The bee side - When pensions become pub talk
I recently read the most brilliant article in The Times. One of the best things I've read in ages. It's a story about a bloke called Jack Hammond who is in his late eighties, and who has just sold up his house to go and live in a care home to be near his family.
Nothing unusual in that, I know, but get this; the care home he's moved to in Hampshire is miles from his old stamping ground of Barton-on-Sea, and by moving, he's lost touch with the mates he used to go drinking with down the pub. So he's now near to his son and his family, but he's got no one to accompany him on his regular trips to the pub. It's a big loss lifestyle- wise.
To make matters worse, all but one of the residents in the nursing home are women. Nothing wrong with that per se, but he doesn't much take to the idea of going out for a drink with a lady he doesn't know, so it's sort of out of the question. The same is true of the other bloke in the home. He was a farmer and has plenty of conversation about pigs and cattle and ploughing and stuff, but not much in the way of general conversation. That's what Jack's missing the most, the conversation that goes with the drink down the pub.
But his son, as it turns out, is fairly resourceful. You'll never guess what he's gone and done? He's put an advert in the jobs section of the message board at his local post office, that's what. The job advert reads as follows:
"Wanted. Person to accompany elderly gentleman to the pub. GBP7.00 an hour plus expenses."
I mean, how good is that? That's just got to be the best job in the world, hasn't it?
According to the article, Jack's son is currently sifting through a whole pile of applications to get the most suitable person for the role. He's obviously going to reject any women who apply, as well as any teenagers who he feels will not have a sufficient number of interests in common with his dad to sustain any kind of prolonged discussion. The right person would probably be older rather than younger, and would preferably not be a heavy drinker. He is quoted in the article on that point as saying: "We are looking for someone who can share a good conversation, not somebody who is just going to get wrecked."
What occurred to me while I was reading all this is that GBP7 an hour is well over the minimum wage these days, and there has to be a real possibility that jobs like this could end up with the people doing them being auto-enrolled into personal accounts in 2012.
What if they stay in the scheme and pay their 4% contribution? Would that count as expenses? How would Jack's son feel about the 3% hike in the hourly rate to cover his compulsory employer contribution? And not only that, but what about all the paperwork he'll get caught up in as an employer running an occupational money-purchase scheme?
Could be horrendous couldn't it? But I suppose, if nothing else, it'll at least give them something to talk about down the pub.
First published in Pensions Management, May 2008