Almost everyone I know in Britain has been surprised—for once, pleasantly so—by the success of the country’s vaccination program against Covid-19. We are so accustomed to the abject failure of our public administration in almost everything, from its political dithering, followed by self-evidently wrong (and costly) decisions, to its bureaucratic incompetence and moral corruption, that when something goes right, we stand amazed. What, indeed, can explain why something should at last have gone right?
The government decided that everyone should be immunized according to risk—first the oldest people and health workers, then the slightly less old and those with compromised immunity, and then the still less old, and so forth, until all adults will have been covered. By spring, more than half the population had received a first (and most important) dose of a vaccine. Almost no opposition to, or even criticism of, this manner of proceeding has arisen— unlike with almost everything else the government has done in its response to the pandemic—and the uptake of the vaccination offer has been high, except among some ethnic minority groups.
The government website to make a vaccination appointment could hardly have been better designed. It gave a large choice of locations, based on their distance from one’s home; we could select time and place. My wife and I chose the following day at noon at Ludlow Racecourse, where a large vaccination center was operating. We could have had our vaccination at my local doctors’ office, 300 hundred yards away from where we lived, but in a time of lockdown, we wanted a day out: so reduced have been our horizons of late that a drive of 20 miles or so seemed almost exciting.
The premise of my recent paper (Taylor 2021) is that the rapid decline in British agricultural prices in the last quarter of the 19th century, which shrank not only the income of aristocratic landed estates but also the income of ‘commoner’ (i.e. non-aristocratic) families who owned land, led to a significant proportion of male aristocrats marrying American heiresses with rich dowries as substitutes for the traditional source – namely, brides from British families with landed estates but no titles.
British agricultural prices began their drop in the mid-1870s for several reasons, from the development of US railroads and prairies to the advent of steamships, all of which led to the UK market being flooded with cheap prairie wheat. Meanwhile, in the US, high society shunned the families of the newly rich businessmen making their fortunes during the Gilded Age. East Coast high society was the jealously guarded preserve of families who could trace their ancestry back to the earliest Dutch or English settlers, and who socially ostracised the nouveau riche business magnates and their families. So, what were these newly rich families to do? They married into the British aristocracy as a means of establishing a social pedigree, whatever the cost.
Figure 1 shows the percentage of marriages between British aristocrats and non-aristocrats (‘out-marriages’) for British males born in 20-year cohorts between 1700 and 1899, as well as the 20-year average real price of wheat in London 33 years later (33 being the average age at which British aristocrats married during the 18th and 19th centuries). The positive correlation between the decline in the price of wheat and the percentage of brides from landed families marrying into the aristocracy is striking, as is the rise in the percentage of ‘out-marriages’ to foreigners as wheat prices fell.
On Monday, July 19, the country is ditching all of its remaining pandemic-related restrictions. People will be able to go to nightclubs, or gather in groups as large as they like. They will not be legally compelled to wear masks at all, and can stop social distancing. The government, with an eye on media coverage, has dubbed it “Freedom Day,” and said the lifting of safety measures will be irreversible.
At the same time, coronavirus cases are rapidly rising in the UK. It recorded over 50,000 new cases on Friday, and its health minister says that the daily figure of new infections could climb to over 100,000 over the summer.
The UK’s vaccination program is still under way, but it has been broadly successful so far. In all, 68% of the adult population is fully vaccinated, and about 88% of adults have received their first dose (this includes the 68% who have had both doses). Just 6% of Brits are hesitant about getting a shot, according to the Office for National Statistics.
But the government seems to be betting that not all numbers are equally scary. It hopes that hospitalizations will stay low enough to stop the National Health Service from being completely overwhelmed. It is making the assumption that the link between cases and hospitalization rates has been weakened, if not broken.
“This wave is very different to previous ones,” says Oliver Geffen Obregon, an epidemiologist based in the UK, who has worked with the World Health Organization. “The proportion of hospitalization is way lower compared to similar points on the epidemic curve before the vaccination program.”
At present, the state pension increases each year in line with the rising cost of living seen in the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) measure of inflation, increasing average wages, or 2.5%, whichever is highest.
As people come off furlough and return to full pay, this is recorded as a large rise in average earnings. Job losses have also affected those in low-paid work too.
