How being a Bahá’í shaped my life

Each week someone from a different religion explains what they believe in. Here Barney Leith explain

My mother was greatly concerned when I became a Bahá’í that I had been sucked into some kind of cult. She rushed over to Cambridge and I introduced her to some of my new Bahá’í friends. Greatly relieved by the ‘normality’ of the Bahá’ís, she was happy to accept my choice of religion and remained supportive of this until the end of her life.

The whole of my adult life has been shaped by my faith as a Bahá’í. What’s central, I think, is the understanding that pervades Bahá’u’lláh’s writings – which form the main part of the Bahá’í holy texts – that humankind is one family, that there is only one God, whose essence is unknowable to us but whose characteristics or attributes we know through the lives and teachings of the prophets and messengers of God. We’re thinking here of Abraham, Zarathustra, Moses, Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Muhammad, the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh, amongst others.

Bahá’u’lláh claims to be the latest in an ancient line of what he sometimes calls Divine Physicians, those whom God has empowered to diagnose and treat the world’s sickness in each age.

Notably Bahá’u’lláh explicitly disclaims finality for his own revelation.
Bahá’u’lláh asks us to focus on the needs of our time and not to look backwards. For Bahá’u’lláh, the process of divine revelation is a progressive one, impelling humankind forward from our collective ‘childhood’, through the current stage of our collective ‘adolescence’, to the time when humankind as a whole will be spiritually mature and adult.

Right now, we’re in that spotty, rambunctious, adolescent stage, full of conflict, not knowing whether we still want to be children or to be fully grown-up.

In many ways it’s a dark time in human life. Bahá’u’lláh acknowledges that darkness and shows how we can come through this time of crisis into a new global civilization, based on a much deeper understanding of the reality of human oneness.

In recent years we’ve tended to become very excited by ‘diversity’, and much law and a whole industry has grown up around ‘equality’ and ‘diversity’. This is not unimportant, but I believe we often forget the other side of the diversity coin, which is unity.

The watchword for Bahá’ís is ‘unity in diversity’. Unity without diversity is uniformity and uniformity is a kind of death. Diversity without unity, on the other hand, leads to division and conflict. Diversity and unity exist together in a complementary ‘yin-yang’ relationship.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’u’lláh’s eldest son and head of the Bahá’í community from 1892 until his passing in 1921, eloquently describes the key theme of this era of human development.
O peoples of the world! The Sun of Truth hath risen to illumine the whole earth, and to spiritualize the community of man. Laudable are the results and the fruits thereof, abundant the holy evidences deriving from this grace. This is mercy unalloyed and purest bounty; it is light for the world and all its peoples; it is harmony and fellowship, and love and solidarity; indeed it is compassion and unity, and the end of foreignness; it is the being at one, in complete dignity and freedom, with all on earth.

Barney Leith has been an active Bahá’í since the mid 1960s. In 1993 he was elected to the National Spiritual Assembly of the UK Bahá’ís. Barney has been married to Erica since 1970. They have three grown-up offspring and three grandchildren.
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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/