Today could be a big day for the way we organise our workplace pension system with the DWP’s Laura Trott launching a package of reforms at the PLSA early this afternoon.
I will be there and hope to learn how we will integrate the concept of “value for money” into pensions in a way that makes it relevant to ordinary people trying to work out if the schemes they set up for their staff or themselves are worth their salt.
I’m hoping to hear the pensions minister lay out her ideas on how we can reduce the unfair difference in expectations between those with rights from Defined Benefit pension schemes and those building up a pot of money to tide them through retirement.
What will be the consequences of change on providers, employers, fiduciaries and most of all “savers”?
How can we measure whether good intentions from Government can be translated into tangible improvements for those whose regular pay is being swapped for a brighter future?
The people to whom this matters most – family.
Last night I listened to nearly four hours of anecdotes from Danny Baker, a self-professed “good time Charlie” who has gone through life hoping that something will come up. Most of the people around me were of his (and my) age and for most of us , looking back at 40 years of work, we’re asking “what have we got to show for it!”.
The answer on show, is memories, children , grandchildren and the prospect, God willing, of a long and happy later life where the money side of things is taken care of.
The security my generation has from pension savings is in contrast to the prospects of future generations. My son, at 25, faces a different set of challenges to mine. His concerns are around the quality of life he can expect in later years from a planet scarred by three centuries of neglect.
His concerns for the future are my concerns because he is family. The idea of family and of looking after each other was in ever minute of Baker’s four hour set. We are not alone, whether we identify as Bermondsey or Birmingham, whether our families are from the docks or from Dorset, we are not alone, we face retirement with the same hopes and the same challenges.
The people to whom pension matter most – are all of us – we are not alone! As we walked back down the hill to Blackheath station, we talked about growing up, me at 61 , my son at 25. Like Danny and his Dad, I care about my son, and my son cares about me.
Households and communities
The business of saving for retirement doesn’t matter much to most people compared to family, friends, communities and music. Retirement saving is something that is done for us while we get on with the things that matter more.
The word “pension” was not mentioned once in 235 minutes last night – not once!
What we do, is behind the scenes work, work that other people rightly consider “done for them” and paid for out of taxes (for most people pension contributions are just another tax).
What is important is that we don’t become a burden on our family, household or our friends and neighbours. We go into that “deep night” worrying that we do not end up alone, that we can afford to look after ourselves and ultimately that we can pay for others to look after us.
The world that Danny Baker comes from was pretty self-sufficient, suspicious of authority but ultimately trusting that if things didn’t work out, there is a welfare state. Relative to living to other countries, we have a state health and pension system that catches us when we fall. Some get missed, we look out for them.
Danny Baker’s from Bermondsey, Laura Trott’s from Sevenoaks.
A lot of the things that turn our lives happen by accident, we meet an old mate from school, we get drunk with someone in a bar, we walk into a shop and get a job – that was the message from Danny’s “good time Charlie” show. He showed absolutely no aptitude for planning, prudence or good sense of any kind and yet from the chaos of his life has come fine kids, a long marriage to Wendy and a stable home in Blackheath. Most people are like that to a degree, they need things done for them.
Laura Trott’s different, she’s got responsibility for making sure that there is something behind us if things don’t work out. We need our state pension credits, we need our auto-enrolment savings and we need the money we save to work hard and provide us with what we need later on. Danny’s from Bermondsey, Laura’s from Sevenoaks, they may never have heard of each other (I’m not to say) but their lives will have been touched one way or another. Maybe Laura knows about the sausage sandwich game, maybe Danny knows that he can get his state pension this year.
Bermondsey and Sevenoaks aren’t far apart, we all grow old – we all need some money when we do. We put our families, households and communities first, they matter most. Our money is secondary but important – it’s something that’s done for us.
Unless of course you’re the pensions minister , when you’ve got the job of getting it right for Danny and for people in the Blackheath Halls last night, including me and my son. No pressure then Laura – we’re with you all the way.