This leads to a unique situation, and one which economists describe as an anomaly.
Predictions by the Bank of England suggest that average earnings could go up by 8%, hence the equivalent rise in the state pension.
ON JULY 4TH President Joe Biden stood on the White House lawn to declare that America was nearing independence from the coronavirus. But with covid-19 not fully “vanquished”, he called upon his fellow citizens to get vaccinated, telling them that “it’s the most patriotic thing you can do.” About 55% of Americans over the age of 12 have now been fully vaccinated, and a further 10% have had the first of two doses. But in recent weeks America’s vaccination rate has slowed markedly. In April 3m doses were administered each day; since June that figure has fallen to an average of 1m per day.
There are three possible explanations for this slow-down. The first is that it is typical for vaccination rates to fall as more people are jabbed, since those in cities and other easy-to-reach areas are likely to have been targeted already. Yet America does not appear to have reached such a threshold. Other rich countries, such as sparsely populated Canada, continued to vaccinate at a decent clip until about 75% of their populations had received their first dose (see left-hand chart). Germany, which has vaccinated a similar proportion of its citizens as America, is currently vaccinating at nearly three times the rate.
Almost one in three Generation Xers — individuals aged between 41 and 56 — have inadequate pension savings and face a minimum-at-best standard of living in retirement, according to research by the International Longevity Centre and Standard Life.
The ILC’s ‘Slipping between the cracks’ report found that 60 per cent of Gen Xers in a defined contribution scheme are not contributing enough for financial security or flexibility later in life, while 59 per cent of those with insufficient savings lack any other kind of income, for example property.
More than two-fifths (44 per cent) have gaps of at least 10 years in their contributions, a figure that rises to 48 per cent for women.
The UK has four vaccines approved for use: Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Moderna and Janssen; three of which require two doses for maximum protection.
The campaign to reach as many people as quickly as possible was boosted by a shift in policy in early January – to prioritise the first dose of a vaccine, with a second dose up to 12 weeks later, a bigger gap than originally planned.
Progress made in the UK so far means the country continues to be among those with the highest vaccination rates globally.
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.
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.
It is a wonder that nobody choked on their morning toast and tea, for if Imperial modelling has stood for anything in this crisis, it is relentless pessimism. Plummeting figures were certainly not predicted by its researchers. The difference this time is that the Government has pressed ahead with reopening despite the doom-mongering, and so has proven the models wrong.
Here is what they said would happen and what we know now: Hospital admissions When the Government published its roadmap out of the pandemic on Feb 22, it was largely based on modelling assumptions from Imperial, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Warwick University.
Imperial modelled four unlocking scenarios, ranging from “very fast” to “gradual”. Under the fastest, full lifting would occur at the end of April, while under the slowest, Britain would not see restrictions eased until Aug 2.
In the end, the Government chose a path somewhere between “fast” and “medium”, yet the Imperial model predicted that would still lead to Covid hospital bed occupancy of about 15,000 to 25,000 in the summer and early autumn – which was higher than the first peak in April 2020.
The difference between the mean retirement income of men and women aged 65 and over currently stands at an average of 26% across OECD countries, however in the United Kingdom it is even higher than that at somewhere between 34% and 43%.
There are many reasons for this gap, both economic and societal, and the report gamely provides an analysis of them all. Ultimately however, the greatest impact is down to the differences in work patterns between male and female employees. Women in the OECD have on average a career which is a third shorter than that of men and are much more likely to be working part time. On top of this they are paid less for the work they do, with the gender pay gap standing at 13%, a difference that, unsurprisingly, starts to appear between the ages of 24 and 35 when women are most likely to take a career break in order to raise a family.
Third tier pension contributions are strongly correlated with earnings and so women tend to save lower amounts and for less time.
Only in the event of a tragic Covid-19 scenario, seeing continued substantial additional deaths for many years would there be a significant reduction in UK DB scheme liabilities, according to a new report from LCP.
While LCP believes that the financial impact on DB schemes of direct deaths from the first two Covid-19 waves is likely to be marginal, it outlines several other scenarios around the pandemic’s longer-term impact on mortality rates and scheme labilities. The range of outcomes illustrates the challenges of choosing an appropriate mortality assumption at the current time, with much uncertainty over how Covid-19 will play out.