Belfast Telegraph

Pensions pool: At 65 you all draw lots and the loser is sent to Dignitas

By Mark Steel

Where do they get these idiots who come on the radio and television to tell us how to prepare for our pensions?

Every day one of them pops up to say we should change our culture to save more for old age rather than spending now, as if most people have a choice, and have fifteen hundred quid spare every month they can't think what to do with. But we're so used to state pensions that instead of using this to provide for later life, we get to 65 and think: "I wish I'd put that two hundred thousand pounds away for an adequate pension, instead of spending it on hiring Beyoncé to clean my kitchen."

They might as well come on daytime TV and say: "To ensure we're comfortable in old age, once we get to around 35 we should give up cocaine for a few years and invest the money we save in an ISA. Or if that doesn't provide a sufficient return, why not play up front for Manchester United for a couple of seasons to top up your funds, or sell off one of your less profitable chains of high-street stores. Maybe you've got a stately home you could open to the public. Or some viewers may be pirates, in which case you could put every fifth chest of treasure into government bonds that offer generous rates of tax relief, cut down on the rum for now but feel the benefit once you hang up the sword for a well-earned retirement."

None of them grasps that the main reason people don't put money aside for a pension is they don't have any spare. Even then the advice in these money columns would be: "If your outgoings seem to revolve around food and housing, you could remove this expenditure from your budget by spending a few years living naked in the forest while your children are raised by wolves.

As long as you continue working through this period your contributions will tot up nicely, though some schemes do require special life insurance in case the pack becomes jealous and mauls you when you try to retrieve your offspring, so it does pay to shop around."

The trouble is, they all tell us, we're living so much longer, so a think-tank will suggest we set up a scheme to pool pensions, where you join together with three people the same age, then at 65 you all draw lots and the loser is sent to Dignitas. Then their pension is shared amongst the survivors, minus the train fare to Switzerland.

The issue on which these experts seem to agree is that we can no longer organise the bulk of pensions collectively, so we must provide for ourselves instead. And this is part of a general message, that if you can't manage it's your own fault.

For example, Iain Duncan Smith's advice to the unemployed of Merthyr Tydfil was that they should "get on a bus to Cardiff". So, that's what makes unemployment go up and down is it? If he was asked an exam question on the subject he'd say: "In the 1920s buses were new and shiny, so lazy people got on them. But by 1931 they seemed boring so no one got on them any more and that's what caused the Great Depression. Luckily, in 1939 comfy new seats were put in the 68b to Cardiff and that sorted it out."

There are more people unemployed in Merthyr than in the rest of Wales so even if they all packed every single bus all day it wouldn't make any difference. But he'd say: "Then they should do what the Vikings did. Instead of complaining, they got on longboats, found some land and raped and pillaged the local population, leading to long-term sustainable growth across northern Europe in the 10th century."

But thankfully a few people manage to make the system work. So Fred Goodwin, the lovable old former head of Royal Bank of Scotland, managed to get a pension worth £345,000 a year, with a £2.8m lump sum on top.

And he deserves it, because he listened to the advice of the money experts, that if you haven't got enough money to put by for a decent pension, swipe everyone else's and put that by instead.

Belfast Telegraph


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