How to Save £1000 Online, Tuesday 3rd December, 8pm, Channel 4
As a nation, we spend £70 billion every year buying stuff over the internet. My wife, I estimate, is responsible for about half of this. If our WiFi went down, Amazon would be issuing a profit warning within weeks. Our postman walks with a notable stoop, while the streets for miles around are clogged with courier vans and delivery trucks in a state of perpetual logjam. I think she’s probably been invited to dinner with Jeff Bezos.
This programme sees presenters Sabrina Grant and Helen Skelton each working with a different family to see if they can make savings on their internet outgoings that would total £1000 if spread over a year. In our house, that would be easy. Just confiscate my wife’s phone and iPad for half an hour. It wouldn’t make good telly, but by crikey it would make me happy!
Anyway, first up, Sabrina is off to meet the Lawrence family from Bristol. When we meet them, they’re all playing frisbee together in the park. I’m not buying it. You try asking a couple of teenagers and a twentysomething if they want to go for a game of frisbee in the park with their mum and see what reaction you get.
Anyway, it turns out, they’re all rather fond of internet shopping. Under the circumstances, this is no surprise. They’d have done a pretty poor research job to have produced a family who didn’t know what internet shopping was, for a programme about internet shopping. But they’re not, perhaps, the most savvy shoppers. Mum, for example, describes her method for booking flights on the web. “Whatever comes up first, that’s the link I go with.”
You don’t need to be a genius to work out that it might pay to look around a bit, and to compare prices for different airlines, and on different websites. But the tip that Sabrina comes up with is quite remarkable. Counter-intuitively, bulk-buying, in this instance, is bad. If you are booking flights for a group, it is often considerably cheaper to book the flights individually. This may also result in the added bonus of you not being able to sit anywhere near your family.
Next up it’s Helen, who’s in Glasgow with the Miller family. They’re all playing football together outside their house. Puh-lease. For once, could we not have a TV illustration of a family where we just see them all shouting at each other over dinner, or passive-aggressively ignoring each other and looking at their phones?
Anyway, here, too there is a remarkable internet-related saving that can be made. Apparently, prices of various goods can vary depending upon what else you have recently browsed for on the web. If you have been googling luxury hotels and yachts, you’ll be quoted a higher price for an identical item than if you’ve been searching for Aldi bargain loo roll. Big Brother really is watching you, and he’s trying to sell you a £20 shirt for £35.
The surprises keep coming. I won’t reveal them here, because then there would be no reason to watch the programme, and actually, it is a programme that’s worth a watch. The Machiavellian machinations that some organisations will implement in order to fleece us are astonishing, and any show that helps us to circumnavigate these methods has to be a good thing. There is, as is so often the case with these shows, a pseudo-competitive element to proceedings, where Helen and Sabrina are battling it pout to see who can save their family more money. Cue the scariest word in the English language – “banter”. But with the likeable presenters and rather sweet families thrown in, this show is not just useful and important, it’s actually rather good fun.
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Britain’s Great Pension Crisis with Michael Buerk, Wednesday 4th December, 9pm, Channel 5
This programme started life being called Can You Really Afford to Retire with Michael Buerk? which is a rather splendid thought. How much does it actually cost to retire with him? What are the benefits involved? What if we don’t actually want to retire with Michael Buerk? Is it compulsory these days? “You are eligible for your state pension, sir, but only if you agree to re-home a former BBC newsreader.”
Oh, how funny. What fun this all is. Now, I’ll put on the programme. Here we go. Right, the opening line: “Britain’s pension crisis could hit 9 million Brits, who could die in poverty.” Wow. That’s something of a buzzkill. As first lines go, I’ve heard happier. Still, no point in pretending we’re in for some delightful knockabout comedy: This two-part series is investigating the pension timebomb, and what it means for retired people or those approaching retirement.
The opening scene features Michael Buerk checking into a hotel and spa. This, I think, is meant to be an illustration of the retirement ideal. To me, though, the main message I took from this sequence was that Michaek Buerk has an absolutely enormous suitcase, like a tank with a handle.
Michael’s off to the spa. It’s odd to see him thus – to my memory, he never presented the news in a towelling robe. It feels a bit like seeing Huw Edwards in speedos, or Julie Etchingham in a tracksuit. Now he’s got the robe off! He’s having a massage. How gloriously relaxing. Except that he’s got to interrupt it to do a piece to camera now. I’m no expert, but surely that can’t be helping him de-stress. Also, I’d love to know what happens after this. Do they get him up and off to the next location, or is he allowed to finish his massage?
The next location, incidentally, is the hot tub. It’s slightly ill-conceived – he has to holler at the top of his voice to make himself heard. His fellow tubbers don’t pay him any attention. It’s almost as if you can’t get into a jacuzzi these days without a former newsreader shouting about pensions.
The news, it will probably surprise absolutely nobody to hear, isn’t good. Over a million pensioners are living below the poverty line, and the number is rising.
Not that Gavin and Louise seem worried about it. Married with two kids, they have an annual income of £57,000. They’re planning on taking early retirement and seeing out the next few decades going on huge adventure holidays a couple of times a year. Now, I’m no financial expert, but I’m not sure that people on £200,000-a-year are going to have enough money to retire at 55 and swan about waterskiing for the rest of their days, let alone someone on a quarter of that.
And so it proves. Much of the rest of the programme is given over to the slow but systematic dismantling of Gavin and Louise’s dreams. A financial adviser called Felicity, a smiley, curly-haired harbinger of perpetual misery, visits them every now and again to administer another kick. Basically, it slowly emerges, Gavin is going to have to work until he’s 112, and they’re only ever going to be able to go on holiday once a decade, to Skeggy. As long as they stay in a tent. And they’re probably going to have to catch and kill their own food. And sell their kidneys. And their kids.
If the initial reaction is sympathy for the couple, it is quickly dissipated by the realisation that they’re the lucky ones. We meet Claire, a single mum, who ends each month in debt and so can’t put any money into a pension; Demi, who bought a shop to fund her retirement, and is now starting to realise she will have to work forever just to pay rent on her house; Ivor, a freelance performer on the club circuit, who is going to have to keep churning out cover versions in working men’s clubs into his 90s. And Carol, 64, who worked and paid National Insurance for 40 years, only to end up in a flat provided by a charity, visiting foodbanks for her meals.
This is a sobering watch, a cautionary tale about planning ahead and saving for retirement. Hopefully, part two – showing the following night – will offer a little more in the way of solutions. Because as it stands, we’re getting things badly wrong, and the problem is going to get worse before it gets better.
The best… and the rest: (There’s really very little this week – blame the Election and I’m a Celebrity)
Sunday 1st December
The ITV Election Debate, 7-9pm, ITV: The first leaders’ debate, featuring just Boris and Jeremy, was fairly disappointing, with a load of bluster, slogan-repeating, and very little coherent discussion. What hope, then, for a debate featuring SEVEN party leaders? Outrageously Lord Buckethead appears to have been overlooked.
Stanley Baxter’s Best Bits… and More, 9pm, Channel 5: Documentary profiling the multiple Bafta-winning entertainer, from his early days as a child actor in Glasgow, through his long and celebrated career in radio, theatre, television and films, to the present day.
Wednesday 4th December
My Grandparents’ War, 9pm, Channel 4: Actor and peace campaigner Mark Rylance finds out what happened to his grandfather Osmond Skinner during the Second World War, a man who spent almost four years as a Japanese prisoner of war.
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