Visitors from afar

Faraway visitors make their impact on Findhorn, while Findhorn makes its impact closer to home

Londoners say there is no need to travel - just sit at the foot of the statue of Eros in Trafalgar Square and sooner or later, the whole world will come to you. Findhorn sometimes feels like the Eros of the eco-spiritual world.

The latest traveller to wash up on these shores – literally – is Mukti Mitchell. Mukti is sailing round Britain in a self-built yacht on a six-month speaking tour to promote sustainable lifestyles. His ‘Low-Carbon Lifestyles Tour’ sailed out of his home port, Clovelly in North Devon, in early April and will cover around 50 ports nationwide by mid-October, see here.

Last night was our turn and Mukti gave a presentation in the community centre on how each of us as individuals can significantly reduce our carbon footprints. At the heart of his message is that lowering our footprints should be fun: “People who have tried it find that a low-carbon lifestyle saves money, gives you more free time and brings quality, meaning and satisfaction to life”

This seems to be the key message that needs to be communicated at the moment. As the old Findhorn motto has it, "If it ain’t fun, it ain’t sustainable". Mukti is in the business of helping release the paralysing grip of fear over an uncertain future.

Another traveller and truth-seeker is coming towards the end of his time here in Findhorn. Kasmir Msigwa (pictured) is a teacher from Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania who has been with us for around six weeks. He has been working in the local Steiner school, as part of an exchange arrangement within the Steiner global family. Kasmir has been a gentle and wise presence around the place with a deep curiosity and hunger for learning about new ways of doing things that he can take back to his school and community in Tanzania.

It was most touching to see how impressed Kasmir was with Mukti’s talk. I know all too well from my time in Africa that the prevailing stereotype of we Europeans can be of cold, unfriendly and decadent folk, carelessly abusing the planet and indifferent to suffering in other parts of the world.

Yet, here was Mukti demonstrating a passion and commitment to justice and sustainability and actually doing something about it. Great to witness this level of positive intercultural sharing and appreciation.

By the way, you may remember that a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the students from Rokeby school in East London who came to spend a week with us. Well, I have come across the ‘Six Principles of Respect’ that they themselves developed and have now posted up around the school to guide the school’s ethic and behaviour. These are worth sharing:

Rokeby Respect Policy

We start with ourselves
We give respect to receive it

We take pride in ourselves and in our community
We never waste or damage things

We care for each other
We choose not to use language or actions that will harm others

We are kind and thoughtful
We include the needs of others in our thinking and action instead of thinking solely of ourselves

We listen, not just speak
We try to hear and understand others and we talk calmly and politely

We are fair, honest and work as a team
We tell the truth and we take responsibility for ourselves and others

- Rokeby Student Council, January 2007

Jonathan Dawson is a sustainability educator based at the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland. He is seeking to weave some of the wisdom accrued in 20 years of working in Africa into more sustainable and joyful ways of living here in Europe. Jonathan is also a gardener and a story-teller and is President of the Global Ecovillage Network.
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Stability is essential to solve the pension problem

The new chancellor must ensure we have a period of stability for pension policymaking in order for everyone to acclimatise to a new era of personal responsibility in retirement, says 

There was a time when retirement seemed to take care of itself. It was normal to work, retire and then receive the state pension plus a company final salary pension, often a fairly generous figure, which also paid out to a spouse or partner on death.

That normality simply doesn’t exist for most people in 2016. There is much less certainty on what retirement looks like. The genesis of these experiences also starts much earlier. As final salary schemes fall out of favour, the UK is reaching a tipping point where savings in ‘defined contribution’ pension schemes become the most prevalent form of traditional retirement saving.

Saving for a ‘pension’ can mean a multitude of different things and the way your savings are organised can make a big difference to whether or not you are able to do what you planned in your later life – and also how your money is treated once you die.

George Osborne established a place for himself in the canon of personal savings policy through the introduction of ‘freedom and choice’ in pensions in 2015. This changed the rules dramatically, and gave pension income a level of public interest it had never seen before. Effectively the policymakers changed the rules, left the ring and took the ropes with them as we entered a new era of personal responsibility in retirement.

But what difference has that made? Have people changed their plans as a result, and what does 'normal' for retirement income look like now?

Old Mutual Wealth has just released. with YouGov, its third detailed survey of how people in the UK are planning their income needs in retirement. What is becoming clear is that 'normal' looks nothing like it did before. People have adjusted and are operating according to a new normal.

In the new normal, people are reliant on multiple sources of income in retirement, including actively using their home, as more people anticipate downsizing to provide some income. 24 per cent of future retirees have said they would consider releasing value from their home in one way or another.

In the new normal, working beyond your state pension age is no longer seen as drudgery. With increasing longevity, the appeal of keeping busy with work has grown. Almost one-third of future retirees are expecting work to provide some of their income in retirement, with just under half suggesting one of the reasons for doing so would be to maintain social interaction.

The new normal means less binary decision-making. Each choice an individual makes along the way becomes critical, and the answers themselves are less obvious. How do you best invest your savings? Where is the best place for a rainy day fund? How do you want to take income in the future and what happens to your assets when you die?

 An abundance of choices to provide answers to the above questions is good, but too much choice can paralyse decision-making. The new normal requires a plan earlier in life.

All the while, policymakers have continued to give people plenty of things to think about. In the past 12 months alone, the previous chancellor deliberated over whether – and how – to cut pension tax relief for higher earners. The ‘pensions-ISA’ system was mooted as the culmination of a project to hand savers complete control over their retirement savings, while also providing a welcome boost to Treasury coffers in the short term.

During her time as pensions minister, Baroness Altmann voiced her support for the current system of taxing pension income, rather than contributions, indicating a split between the DWP and HM Treasury on the matter. Baroness Altmann’s replacement at the DWP is Richard Harrington. It remains to be seen how much influence he will have and on what side of the camp he sits regarding taxing pensions.

Meanwhile, Philip Hammond has entered the Treasury while our new Prime Minister calls for greater unity. Following a tumultuous time for pensions, a change in tone towards greater unity and cross-department collaboration would be very welcome.

In order for everyone to acclimatise properly to the new normal, the new chancellor should commit to a return to a longer-term, strategic approach to pensions policymaking, enabling all parties, from regulators and providers to customers, to make decisions with confidence that the landscape will not continue to shift as fundamentally as it has in recent times.

Steven Levin is CEO of investment platforms at Old Mutual Wealth.

To view all of Old Mutual Wealth’s retirement reports, visit: products-and-investments/ pensions/pensions2015/