The bee side - Back to school for the over-65s.
I've just been reading about a new film that's out called The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It's a weird film and is apparently based on a short story by F Scott Fitzgerald. The story is about a guy, Benjamin Button, whose life sort of runs in reverse; he's born as a wrinkled 80-year-old man with the mind of an infant and, after getting ever more physically younger throughout his life, eventually dies as an infant with a mind confused through dementia. As I said, it's pretty weird.
You probably won't be surprised to hear that reading about that got me thinking about pensions. I mean, how difficult would it be to provide pensions for old people if they all suddenly sprang into existence at the age of eighty? I'm not being funny, but our government struggles enough as it is to get the pension system working for older people when they've got a 65-year run in on the problem. I wouldn't fancy their chances of getting things right if they only got a nine-month warning of a boom in elderly people about to hit. I doubt they'd even have time to get a discussion paper out before the problem would be on them.
Annuities would be interesting though, wouldn't they? Basically, the minute someone new was born at the age of 80, actuaries would know immediately that their pension would only have to keep going for 15 years as it would stop when they then reached the age of 65. Life assurance would be a bit on the odd side too; I guess the premiums would have to increase as people got younger?
But perhaps I'm missing the point here by a long way. I suppose that if we were all born old and died young, the whole fabric of support would have to change. The two most obvious changes would be that schools would have to be provided for the elderly and pensions for the very young. Perhaps that would do the trick?
Mind you, our current batch of infant schools would have to be looked at in a different light. The toilets would need replacing for a start; the same as the chairs and desks in the classroom. And, as fully-grown people are likely to eat more, the cost of school dinners would presumably go through the roof.
Providing pensions for the young, though, sounds like a bigger problem to me. When would they start? Age 15 I suppose. In that case, if the long-term public finances continued to look as challenging as they do while we're all living the right way round, then future governments would have to consider decreasing the retirement age rather than increasing it. Mind you, providing pensions for young people and schools for old people could make sense to us today even if we're still ageing the right way round. What with our now having more pensioners than children for the first time in history, it would probably make sound economic sense. I'm surprised no one's thought about it.
First published in Pensions Management, March 2009