Being “in it together” makes things easier when the going gets tough. David Cameron appealed to this when he vowed to tackle the deficit, albeit that some have since tried to turn it against him. In pension terms, employees were typically all in it together in the days of defined benefits schemes, before they closed to new members and further accrual stopped. The State pension was supposed to mean we were all in it together although there’s now a sense that this broke down as longevity increased but retirement age didn’t, turning its un-funded efficiency into an inter-generational transfer. However, we must not learn the wrong lessons: as a principle, being in it together is a very good one – and one that helps in pensions.
I had recent experience of this in another context and it was surprisingly informative. One of my sons needed an operation, my wife was abroad and it was down to me to see him through this. He couldn’t eat for some time before-hand and it wasn’t going to help him if I was tucking into hearty meals in front of him. So we fasted together.
From various articles I’ve read, it seems there is considerable evidence that fasting increases longevity and has other health benefits (for example, fasting & cancer or, in more detail). It stands to simple reason: if our ancestors were weakened by not having 3 meals a day, none of us would even be here – we are anti-fragile, if you like. I’m also perfectly well-aware that many religions observe fasts, for example in penance for past excess, to focus on the spiritual rather than material or to remind us of the struggles of those less fortunate than ourselves. So how many times have I fasted when I didn’t have to? Err … do I have to answer that one? And how much was I looking forward to this brief, one-off fast? An amount inversely proportional to my number of voluntary fasts, truth be told.
So how did my son and I get on? As it turned out, I was surprised how easy it was. Don’t get me wrong, a certain amount of fortitude was required but far less than my foreboding had indicated. When my son was rewarded with hot toast and Marmite after his op (you’ll have to skip a couple of meals if you really want to know how good that smelt), I still didn’t crack, not even when he offered me a slice (what a good son, hey, but, no, I couldn’t). Looking back, I wonder why I was surprised at the relative ease of it. But then again … how many times have I fasted since then? Can I decline to answer that one, too? And how inclined am I to test myself again, even just once? Oh dear, Human Failings: 1 Longevity & Spirituality: 0.
This is precisely why auto-enrolment has been working so well. It’s giving the population that little bit of a push to do something they know they should do – and, at a certain level, they want to do – but which, without auto-enrolment, millions have manifestly failed to get round to. We are all in it together, all having to give up a little bit of jam (or should that be Marmite) today, all knowing it’s worth it in the overall scheme of things. The low opt out rates so far suggest that most people are finding this easier than they expected. It is beholden on influencers everywhere to show a little fortitude, resist the temptation to give in (for example, to scaremongering about pay freezes to pay for pension contributions) and keep everyone going.