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Calender girl

Diana Davies thanks God every day that she had no choice but to join the Teachers' Pensions Scheme

Diana Davies is cross: "The calender flips over. I'm 66 - and suddenly a big risk." The former head of English needs travel insurance. The building society she bought it from for years is no longer prepared to do business with her and the Post Office has quoted her pound;80 a year more than a family with any number of dependent children. "That could be five or six youngsters," she says. "It's just not right."

Still, looking on the bright side - as Mrs Davies tends to do - the only reason she needs travel insurance is because she is leaving her Warwickshire village for a mini-cruise on the liner "Oriana". Aside from travel, this retired teacher enjoys the theatre, playing cards, dancing and sport. And she recently became a director of ARP050, the Association of Retired and Persons Over 50, an organisation campaigning for a better life for the over-50s. "I'm 66 and a director! My life has taken a new turn."

Mrs Davies does not sound like the woman who reached the end of her tether at the age of 52. "The Tories wanted to turn my Solihull comprehensive into the first city technology college. They wanted to get rid of people and I was suffering from stress at that time so I got out early." She and her naughty but devoted dog now live on about pound;12,000 a year, made up of a basic state pension of pound;93 a week, plus her teacher's pension of pound;640 a month.

"Like all full-time teachers, I was automatically a member of the TPS," she says. "And I thank God every day that I was. It seemed a big chunk to lose from my salary and, particularly after my husband left me with three children to bring up, I used to think about what I could do with it. But I managed. I wouldn't have saved anything if it hadn't been for the pension scheme."

She urges young teachers to plan ahead. "I tell my 22-year-old grand-daughter to start saving, even if only pound;10 a week," she says.

"The longer you leave it, the more you have to pay in. By the time you are in your thirties, you'll probably be married, with family and a mortgage and you won't put money away unless you have got into the habit."

For eight years, until she was 60, Mrs Davies received invalidity benefit of pound;125 a week, as well as her teacher's pension. Then, when she turned 60, the invalidity benefit was replaced by a basic state pension.

She lost pound;50 a week because the pension, unlike the benefit, counted towards her tax allowance. It was, she says, one of those many little pitfalls that catch people unawares. For a while, to make up the income gap, she worked as a cook at the local Twycross zoo. "It was fun, I got a free lunch and it got me out of the house, but it was hard work."

Now she works for three weeks a year marking exam papers for the AQA board.

This money pays for extras such as the landscaping she had done on her garden recently.

As a single parent, Mrs Davies was never able to pay anything extra into a pension fund, and she lost her house when mortgage rates went through the roof in the 1990s. Still, she says, she has a comfortable income and living in a council bungalow means she doesn't have to worry if a tile comes off the roof. "I'm lucky because this pension scheme is highly unlikely to go to the wall. I'm glad that I've got it because I think, 'My God, where would I be without it?'"

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