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World AIDS Day

1st December has been designated World AIDS Day since 1988, dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection. The day’s iconic image is the red ribbon of solidarity with those affected by the pandemic, and which has been hung over the entrance to the Whitehouse every 1st December, a tradition which began under the Bush administration in 2007.

Few can represent society’s growing awareness of the disease better than Magic Johnson. Today he is regarded as one of the top-5 greatest basketball players of all time; the current President of Basketball Operations for the Los Angeles Lakers; and not least a prominent public advocate and philanthropist for prevention of the disease.

And his lived experience portrays the dire need for increased understanding and awareness that existed as recently as the 90s, and remains a challenge today. After leading the Lakers to the NBA Finals in the 1990-91 season - where they were only defeated by Michael Jordan’s dynastic Chicago Bulls team – Johnson tested positive for HIV immediately before the start of the 1991-92 season. He retired immediately and initially faced rumours that he was homosexual as it was not understood at the time that it was possible for the disease to be contracted by heterosexual sex. In an effort to address that misconception, Magic publically admitted to a number of heterosexual extra-marital affairs.

Although he had retired, fans voted for him to start the 1992 All-Star Game. Despite protests from a number of his former colleagues on the grounds that by playing alongside him they risked infection, he did play, winning the MVP award and hitting the game-winning shot at the buzzer. This success was followed by winning gold with the United States at the 1992 Summer Olympics. However, against his stated wishes, he was still forced to remain in retirement as an NBA player, again due to a number of protests from his fellow players. Later reflecting on his treatment, Johnson commented in 2011 that if he knew then what he knows now – both regarding the science and the need to promote understanding in society – he would not have retired in the first place.

Johnson’s story serves as a reminder to us all that sudden health shocks can potentially strike any of us at any time, regardless of age or apparent fitness. In such a time pensions can prove more helpful than you might expect. Recently I spoke to a former employee of her local authority, who had tragically had to face permanent retirement due to disability while, like Magic, still in her 20s. Fortunately, she was able to apply to receive payments from her occupational pension not only early, but at a rate based on the assumption that she had carried on working – and paying into the pension - until the scheme’s Normal Retirement Age of 67. Unquestionably, this provided her with a level of security she could have expected from few other financial products.

Most pension schemes can be accessed early in the case of ill-health, but the way in which it works can vary from scheme to scheme. So if you or anyone you know is facing early retirement due to ill health, please feel free to phone our helpline, and we would only be too happy to help you make sense of your options.

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