MediaTalent

Writing

Academics are introduced to journalists from the UK national press.

MediaTalent Writing image

Academics are introduced to journalists from the UK national press.

Guests have included current and former editors of the Scotsman and the Times, and journalists from the Guardian and Edinburgh Evening News.

The delegates hear about the media landscape, the news agenda and the do’s and don’ts of writing high quality opinion pieces.

Overseen by an experienced opinion writer, the academics are challenged to write an editorial piece under real-life journalistic deadlines.

 

'Live longer, work longer?' by Professor Wendy Loretto, University of Edinburgh Business School

Kath is a hospital cleaner from Edinburgh. At the age of 54 she moved from full-time to part-time work to care for her mother who has dementia. Two years later her daughter divorced. Kath began looking after her two grandchildren two days a week so her daughter could work.

Despite shouldering more responsibility, Kath says she has been made to feel like ‘a parasite on society’.

The reason? The raising of the pension age.

Kath made her recent changes, changes that many families make, with the expectation that she would receive her state pension when she turned 60.

However, faced with the rising costs of a swelling pensioner population, in 2011 the UK government decided that the age at which women would receive their state pension would rise to 66. This means that women born between 1953 and 1961, women like Kath, are finding themselves having to work significantly longer than they had intended.

So, what’s the problem? After all, 60 is the new 40, and the original pension age, which was set in 1940, belongs to another social and economic era. Increased life expectancy has changed the landscape.

Governments are keen to promote the opportunities and benefits for delaying retirement, emphasising the choices that people have and the range of benefits - from health to finance - that will flow from working longer.

Not everyone sees it this way. Half a million women have potentially fallen through a gap caused by the raising of the pensionable age. The pace of change has not allowed many to make plans, or has rendered their carefully-made plans unworkable.

143 000 women have signed the online petition to have the subject debated in parliament. They maintain that the policy-makers have little understanding of the reality of their lives and circumstances.

Kath feels betrayed. She cannot go back to full-time hours: who would look after her mum and her grandkids? Also, she has asthma and arthritis and severely doubts whether her health would be up to working full-time. However, what really sickens her is the attitude that she is being punished for not working long enough, that somehow she is a drain on society unless is she is in full-time employment. And here lies the nub of the situation.

If she is forced (her word) into working longer, who will take on the care roles and how much will this alternative care provision cost the State to provide? What will the effect be on her daughter’s generation, one third of whom rely on grandparents to provide affordable and reliable childcare so as they can work?

The unanticipated knock-on consequences of this policy means that significantly more than the hundreds of thousands of women seeking compensation for their missing pensions years will be affected. In attempting to save costs in one area, the State could potentially have to increase spending in several others – childcare, jobseekers allowance – to compensate.

The question should not be, ‘can we afford to pay this?’, but instead, ‘what will it cost if we do not?’

 

'Ethical investment is a red herring. We're already ethical.' by Dr Philip Grant, School of Social and Political Sciences

There's a lot of money to be made, or so I'm told, in heroin production, gun running, and people smuggling.

Let’s imagine that your pension fund informs you that it's shifted a small proportion of its assets into these exciting business areas. Fund managers and industry analysts predict high and sustainable returns.

Probably – hopefully - you'd be apoplectic.

Fortunately, no fund manager would attempt to make such an investment, and not just because it'd be illegal. They'd find it unethical too.

It is an outdated idea that ethical investment is at best a subset different from ‘normal’ investments or at worst a distraction from accruing the returns demanded by clients. Now, all investment is ethical investment.

Where has this change come from? It is not internally, from fund managers. I should know. I used to be one. As a breed they are quite good at analyzing accounts, business strategies, risks and rewards. They tend to be less good when it comes to thinking about ethical standards, regarding them as extraneous to their real work.

Rather, change has come the outside, from societal changes refracted through clients. The slow shift to socially responsible investment over the past generation has been driven by clients – and sometimes governments, also responding to that same group.

Client pressures are themselves part of broader social trends. This is nothing new. We all know that child labour was once acceptable in Britain, and that it became unacceptable over the course of the nineteenth century, despite considerable resistance: factory and mine owners claimed they could not possibly make a profit otherwise.

Even thirty years ago, the main concern with fossil fuel production was when it would run out, not its environmental impact. Today the scientific evidence for disastrous climate change, with fossil fuel burning the main culprit, is overwhelming.

Social trends, as exemplified by client pressures, are pushing the investment industry towards incorporation of new ethical standards relating to carbon emissions and climate change. We are at a pivotal moment. In a generation investing in fossil fuels will seem as ethically untenable as employing ten year olds in mines.

This doesn’t quite let fund managers off the hook, however. The conclusion that ethical investment is now normal invites other questions. For example, what line do our pension funds and other investments have to cross to become abnormal?

Also, fund managers need to balance this new ethical underpinning with the need to make a decent financial return for their clients. With this comes pressure and tension.

Ethical investment is a red herring. We are already ethical. It has been the clients – you and me – that got us here. It is up to us to make sure this is where we remain.