Phyllis Chesler Interviews Carol Gould

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Cancer and financial anguish
Last uploaded : Saturday 14th Jan 2017 at 14:50
Contributed by : Carol Gould


I call it my endowment cancer

Carol Gould

London -- 14th January 2017

One would have expected me to have been jumping for joy, quaffing champagne and dancing in my street when in April 2016 my cancer consultant said I was worthy of being discharged, having been in remission for six years.

Despite my nest egg having been stolen by a small scale British version of Madoff, notwithstanding my book deal with a legendary television producer being ruined by a recalcitrant publisher and my soulmate of twenty-four years dying, one would think such news would negate my layers of anguish and grief.

But no -- my every waking moment has been taken up with the nightmare of the greatest blunder I ever made in my long life -- taking out an endowment mortgage in the 1980s when Margaret Thatcher wanted each of us to become a homeowner and the insurance companies to grow even richer by hawking ‘endowment policies.’ Like the Forty Acres and a Mule promised to every freed post-bellum slave in the American South , I was one of millions duped into believing that my mortgage would be paid off after the interest-only term ended and I would walk away with an extra £50,000 ‘bonus’ when the capital came to be repaid.

No such thing -- as my father warned me thirty-odd years ago about ‘that cockamamie endowment scheme’ the two policies to which I subscribed performed miserably and I was left with a fraction of the funds necessary to meet my capital obligation. Just where did the money go? When I was a panellist on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Any Questions?’ I said I was mystified as to how a company of the stature of Friends Provident could be sponsoring cricket (I still have a pink balloon fans could wave every time there was a boundary) but be writing to endowment customers lamenting the failure of their policies.. After the broadcast an audience member came up to me and said he and his wife faced ruin because of a failed Friends Provident endowment policy.

And so it was that in the spring of 2016 I wrote to my bank to explain what I could offer in years to come to pay off the capital after the endowment period ended in March 2019 but received a form letter asking me to ring their specialist mortgage department. I did so but was told - wait for it ‘we don’t read letters’ and was put through a heart-stopping hour of obduracy on his part. I told him that in the USA older people were allowed to have ‘death mortgages’ but he barked ‘We don’t do death!’ I got nowhere with him but ended up at A&E a few days later with arrythmia (I had already had a full-blown heart attack the year before after my string of financial disasters) - the upshot of my bank ‘negotiation?’ ‘We will ‘phone you back, Madam, in two and a half years -- September 2018 - to see if your income justifies extending your mortgage.

This has hung over me and over millions like me like a sword of Damacles this summer and autumn -- what if, as the end of our mortgages loom, we are told we must leave the home in which I have lived for forty or fifty years? What if they reject any offer we make? This reverberates inside my head from the moment I wake up in the morning to the moment I go to bed.

I fell into a dark place in the autumn and in November my cancer returned. It has literally roared back and I have been told this week that it is ‘incurable.’ An oncologist at the Royal Marsden acknowledged that she and other cancer specialists now accept the concept of shock, grief and financial anguish causing cancer to recur or to appear for the first time in otherwise healthy people.

I rue the day I -- and millions of other hard-working Britons -- ever caved in to the con that was the endowment era, wish I had listened to my father in the USA but most of all deeply resent the fact that I have paid in excess of £248,000 in interest over thirty years but do not own a brick of my sweet home. Why no minister from any political party has intervened to order lenders to forgive these loans – Vince Cable did once refer to endowments as’ ticking time bombs.; - is beyond me.

As I start chemotherapy and immunotherapy in hopes of a few months of life, I curse the culture of greed and lack of compassion that has consumed the banking industry. My mother once told me to send her $500 a month when I first became an executive at ITV thirty-five years ago -- she said she would invest it in a little savings bank in suburban Philadelphia. Guess what? The wee bank is still there. I wish I had done that. I might not now be facing death.

Carol Gould is a political commentator and broadcaster; she has written for the Guardian, Telegraph, Forward, Jewish Chroncile and The American. Her books are Spitfire Girls' and 'Don't Tread on me -- anti-Americanism Abroad.'

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