“Hope I die before I get old..?”

before I get old


The quote’s from Pete Townsend and the Who’s “my generation”. It’s a brutal version of the Beatles’ “when I’m 64” but both songs are driven by the fear of getting old

“will you still need, me, will you still feed me..”

I guess our generation now takes it for granted that there will be “a need” and “a feed” for those in later age and while the new 64 may now be 74, we are should be more worried about 94 or even 104

My son of 16 has a 22% chance of making it to 100, I have a 10% chance. The generations that follow us will present radically different challenges to those following them.

 It’s bigger than pensions

I don’t “get” the worry people have about pensions creating inter-generational transfers. The demands of one generation upon another goes way beyond such maths.

The relationship between ourselves and our children is driven by fundamentals – love, respect – what we used to learn as “honour”. These emotional values over-ride those temporary financial considerations such as the inequality of today’s housing and pension markets.

McCartney and Townsend now sing those songs with tongue in cheek . The same cannot be said about the American characterisation of GOPs (greedy old people). Here the little old lady is an economic and social menace.

Greedy old people

I have seen nothing quite as extreme in the UK (yet). However, I am concerned that the phrase “inter-generational transfer” now implies a one-way street where wealth flows from those currently generating it, to those who are now in their reclining years.

The  suspicion is that old people are destroying the housing market for youngsters

unlock wealth

Housing is the greatest source of regret, but there is also a growing resentment about pensions. Google Image “who stole my pension” and you have to scroll down a long way to find Robert Maxwell. Most pictures are of smug retirees pictured enjoying the fruits of others labour.

Maybe it’s because I’ve had great parents, maybe because my moral education was in a Methodist Sunday School but I find references to greedy old people too common in our society and I sense that the moral compass is being re-set against support for those in later life.

It is undoubtedly the case that wages for those at work today are artificially depressed by the cost of supporting those in retirement.

Paying the pensioners of a defined benefit scheme will be a drag on company profitability for many years to come (on current economic assumptions).


But isn’t this as it should be? The prosperity of Britain’s biggest companies (those that run defined benefit schemes) is based on the platform of the work enjoying the pensions today.

I am concerned that the far right age hate that is evident in the pictures above does not take root in this country.

Nowhere do I see more of this age-bigotry than in the debate about the post retirement pie currently being sliced up and redistributed as part of the “pension freedoms”.

On the one hand, people are being encouraged to pass on pension wealth through a tweak to the pension tax system that will encourage people not to insure against old age but maximise the possibility of pension wealth transfer.

On the other hand we are asking people to use their pensions as bank accounts leaving them destitute and dependent in later years.

These policies, which form the central planks of Osborne’s Pension PR offensive, miss the central point which is that there is not enough money in most people’s pots to bankroll an indulgent lifestyle or cascade wealth across generations.

Nor is there enough tied up in housing.

The housing wealth of our over sixties is already mortgaged twice. The cost for a couple to live with full nursing care in a home can easily exceed £100,000. But the housing equity to meet such costs is already earmarked- by many children, as their first step onto the housing ladder.

If they don’t get to live in their parental home themselves, selling the house will fund the deposit that allows them access to home ownership.

For many old people, this conflict between the needs of their children and comfort for themselves is becoming the central financial dilemma of their final years.

I can see no way we can use the Pension Freedoms to solve this problem. It will need more than tax tweaks and a shift from guarantees to create sufficient wealth to fund the long-tail of retirement for the baby-boomers.

It will take a re-assessment not just of our pre-retirement savings behaviours but a radical re-think of the deployment of our tax system.

For us to properly fund the problem of old age, there needs to be a deep understanding of the shape, size and cost of managing the issues faced by those in old age.

This needs to happen at a national level and forms part of a wide-ranging conversation we need to have, starting in the pre-election discussions on manifestos, continuing in the election debates and extending throughout the next parliamentary term.

I hope this debate will be conducted civilly and without rancour.

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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