Picture the scene:
It’s early July 2017. The venue is the lush parkland garden of Holyrood Palace. Around 1,000 people are gathered to meet the Duke of Edinburgh on the occasion of the presentation of Gold awards to around 350 young people, each accompanied by two family members. The guests stand in 12 roughly equal groups spread over an ‘L’ shape of around 300 metres in length. Each group forms 2 flat semi circles facing each other, with young people on one side and their family members (the larger part of the group) on the other. DofE hosts and a guest award presenter take position at the end of each of the 12 ‘eye’ shaped groups (I was delighted to be taking part as the guest presenter and inspirational speaker for Group 10).
Prince Philip leaves the Palace and walks the 200 metres towards the bandstand where the band begins to play the National Anthem (apparently you’re not supposed to sing the words at a Royal event if the Queen isn’t present … although some guests do).
After the Anthem he walks a further 100 metres or so to arrive at Group 1, where he spends time talking to a small number of award recipients and their family members before moving on to group 2 … and so on until he’s visited all 12 groups.
Approximately 600 metres walked in just over an hour, during which time representatives of over 1,000 guests are chatted to.
And the Duke is 96!
An incredible man who deserves his announced retirement (this was the last Gold Award presentation he would be attending personally) and I wish him some time to enjoy it.
Clearly the Duke will have benefitted from the very best of healthcare and the best of pretty much everything else too … but to still be able to take on this kind of challenge with the degree of vim and vigour that he showed on the day is quite remarkable and a lesson to us all. Many of us born into the welfare state after WW11 have also benefitted from the excellent care provided by the NHS throughout our lives but I wonder how many of us expect to be able to perform with such energy at 96, still doing our ‘day job’? Not many, I imagine.
What about our children and grandchildren? With the excellence of healthcare comes longer lives for many, all of whom are expecting to get support in their ‘old age’ through state pensions. As is becoming increasingly obvious, there may not be enough money available to pay these universal pensions at the present level as people live longer. Add to that the enormous costs of elderly care, and the divisiveness of suggested ways of paying them, and we have a concerning mix of worries for whatever government is in power.
The obvious solution, and one which has already begun to take shape, is for people to work longer before reaching pension age. But how much longer? To age 96? Almost certainly not … not for a long while yet anyway.
How nice it would be for the petty inter-party squabbling to stop, leaving everyone in a position to actually do something about the problem to get together to solve it (bizarre concept!).
I would have thought that there are some fairly straight forward questions that can be answered right now:
1. How much money is currently required to pay pensions to those of pensionable age?
2. How much money is currently required to pay for the care of those ‘pensioners’?
3. How much is the number of those owed pensions and requiring care going to increase over the coming years?
Once the ongoing totals are known, surely a sensible, non partisan debate can be had to work out the best ways of paying them?
Let’s face it, one way or another we’re all going to be involved in the challenge of longer lives if we aren’t already, so let’s get together and reach a sensible consensus about the best way to proceed, because working until we’re 96 currently seems a bit extreme.