Sacred cows at the abattoir

Sometimes someone challenges a “received” idea in a way that quite unsettles your equilibrium. That’s what happened when Debora Price spoke with a group of us at the Pensions Network meeting yesterday.

Our “received ideas”?

  1. The Government’s Financial Capability Agenda
  2. Housing Equity

A brief synopsis of Debora’s big idea.

Government uses language to dictate the agenda and governments are very powerful. Over the past thirty years our Government Agenda has promoted the capability of everyday people to understand the ways of financial markets so that we can be self-sufficient in retirement.

Unfortunately we have failed up to Government’s expectations and most of us are not self-sufficient in retirement. In fact we look as if we will be as dependent on other generations as any other generation. Recognising we have screwed up in saving our way to self-sufficiency, the Government is now reverting to Plan B which involves unlocking the equity in the UK private housing stock to get us back on track.

Unfortunately for Government, people like you and I do not like the idea of “equity release” where we sell our houses to financial institutions to have enough money to pay for the long-term care we will need when we become incapable of looking after ourselves.

In fact the language that the Government uses and the language we use to talk about the twilight years of our lives are characterised by reticence and embarrassment. Debora talks not just about the third age – that happy vision of those in the early stage of retirement enjoying lengthy cruises but also of the fourth age “a dark place” spent in nursing homes “wasting” our accumulated housing equity , unfit to live or die.

In her 45 minute talk, Debora led us to an abattoir of sacred cows where we saw , strung up on meat hooks . our most cherished hopes.

  • Our houses, statements of our self-worth, pawned to bankers
  • Our inheritance, not cascading down generations, but dissipated on bedpans and colostomy bags
  • No dignity in death but a shambolic descent into a dark world on non-being

Was it for this that Thatcher’s children sold their birthright? For this that we abandoned the collective values of  Beveridge for the brave new world of personal pensions? For this that we sold our collectively held housing stock at a deep discount? For this that we slaved at the altar of capitalism?

Debora Price is an extraordinary woman. She is not strident, she is good humoured. She does not do the Ros Altmann glamour puss nor the Nicola Horlick supermum, she’s just an ordinary girl whose brain turns over at 17,000 RPM.

As we filed out to lunch , my colleagues had that defeated look you get when having thought you’d got a big contract in the bag, you are told that you hadn’t even made the shortlist.

This morning I hear an obituary for Basil D’Oliviera. His family had warned off his friends and former colleagues from visiting him in his later years, for fear that he would not recognise them in his nursing home bed.

We do not cherish or love old people it seems, we cherish and love the memory of how we want them to be remembered.

In this we seem to be as delusional as we have been in believing that we could trust ourselves and savings institutions to finance our retirements. As delusional as trusting that our value was in the promise of the gift of our house. As delusional as believing that we were not going not to glory but to the degradation of the nursing home.

In Brick and Mortar we have put our trust. We must now re-learn the old adage “you can’t buy a sausage with a brick”.

 You can follow Debora @gerontologyuk

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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2 Responses to Sacred cows at the abattoir

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