Iona speaks at the Longevity Forum – what did she say?

Iona recently spoke at the Longevity Forum, a gathering of high-powered individuals from across politics, healthcare, enterprise and economics, to discuss the financial challenges that lie ahead for young people, and how they can adapt to longer living. Speakers included David Cameron, Michael Gove and Andy Haldane, with broadcaster Wilfred Frost chairing. She was accompanied by Simon Bain, who has written up some of the day’s highlights…

Michael Gove introduced the Longevity Forum, celebrating its fifth anniversary at London’s Oxford & Cambridge Club in Pall Mall, with some dry wit.

Noting that he couldn’t boast of a healthy lifestyle or of having been a health minister, he observed that “a recent incumbent” (Matt Hancock who had been due to open the event, before deciding to head to the Australian jungle) obviously knew the “vital importance of daily exercise, a high protein diet, and making sure he can survive in one of the most competitive environments on earth”.

Gove, the minister for levelling up and housing, said the UK had exceptional “geographical inequality” which was reflected in public health and longevity. London, the south-east and the ‘golden triangle’ including Oxford and Cambridge, were not only super-successful economically but had hugely better health and longevity than the five most deprived areas of the UK (four of them in Scotland).  “In the worst areas, education is moving backwards, productivity is lower, investment in research and development is sparse and sporadic, and life expectancy is lower too.”

Longevity Forum 2022 at the oxford and Cambridge club, London

He said the single most important lever to be pulled to improve public health was education.

“There’s an illiteracy gap between the north-east and the south-east, in those parts of the country where literacy levels are low life expectancy is lower.”

Gove said connectivity was also important, especially local bus travel, which was one of a growing number of levers rightly in the hands of local leaders.

He said older people needed “purposeful activity available to them”, so the post-lockdown trend of them disengaging from the labour market was understandable but also problematic.

In later life people needed a new form of downsizing, into “smaller dwellings where they can live in comfort in a community which caters for their needs”.

Iona asked the minister whether housing policy had been focused too much on the quantity of new houses needed and not enough on the quality, as has been shown by the cladding scandal.  Gove agreed and said that as well as unlocking new homes it was essential to “make sure that in the existing stock everyone from social to private landlords and developers themselves have to care for the quality of what is happening”.

Asked whether he could stay for the Longevity Forum programme Gove said he wished he could but he was summoned to a meeting with the Chancellor “and if I don’t go I won’t have any political longevity”.

The forum heard contributions from Joanne Cash of ParentGym, which works with families in stress, David Gregson founder of the Be Well programme being rolled out in secondary schools, Jake Taylor-King a biopharma entrepreneur, and Kelly Beaver the chief executive of IPSOS Mori, and then Iona was interviewed by Wilf Frost of Sky News.

Longevity Forum 2022 at the oxford and Cambridge club, London

Iona said young people’s money worries were both acute and chronic. Wages in many of the sectors which employ young people were going up but only from a relatively low base, and a surprising number of young workers were not in the labour market due to chronic ill-health.  She said the coming tax rises would be controversial as the burden would fall disproportionately on the young and exacerbate intra-generational inequality.

The chronic worries were housing and child care. “Young people are actively delaying starting families and are conscious of the costs of child care. They are also very aware they are not saving enough for their retirement but believe there is not a lot they can do about it.”

Asked about what had changed between the generations, Iona said the key difference was expectation. But while millennials, who had  been given ‘work hard and you will progress’ messages from the  babyboomers, were now disappointed, Gen Z had “zero expectations and are used to the permacrisis”. But they were also getting the message that they had to become “as flexible and as dynamic as possible with their working life”, giving cause for optimism that they may be more adaptable.

Iona said the rises in interest rates affected not just mortgage payers but the huge numbers of people in overdrafts and debt, and would also affect the stock market returns which many young people had been led to believe could rescue their finances.

Longevity Forum 2022 at the oxford and Cambridge club, London

“Unfortunately young people generally speaking haven’t been in the savings habit, we have diminished saving in our society and pushed it down the priority order for young people, the biggest question is how to get them back into that habit, to build financial resilience and be less reliant on debt.”

Iona said she took issue with the pension industry’s messages, such as that the young should be putting 15% of their income into a pension. She said the constant pressure to save more for ‘retirement’ could be counter-productive when the real aim was a sustainable long-term working life with the right balance along the way.

Asked about initiatives that could help, Iona cited workplace ‘savings safety nets’ in the form of payroll savings schemes like those in York and Leeds in association with credit unions.

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