Increase in UK state pension age to 68 could come eight years early

Link:https://www.theguardian.com/money/2021/dec/15/increase-uk-state-pension-age-68-could-come-eight-years-early-review

Excerpt:

Millions of people born in the 1970s may have to wait longer to collect their UK state pensions if a government review, which was announced this week, recommends bringing forward plans for a retirement age of 68.

The state pension age rose to 66 last year, with two further rises planned, meaning that by 2046 those born on or after April 1977 would need to wait until 68 before they can draw the benefit.

However, the review will look at bringing forward that change by eight years, so that the increase is phased in between 2037 and 2039.

Author(s): Hilary Osborne

Publication Date: 15 Dec 2021

Publication Site: The Guardian

Battle lines drawn over the future of UK’s biggest pension fund

Link:https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/feb/05/battle-lines-drawn-over-the-future-of-uks-biggest-pension-fund

Graphic:

Excerpt:

The UK’s biggest private pension scheme, the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), was no different: the custodian of the retirement savings of 470,000 university and college workers lost billions of pounds.

At its latest valuation, actuaries came up with an alarming conclusion: the assets of USS were only worth £67bn, leaving a huge deficit of £18bn compared to the liabilities it has promised to pay out in the future.

Yet the recovery was almost as extraordinary as the decline. Central banks pumped money into the economy, and tech companies in the US recorded astonishing gains. That helped USS assets back to more than £90bn at the end of January.

That recovery – and the controversial question of how the fund accounts for it – has put USS at the centre of a row that could result in university staff occupying picket lines across the country. The scheme will also be at the centre of a legal battle this month, with academics asking a court for permission to sue directors for not performing their duties.

….

 In a paper published in September, David Miles, professor of economics at Imperial College London and a former Bank of England monetary policymaker, and James Sefton, also an Imperial economics professor, argued that the risk of USS having insufficient funds to pay promised pensions was between 20% and 40%.

Simon Pilcher, chief executive of USS Investment Management, is in charge of choosing the actual investments. “Sadly, one can’t project the past into the future,” he said.

“Today, we think it is reasonable to expect lower returns going forward than we’ve experienced in the past, because it’s those higher returns that have driven us to these high prices.”

Author(s): Jasper Jolly

Publication Date: 5 Feb 2022

Publication Site: The Guardian

We’re pricing the poor out of food in the UK – that’s why I’m launching my own price index

Link:https://www.theguardian.com/society/2022/jan/22/were-pricing-the-poor-out-of-food-in-the-uk-thats-why-im-launching-my-own-price-index

Excerpt:

A collection of 700 pre-specified goods that includes a leg of lamb, bedroom furniture, a television and champagne seems a blunt and darkly comical tool for recording the impact of inflated grocery prices in a country where two and a half million citizens were forced by an array of desperate circumstances to use food banks in the last year.

The Smart Price, Basics and Value range products offered as lower-cost alternatives are stealthily being extinguished from the shelves, leaving shoppers with no choice but to “level up” to the supermarkets’ own branded goods – usually in smaller quantities at larger prices.

I have been monitoring this for the last decade, through writing recipes on my online blog and documenting the prices of ingredients in forensic detail. In 2012, 10 stock cubes from Sainsbury’s Basics range were 10p. In 2022, those same stock cubes are 39p, but only available in chicken or beef. The cheapest vegetable stock cubes are, inexplicably, £1 for 10. Last year the Smart Price pasta in my local Asda was 29p for 500g. Today, it is unavailable, so the cheapest bag is 70p; a 141% price rise for the same product in more colourful packaging. A few years ago, there were more than 400 products in the Smart Price range; today there are 87, and counting down.

….

I have been writing about these things for 10 years now. I have given evidence to multiple parliamentary inquiries, led numerous petitions, been consulted on the School Food Plan and the National Food Strategy, spoken twice at the Conservative party conference, and still the realities of the worst of our collective experiences are dismissed by haughty money men as not matching their theoretical lamb-and-champagne metrics.

So, along with a team of economists, charitable partners, retail price analysts, people working to combat poverty in the UK, ex-staff from the Office for National Statistics and others who have volunteered their time and expertise, I am compiling a new price index – one that will document the disappearance of the budget lines and the insidiously creeping prices of the most basic versions of essential items at the supermarket.

Author(s): Jack Monroe

Publication Date: 22 Jan 2022

Publication Site: The Guardian

Two men take corpse into Irish post office to claim dead man’s pension

Link:https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/22/two-men-take-corpse-into-irish-post-office-to-claim-dead-mans-pension

Excerpt:

Gardaí have launched an investigation after two men carried a dead body into an Irish post office in an apparent attempt to claim his pension.

The deceased pensioner was described in reports as being “propped up” by the men as they walked into the building in County Carlow on Friday morning.

