Can any of us afford to get old?

June 8, 2011

There's one thing that workers can count on for their old age--and that's debt.

ONE OF the most touchingly innocent lines of thought you hear is from financial experts when they're giving advice about the need to provide for our pensions, now that the state pension is unreliable. "The earlier you start, the better," they say. And: "It's best to top up your contributions to £400 a month."

I never get further than that, but I presume they continue: "Because all of us have several hundred pounds spare at the end of each month that we can't think what to do with. Some of us spend it on crack, or buy antique furniture and set fire to it, or have our pets gold-plated, or take out a super-injunction, but it makes much more sense to put that annoying leftover cash in a pension fund."

Now, in response to the disturbing news that more of us are living longer, selfishly placing an unbearable strain on the nation's finances, the Association of British Insurers has been public-spirited enough to find a solution. They suggest "workers should be forced to pay toward the cost of their long-term care in old age," adding "almost two-thirds of adults have given no thought to how they would afford a place at a residential home."

They might not be exactly right, as most people have given it a thought, but the thought has been: "I'm buggered if I know how to pay for it, I just hope I keel over in one go."

In any case, what sort of 23-year-old says: "Ooh no, you go to Glastonbury if you like, but I'm putting that revenue into my care home fund. You might think you're enjoying yourself, but you'll regret it in 73 years when I'm the one getting sponged down regular."

WE'RE ALREADY at the point where everything we earn in the first third of our working lives has to pay for tuition fees, everything for the next third pays a mortgage, and from then on it all goes on the pension. So they must have worked out there's a three-week period around the age of 53 when you have 70 quid spare, and they don't want us wasting that on sweets so that can pay for someone to mop up when we've had an accident.

The only part of our existence left that isn't owed to financial markets is when we're in the womb, so they'll go for that next, saying: "In a modern economy with unprecedented levels of pregnancy, it's simply unsustainable to expect embryos to live on handouts. So we are introducing a fair and staggered scale of umbilical loans, to be repaid at low rates of interest once the new being reaches the age of 3."

The strategy of modern government seems to be that in order to wipe out society's vast pool of debt, we should spend our entire lives in vast pools of debt. And like the rest of the debts, the care home one, which the government seems ready to back, will be presented as "choice."

So a minister will tell us: "With this scheme, you'll be able to choose whether to be 96 and shaky and not remember whether the war's over, or you could choose to become an Inuit, and go and lie on a mountain in winter so as not to burden your fellow man once you're basically useless. Instead of government ruling your life, you'll be free to decide for yourself."

And they'll help by bringing in other measures, explained in information films that tell us: "Many of us carry donor cards so that others may benefit, but up until now, we've restricted donors to handing over their healthy organs once they're dead. At last that red tape has been removed, and now you can hand over a kidney or lung while you're alive to help pay the cost of a few more weeks in a care home."

Or they'll announce a deal has been struck with Ratko Mladic--that his sentence has been reduced as long as he agrees to help the government out by using his skills to cut down the unsustainably high number of people clogging up the economy with their dribbling.

First published in the Independent.

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