I read the other week that a baby born in Britain today can expect to live beyond 81 years of age. In Japan, it’s 83 and scientists there have proposed that people between the age of 65 and 75 should no longer be considered “elderly”.
Good news, I suppose, although the cynic in me sees government think tanks all over this wondering how they can use it to push the state pension out to 75. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least though to think that in fifty years’ time, it’ll have reached 90 – if it exists at all at that point.
All the more reason to plan for a long retirement and, as I’ve mentioned before, there’s not a day goes by where I don’t say a wee prayer of thanks to whatever inspired me to start really saving for the future when I turned thirty and, even more, signing up to a Defined Benefit pension when I started work at 23 when I didn’t even understand what that was.
As ever these days, I’ve been doing some work on my pension projections and wondering (a) how long I should plan for and (b) how I should phase income as the years progress. It’s a bit disconcerting doing this, as one of the first questions to be faced is your lifespan – should I plan to see 85, or 90? Do I even want to consider the quality of life at 95, when I might have to retitle my blog Death, Death, Death, Death? Then the second question is what kind of life will I be leading if I do see 85, or 90, or longer?
One rule of thumb I thought about was that if everyone defines “old age” as beginning twenty years from your current age, then I should want to maintain my current lifestyle, and expenditure, until I’m 73. At least for this snapshot projection – I realise I can’t extend that rule indefinitely as the years pass by. It seems to me, however, that there’s just no way I’ll be spending as much at age 73 as I do now.
But, as I project forward through the years, wouldn’t a sensible thing to do with the saving on the mortgage be to bank it instead for health provision? We have friends in their late sixties who have top notch medical insurance (and boy have they been thankful for it recently, following a couple of serious scares and operations.) Their joint policy costs them a cool thousand pounds a month. Okay, that’s maybe top end, but I mentioned recently that some root canal work I had last year cost me the best part of a grand. If there’s one thing I’d like to take into old age, apart from my marbles, it’s my teeth. My mate is currently getting a tooth implant and is not looking for any change out of almost two thousand pounds. He feels it’s worth it though and I suspect he might be right. I think if there’s one thing I asked my parents that they really wish they didn’t have in old age the answer would be “Dentures”.
Health is a touchy subject, especially in Britain. The press is always harping on about the state of the NHS and, through personal connections including my 77 year old mum, I can attest to most of what is written. The social care side of our current system must be breathtakingly expensive – my mum receives three healthcare worker visits per day, seven days per week. What’s the cost of that?
Then I remember my dad, who suffered from Parkinson’s and was on 22 tablets a day for the illness and its complications. Not to mention the physiotherapy, the visits to hospital and GP, the call-outs for the community nurse. All this was paid for by the state. The only thing that wasn’t was my mum, acting as his carer at the time, although I think even she eventually applied and received an allowance for that too.
The costs of funding the NHS are inconceivable at the moment and downright terrifying when you think of the future. You just have to visit a general hospital to understand the challenges we face. Once you’ve negotiated your way past the smokers in the carpark, start counting – how many people do you see that are overweight? (I generally don’t count my reflection in the window.) Is it two out of three? How many are over sixty? Is it eight out of ten? More than that? The system we have just cannot cope, and you can only feel that it isn’t going to get better without a radical cultural change toward what the NHS is supposed to provide, regardless of how much money is thrown at it. How long will “cultural change” take? Two or three decades, maybe, if we start today. In the meantime, if you can, perhaps you better start putting some money aside to look after yourself for the times when the NHS can’t or wont.
“Old age is not for wimps”, someone once said, and the scary thing is that for the many of us who see it, that could be an understatement. Maybe I’m being negative, but of course, pondering my doddering old age in the future doesn’t get me down – as it’s simply not going to happen to me, is it? I’m going to be that sky-diving, bungee-jumping pensioner you read about who’s about to head off to trek across the Andes. As are you.
But what’s the contingency, and who’s going to look after us, if we’re not?