capability to get together to create a grand plan for the future of our country for the next 25 years, not the next edition of the 10 o clock news!