The outlandish series of events began when one of the men entered the post office at about 11.30am on Friday, asking to collect a pension payment for an older man, the Irish Times reported. He was refused, with staff informing him that the pensioner would have to be present in order for the money to be handed over.

Author(s): Clea Skopeliti

Publication Date: 22 Jan 2022

Publication Site: The Guardian

Oregon public pension fund gave blessing to NSO Group deal, sources suggest

Link: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/17/oregon-public-pension-fund-gave-blessing-to-nso-group-deal-sources-suggest

Excerpt:

Oregon’s public pension fund, which manages tens of billions of dollars in retirement savings, appears to have privately given its blessing to a 2019 deal by an investment fund to acquire NSO Group, the controversial spyware company.

A source with close knowledge of the matter and emails seen by the Guardian suggest that a senior official at the pension fund signalled his strong support for the takeover of NSO as early as 2018, months before the deal was announced.

Last month, Oregon officials said they were “deeply disturbed” by reports that NSO Group “enabled widespread human rights violations”.

Author(s): Stephanie Kirchgaessner

Publication Date: 17 Jan 2022

Publication Site: The Guardian

Standard Chartered fined £46.5m by Bank of England over reporting failures

Link: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/dec/20/standard-chartered-fined-bank-of-england-pra

Excerpt:

The Bank of England has fined Standard Chartered £46.5m for repeatedly misreporting its liquidity position and for “failing to be open and cooperative” with the regulator.

The Bank’s Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) said Standard Chartered had made five errors in reporting an important liquidity metric between March 2018 and May 2019, which meant the watchdog did not have a reliable overview of the bank’s US dollar liquidity position.

…..

One of the errors occurred in November 2018, as a result of a mistake in a spreadsheet entry. A positive amount was included when a zero or negative value was expected, leading to an $7.9bn (£6bn) over-reporting of the bank’s dollar liquidity position.

Author(s): Joanna Partridge

Publication Date: 20 Dec 2021

Publication Site: The Guardian

‘We’re losing IQ points’: the lead poisoning crisis unfolding among US children

Link:https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/dec/08/lead-poisoning-crisis-us-children

Excerpt:

Turokk Dow is one of about 87,000 young children who are diagnosed with lead poisoning in the US each year, more than three decades after the neurotoxin was banned as an ingredient in paint, gasoline and water pipes. Today, lead lingers in houses and apartments, yards and water lines, and wherever states and communities ramp up testing, it becomes clear that the nation’s lead problem is worse than we realized, experts say.

A study published in JAMA Pediatrics this fall suggested that more than half of all US children have detectable levels of lead in their blood – and that elevated blood lead levels were closely associated with race, poverty and living in older housing. Black children are particularly at risk.

“Most American children are exposed to lead, a substance that is not safe at any level,” said co-author Dr Harvey Kaufman, a senior medical director at Quest Diagnostics, which led the study. According to the CDC, “[e]ven low levels of lead in blood have been shown to negatively affect a child’s intelligence, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement.”

….

In California, for example, a 2020 report found that 1.4 million low-income children who were supposed to receive testing never got checked for blood poisoning. In some states, like New York, testing of all children is required, but there is often insufficient followup. A study by the New York City comptroller found that 9,000 rental buildings where children tested positive for blood poisoning were never inspected for lead, resulting in additional children being poisoned.

Author(s): Erin McCormick in Rhode Island and Eric Lutz

Publication Date: 8 Dec 2021

Publication Site: The Guardian UK

Johnson and Sunak urge UK pensions to back riskier investments

Link: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/aug/04/johnson-and-sunak-urge-uk-pensions-to-back-riskier-investments

Excerpt:

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak will urge UK pension schemes to back Britain’s “entrepreneurial spirit” with billions of pounds of savers’ funds to fuel the economy’s post-pandemic recovery in a message to investment bosses.

The prime minister and chancellor will issue a joint call to action on Thursday aimed at “igniting an investment big bang” that would “unlock the hundreds of billions of pounds sitting in UK institutions”.

Citing the success of long-term investment programmes by Australian and Canadian pension schemes, Sunak and Johnson will say that British pensioners are missing out on “better retirements” after investors focused too heavily on the returns from stock market listed companies.

…..

Critics warned that pension schemes would become riskier and more expensive to run and accused the prime minister of failing to understand how they worked.

John Ralfe, an independent pensions consultant, said: “This is 90% hot air from the prime minister.

“Defined benefit pension schemes need assets that generate a guaranteed inflation linked return to pay guaranteed pensions. Most of the things the PM is banging the drum for don’t do this.

Author(s): Phillip Inman

Publication Date: 4 Aug 2021

Publication Site: The Guardian UK

Young women ‘must work 40 years longer than men’ to plug £100k pension gap

Link: https://www.theguardian.com/money/2021/mar/08/young-women-must-work-40-years-longer-than-men-to-plug-100k-pension-gap

Excerpt:

Young women would have to work nearly 40 years longer than men to build up the same retirement pot, according to a report highlighting the pensions gender gap.

