Steer for the deep waters only

Robert Day's thoughts on his photography, his writing and his business

A Victim must be found

with one comment

In just over a month’s time, I shall turn sixty. I know that they say that sixty is the new forty; and I have to admit that on seeing various friends take on new challenges, such as ballet or sea kayaking, I have to agree. Even in my own case, taking on a new job with new challenges, and what is more enjoying it, is equally satisfying. When my parents were this age, they were beginning to “wind down to retirement”, as the phrase went. Not now. I know that the moving of the retirement age goalpost means that I shall have to work an extra year to get my retirement pension; and there are times when the knees creak and various bits of me hurt for no good reason that I do feel my age (and more). But on the whole, the plusses outweigh the minuses, at least for the time being. How much that will continue over the next six years remains to be seen, of course. And it is sobering to look at various obituaries and take note of the ages of the subjects.

But one thing does irritate me a lot. That is the fairly constant drip of complaints from various people that my generation, the ‘baby boomers’, have “taken it all”; got the big fat final salary pensions, paid off the mortgage and possibly even raised equity on the house, got their education without having to be saddled with a massive loan, and are living the life of Riley on more money than they can comfortably spend in a lifetime (though they may try their best).

Well, that’s not me, and it’s not a lot of people I know.

My parents were of the wartime generation. But they were also the generation caught up in the major recession of the late 1970s. My father was made redundant in 1979 and faced having to rebuild his career in his 50s. It involved relocation and taking on a newer, bigger mortgage. It suited us for me to move in with them in the new location because I was able to access a better job (in terms of job quality, certainly not money) and I was able to pitch in with things like the mortgage endowment policy, which was all the rage in those days and what all the building societies were pushing.

Endowment policies became one of the first financial mis-selling scandals, on the basis that people weren’t told that the value of investments could go down as well as up. I recollect that I checked at the time this became an issue, and the words were there in the small print; but in the middle 1980s, the Government of the day wanted people to believe that the City was their friend and deregulation would lead the way to prosperity. Five years later, the story was that the endowment policies had “under-performed”. Well, one of my jobs at the time when I worked for the water regulator, Ofwat, was checking the share holdings in the privatised water companies, and I saw who owned what (for holdings in excess of 3%) and how those shares were performing. On that basis, my mortgage endowment was performing very well indeed, if the 0-60mph figures of the Porsche 911s that were so popular amongst the fund managers of the day were anything to go by. I take the view that endowment policies didn’t under-perform, they were mis-managed.

Of course, I was working in the public sector. Contrary to a lot of perceived wisdom at the time, the public sector was not paid well, at least not at rank-and-file level. My earnings never reached the national average wage in thirty years. Performance-related pay schemes kept increasing the pressure to perform better and better, and paid high-flyers out of the same pay pot that everyone else had to share; so those who merely performed ‘satisfactorily’ were passed over for the big increases. And certain support jobs were in an invidious position; when your work is to a set routine, no matter how important that job is or how much impact getting it wrong would have, how can you perform it ‘excellently’? (Referring to a colleague with even more of a support role than I had, I once asked, perhaps rhetorically, “How can you deliver post excellently?”)

As for bonuses, they were usually the preserve of the blue-eyed boys and girls; only when there was a major exercise were there any bonuses on offer to anyone else, and that was perhaps once every five years. Again, some of the publicly-quoted figures for public sector bonuses quoted big numbers; but again, many public sector pay schemes capped pay increases and when you reached the top of your pay scale, any increase you were due was given to you as a lump sum bonus, instead of a cost of living increase.

And all this was before the financial crisis of 2008. Public sector pay went into the freezer (in fact, it had been in the freezer for a couple of years before that; below-inflation pay rises through the Noughties became a “cost-neutral” increase in 2008-09, and a 0% increase in 2009-10, before the Coalition came to power, though Gordon Brown’s government flatly denied that).

It was fairly common for people to talk about public sector “gold-plated pensions”. Well, gold-plating is a thin veneer of something shiny over something essentially worthless. For a final salary pension to be any good, you have to be on a good final salary. After thirty years in the Civil Service, I was still on less than the national average salary. In 2010, self-employment looked the least worst option, and that was what I opted for. In the years since then, I’ve been pretty close to the breadline, and now no longer have a property to my name. I have no pension pot to invest, as Civil Service pensions are met from current taxation; I have no property to have equity in.

I realise that I’m in a better position than some; I now have a private sector job which was able to pay me a salary increase this year, the first for two years and the biggest for more than twenty. And I’m not asking for more, or whinging about how unfair everything is. I’m complaining about those members of the commentariat who try to blame me and my generation for everything and try to make me look like some sort of fat cat.

These are senior politicians, academics, journalists and financial experts who have profited from the advantages they see in my generation, and who are trying to spread the blame for the hardships to come across my entire age cohort. Often, they belong to the very sectors who have become personally enriched in the past thirty years – the fund managers, the City men, the rising politicians and generally the members of the Establishment. They benefitted from deregulation, they benefitted from liberalisation of markets, they benefitted from privatisation, and they diverted criticism onto anyone as long as it didn’t fall to them.

I am now reaching the stage where I treat all pronouncements by senior politicians, journalists and other ‘opinion formers’ as nothing more than a pack of self-serving lies. I ask myself, “What is your interest in this? Where does your money come from?”, and those answers usually make me dismiss what they say. There are also a range of pressure groups who demand their place in the public eye; but their offer is nearly always just empty sloganising. Many of them are based on ignorance, stupidity and prejudice, making any sort of intelligent discussion impossible. The New Zealand writer Matt Suddain has summed it up perfectly: “…the greatest possible horror is not that humanity might end, but that our Empire of Stupidity might last forever.”

My last job came to an end because a company of venture capitalists decided that the difficulties in building something new from scratch were too expensive and impacted shareholders; the purpose of their company was to maximise shareholder value, not to make a better product or find better ways of delivering a service. They took a highly profitable company and in two years turned it into a barely profitable one, and then blamed the people who were trying to deliver innovation on the ground.

The Establishment tried to blame all this on the little people. But that didn’t work out as expected. And there are signs that the Establishment has been found out and people are fighting back. The next few years may well see serious change, and there are some who only have themselves to blame if that change does not work out in their favour.

I have no solutions. But I know who is speaking against me and my interests. I’m only an ordinary person, with little or no direct influence on affairs. All I can do is act in my everyday life in ways that maximise the opportunities open to me to improve my position, and to work in whatever ways I can against those who threaten me, whether that’s down to how I cast my vote, or how and with whom I spend my money when I make free market choices, based on what information and knowledge I can glean about those trying to sell me stuff. It’s the only power I have, and it’s not much for me, as an individual, to wield. But I do what I can. And I write my blog, so that from time to time other might read my thoughts and make their own minds up. And that’s all I ask: think for yourself and don’t believe everything you’re told. Knowledge is power, goes the old saying. Never lose the chance to extend your knowledge, because one day you may come across something that adds to something else you already know, and another piece of the jigsaw falls into place.

And when that jigsaw is complete, act on what it says to you.

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Written by robertday154

June 26, 2017 at 11:59 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. This is great, thank you!

    nellirees

    June 30, 2017 at 9:22 pm


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