Jayne Dawson: The choice is now yours – whether you want it or not

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Like cupcakes, beach holidays and that TV show Mrs Brown’s Boys, choice is one of those things that is really overrated.

We all pretend to think it’s a good thing but really I think most of us know it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

Just like those giant, glucose-soaked buns swirled high with sickly buttercream, like those boring trips abroad spent lying prostrate before the sun, and like that show full of crude remarks but not a witty line in it, choice is a thing that has built up a head of steam without actually having much to recommend it.

The more choice the better - it’s an assumption made time and again but, when you get down to it, I don’t think any of us fall asleep at night wishing we just had a lot more choice, about everything.

Because multiple choice is not so much liberating as exhausting - don’t you think?

The everyday choices we have to make use up so many needless brain cells. If you don’t believe me, go to the supermarket. Just one look at the pasta aisle will tell you that something in our world is very out of whack.

There is our modern problem laid bare in flour and water form. Every configuration known to man exists on that aisle: tubes, bows, twirls, strings; long, short, fat, thin; brown, white; with egg, without egg; fresh, dried; with filling, without filling; big pack, little pack, medium pack.

But really in that situation you have only two choices: stand there and fry your brain trying to work out which you want - or grab the one you always buy. I think most of us know that we will always grab and go.

And that’s before you even start on the sauces, because there’s ...never mind what there is, I’m shattered. You know what there is - too much is what there is.

That’s the trivial stuff, but unwanted choice comes in bigger guises too. You can now choose to create your own school, if you want to - unless the upcoming election changes all that.

But what normal, sane parent wants to? Who has the time, expertise, energy?

What parents want is to know that their local school is a great school, made that way by expert teachers employed by our local authority using cash provided by all of us.

So this week we have a new choice: the choice to withdraw our pension pots and do with them as we will - assuming we have a pension pot.

And this choice is truly terrifying. Not so much a choice, in fact, as a fresh hell we have to face.

And the fact that this choice was announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and not by the pensions minister tells us a great deal.

It tells us that this decision, presented to us as a choice, is actually more about collecting tax - because every cashed-in pension pot will lose a huge chunk to the Treasury.

But never mind, we can do what we like with what is left: buy property, art, rare wines - anything we are prepared to gamble will increase in value.

Or we can play the stock market, and invest in organisations that are high risk, high return or low risk, low return. Or we can buy a Lamborghini, travel the world and live a little, and to heck with the future - whatever we bloomin’ well fancy. It’s spending the kids’ inheritance, taken to the max.

Except most of us are financially illiterate, scared witless and don’t fancy any of that. We don’t have the knowledge, we have spent our working lives earning a living, not becoming financial whizz kids.

What we really want is for insurance companies to be forced to give us decent annuities based on our pension pots. We want the security of a monthly cheque, we just want that cheque to be worked out based on fair rules that protect us.

This pensions revolution gives us more choice alright, but the choice to go to hell in a handcart doesn’t sound like a huge improvement.

Sarah Champion MP

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