The average woman in her 20s can expect to have £100,000 less in her pension pot than a man of the same age as a result of earning less, working part-time, and taking time out of paid employment to care for family members.

The calculations, made by pensions company Scottish Widows to coincide with International Women’s Day, showed that a female saver would typically save £2,200 annually for the first 15 years of her career, compared with £3,300 for a young man. The average woman in her 20s today would have to work 37 years longer than a man of the same age to reach retirement parity.

Author(s): Shane Hickey

Publication Date: 8 March 2021

Publication Site: The Guardian UK

Why do Americans die earlier than Europeans?

Link: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/may/04/why-do-americans-die-earlier-than-europeans

Excerpt:

A 30-year-old American is three times more likely to die at that age than his or her European peers. In fact, Americans do worse at just about every age. To make matters more grim, the American disadvantage is growing over time.

In 2017, for example, higher American mortality translated into roughly 401,000 excess deaths – deaths that would not have occurred if the US had Europe’s lower age-specific death rates. Pre-pandemic, that 401,000 is about 12% of all American deaths. The percentage is even higher below age 85, where one in four Americans die simply because they do not live in Europe.

…..

There have been many efforts to account for the US mortality disadvantage. There is no single answer, but three factors stand out. First, death rates from drug overdose are much higher in the US than in Europe and have risen sharply in the 21st century. Second is the rapid rise in the proportion of American adults who are obese. In 2016, 40% of American adults were obese, a larger proportion than in Europe. Higher levels of obesity in the US may account for 55% of its shortfall in life expectancy relative to other rich countries. Third, the US stands out among wealthy countries for not offering universal healthcare insurance. One analysis suggests that the absence of universal healthcare resulted in 45,000 excess deaths at ages 18-64 in 2005. That number represents about a quarter of excess deaths in that age range.

…..

Above age 65, healthcare insurance coverage is nearly universal via Medicare. An international review of medical practice by the National Academy of Sciences suggested that the US does comparatively well in identifying and treating cardiovascular diseases and many cancers. But the prevalence of these diseases, the principal killers in wealthy countries, is unusually high in the US. Heart disease, a type of cardiovascular disease and America’s number one cause of death for decades, is strongly linked to lifestyle factors such as obesity. Although the connection between obesity and health risks is well known, consumer preferences for unhealthy food are strong. Not just because humans are biologically vulnerable to sweets and fats, but because major food producers and distributors are incentivized to turn this weakness into profit.

Author(s): Samuel Preston, Yana Vierboom

Publication Date: 4 May 2021

Publication Site: The Guardian UK

It’s the old that get the benefits, and the Tories the election wins

Link: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/apr/24/old-get-the-benefits-tories-the-election-wins

Excerpt:

A study due this week from the Intergenerational Foundation thinktank shows that while spending on pensioners and children respectively increased at similar rates before 2010-11, the austerity years to 2019 proved much more generous to the old.

The report finds that in 2018-19, the government spent “on average £14,660 on each child, £10,180 on each working-age adult, and £20,790 on each pensioner” and that the gap in per capita spending on children and pensioners more than doubled over the previous 20 years.

This means pensioners captured 30% of the growth in public expenditure throughout the period, with most of the gains coming after 2010 and the introduction of the triple lock, though many and varied ancillary benefits also played a part.

Author(s): Phillip Inman

Publication Date: 24 April 2021

Publication Site: The Guardian

Covid, false positives and conditional probabilities…

Link: https://www.theguardian.com/theobserver/commentisfree/2021/apr/25/covid-false-positives-and-conditional-probabilities

Excerpt:

In courtrooms, mixing up the probability of “A given B’” with “B given A” is known as the “prosecutor’s fallacy”. In 1999, a court convicted Sally Clark of the murder of her two sons, in part because a medical expert claimed the chance of two accidental cot deaths was one in 73m. Even if this number was right – which it isn’t – it did not reflect the chance she was innocent. A double murder was also very rare: the relative likelihood of the two explanations was key and with new evidence and better statistical reasoning, an appeal court quashed the conviction.

There was controversy after a recent Observer headline referred to Bayes’s theorem as “obscure”. His ideas may be little known by the public, but they are growing among scientists. Many complex analyses done during the pandemic have been “Bayesian”, including modelling lockdown effects, the ONS infection survey, and Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine trial. The term “credible interval”, rather than “confidence interval”, is the giveaway.

Last week, Cass Business School announced the renaming of its institution after Bayes and his theorem. The obscure tomb in nearby Bunhill Fields is worth a visit.

Author(s): David Spiegelhalter, Anthony Masters

Publication Date: 25 April 2021

Publication Site: The Guardian