“If we should live that long…”

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I write a column for the CIPP magazine and there’s generally a six week cycle between submission and publication. I submitted this article in March and it got published last week. When I wrote it, I wondered how I’d be feeling when I read it – I lived that long,

In the six weeks since, up to 60,000 people have died in the UK from COVID-19. Thankfully one of them wasn’t Boris Johnson and I count myself , my family and my immediate circle of friends, lucky to have stayed safe. 

Reviewing the article I notice that the FTSE 100 is at 6000 (not half that) , that payroll and reward departments stepped up and managed the furlough impressively and that we are now anticipating lockdown well into June, at least for the office workers who make up the majority of the CIPP’s readership.

I am pleased to see the CIPP have published my article in full, I hope we all did live this long.

IF we should live this long

You are reading this column in the May issue, from where I’m sitting – in the last week of March – May seems a long way away. There is a real chance that some of the people I’m writing this for, may not be around to read it – and that includes me.

This is not the start to a column in the CIPP house magazine, I had expected to write not one you’d expected to read but it does but the question of “continuity planning” into sharp focus.

We are used to scanning risk registers with an amused eye – the more outlandish the suggestion , the more caustic our response. Nobody – nobody – could have predicted that 99% of the people reading these words would be “working from home”. Though we have watched the pandemic sweep in from the East over three months , it wasn’t till Italy’s northern provinces went into lockdown that we took any notice. in retrospect, our lack of foresight was shocking.

But what of foresight? Can I foresee the circumstances in which you will be reading this? Will the FTSE100 be at 6,000 or half that, will there still be an operating market. You will be able to tell me how Boris Johnson’s COVID19 experience went and look back at the last week of March with nostalgia – ah March!

And yet life will have gone on, you will have processed the April payroll, got your head around the peculiarities of paying furloughed workers and dealt with all the nuances of sick-pay you had thought possible (and many you hadn’t). You might have even remarked to yourself that running payroll is a matter of life and death.

And you would be right to have smiled grimly while carrying on, because that is what you do. You are a payroll professional and without you people don’t get paid. You are a key-worker, whether your badge, car-parking space or salary says so (or not).

And by the time you read this, Skype, Zoom, Hang-outs and Teams will be your various meeting rooms. You will have learned how to touch up, set backgrounds, privately chat and throw emojis. You will be as adept at conference calls as the people who trained you a month ago.

You will have learned how to isolate the dog and the kids and the spouse in pyjamas , from your call, learned that the most important button is “video off” – followed by “mute”.

You will have stopped arguing about digital signatures and accepted that if the Law Commission says is the Law. You’ll have worked out that an MPEG recording of someone e-signing a document is evidence of witnessing.

In February articles about “the end of the office” were fanciful, in March you left and you haven’t been back – you don’t know when you’ll go back. All the post has not been scanned , it’s sitting in a great pile like emails in spam. You may never open those letters , working on the principle that if it was that important , they’d have sent you a message.

And what of employee benefits. Death in Service, Permanent Health Insurance and pensions. They are all a lot more interesting now. There is a point to all these things when you see the impact of not having a wage coming in can have. The wait for universal credit , or for the self-employed wages grant. The worry that the money lost to the pension may not be recovered, that your pension pot will never be so big again.

Nobody , including the author of this piece , ever thought that they’d live so long as to see what we see around us today. We didn’t have a plan to cater for this contingency – though looking back it seems so obvious we shroud have.

This is why we insure, we insure because we cannot plan but we can lay aside money against the crisis we never anticipated , the unknown unknown. And at the end of this episode in world history, when the world was shaken as it hadn’t been since the war, we will smile and wonder how we ever took such risks, were so complacent and we will vow that we will never – ever be so dumb again.

If we should live that long.

About henry tapper

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