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An Open Letter to Michael GoveMark Richards 2:16 pm, Jun 16th 2010
Dear Secretary of State
Sounds good doesn’t it? Secretary of State for Education. Yes, I know it may not last long – tricky things these hung parliaments – but for now, congratulations.
And could we please have a change in the National Curriculum?
Look at the list of GCSE subjects. Media Studies, obviously. Ceramics, Biblical Studies, Nautical Studies. Maltese, Korean, Persian. All very worthy courses.
But are any of them within a hundred miles of being as important as Personal Financial Planning? Secretary of State for Education sounds great. But so does “I got an A* in PFP.” And if you seriously want to do some good, that might be the place to start.
Let me introduce you to my son. Sixteen. Took his first GCSE on General Election day. So far school has taught him how to care for the environment. Why he needs to eat five-a-day. How to avoid Chlamydia. Hell’s teeth, Minister – if we think school needs to teach my son how to put on a condom and how to turn the tap off every time I start brushing my teeth, is it not at least equally important that it sends him out into the world knowing how a mortgage works?
Now come with me to Downing Street. Number Eleven. There’s your brand new colleague, Vince Cable, slumped over his desk, already worn down by intractable problems. One of them is the pensions gap. Or chasm if we’re being accurate. The huge gulf between what people should put into their pensions and what they actually do put in.
Why don’t they contribute? The simple answer is, they don’t understand pensions – and sadly, they don’t trust them either. So how much is the average client going to contribute to something he neither understands nor trusts? The minimum. And if the minimum’s nothing, that’s fine.
Look, I know you pols like lists: something to tick off in front of Paxo. Here are three good reasons why PFP should be taught in schools:
- Pensions. Ease the eventual burden on the state. See above
- People would protect themselves: they’d buy into life cover and critical illness cover and redundancy protection. They’d take proper care of their families if they understood the risks
- You’d avoid mis-selling scandals. Educate the consumers and they’re better able to defend themselves against plausible young men in suits. They’d realise that if it sounded too good to be true it almost certainly was too good to be true. They’d be able to say, “Hang on, I’m a teacher. And you’re trying to flog me redundancy cover? No thanks.”
Oh, and there’s a fourth reason. You have a moral duty. We simply cannot have generation after generation whose concept of financial planning is informed by the ads on Cartoon Network. Get a loan, get another loan, consolidate, then fall over and sue for compensation is not a financial planning strategy. Neither is buying scratch cards.
So let’s have a commitment. That by the end of this parliament (I’m not expecting miracles, 2015 is fine) every child will leave school with a basic understanding of how a mortgage works. Why it’s important to save. How he can protect his family. And how to ask intelligent questions.
Think on, Michael. You’d have done more for the country than a hundred think-tanks and a thousand quangos. That’s not just doing some good. That’s the ‘L’ word. That’s a Legacy.