Retirement At 70? The British Government Postpones Old Age:

There’s a birthday card in a south-west London newsagent which states that “Old is when you are cautioned to slow down by your doctor, not by the police”. A second one asks: “Another year older? (Never mind): One year is nothing. It’s when you put them all together, that’s the problem”. Similar greetings can be found in shops all over the UK. The slightly self-deprecating British sense of humour is ideal (so it is said) for coping with life’s many tribulations – such as losing to Germany 4-1, Andy Murray being knocked out of Wimbledon and the country’s precarious economic situation . A comprehensive survey by the HSBC Banking Group into global attitudes to ageing has revealed that the British are, moreoever,  unusually upbeat and optimistic about life after retirement: 82% of them regard it as a “time for happiness, and self-sufficiency” compared to the global average of just 62%.  The Swedes, Canadians and Americans also look forward to stopping work and having their favourite leisure pursuits funded by their pension schemes. The French, though, worry about retirement and more than a quarter of Russians gloomily consider it “ the beginning of the end”. According to HSBC, Indians, Chinese and Brazilians (but not the British) expect to receive “significant support” from their families at this stage of their lives.

A majority of Mexicans (85%) and an “unusually large proportion of their country’s large private companies (87%)” believe employees should be allowed to stay in their jobs for as long as they are willing and able and over 50% of them do exactly that – as a way of keeping physically active and providing themselves with continuing financial stability. This puts them well ahead of the United Kingdom, where the Default Retirement Age (DRA) still allows bosses to sack their employees at 65 without giving a reason or making a severance payment  – much to the disapproval of the Equality & Human Rights Commission and the “Simply Business” organization, both of whom consider that the DRA devalues the contribution of older workers . This view coincides entirely with the policy of the new British Coalition Government. The Secretary Of State for Work & Pensions, Ian Duncan Smith, has announced that he intends to abolish the DRA and also to raise the state pension age for men from 65 to 66 as from 2016 and to 68 by 2046. For women it will be increased to 66 by 2024.

This “ short timescale” has been described by the TUC (Trades Union Congress) General Secretary, Brendon Barber, as being motivated mainly by a determination to implement rapid public spending cuts. It will, he declared, affect the poor far more than the rich. The Labour Opposition claim that it will impact unfairly on workers in their fifties who are approaching the current retirement age but don’t now have sufficient time to adjust their plans .The “Age UK” charity feels that the Government should first “create a much fairer job market for older people”. Other critics have denounced these measures as a form of “class war” which will oblige pensioners to “work till they drop”. Chris Ball, Chief Executive of the ‘Age & Employment Network’ (TAEN) has commented that the new system “ is going to be absolute hell” for someone who has knee injuries, back pain and a frozen shoulder as a result of working on building sites for 30 years and “has no prospect of moving into a different job”.The reality is – as pointed out in a recent “Guardian” newspaper article  – that these changes reflect what is happening across much of Europe. Increased life expectancy has caused “an explosion in the numbers of people living in retirement. By 2030,there will be 45 million more pensioners in the EU (European Union)”.  Germany and Denmark will be raising their official Retirement Age (RA) to 67 by the 2020’s. Likewise Holland, where demonstrations took place in 40 Dutch towns and cities last October in protest. It is already 67 in Iceland , Spain ( recently) & Norway  and will be in Australia by 2023. The RA is currently 60 ( for men) and 58 (women) in Turkey but will rise to 65 for both by 2031. There has been no indication ( so far) of imminent RA modifications in Portugal (65), Switzerland ( men: 65; women 64), Sweden (61), Poland ( men: 65; women 60), Luxembourg (65), Belgium (65), Finland (63) or New Zealand (65). In Japan and Korea it will go up from 60 to 65 over the next twenty years, in the USA from 66 to 67.

There is growing unrest in Italy at the Government’s proposals to alter the RA for women civil servants from 61 to 65 by 2012 to align with the men. Greece is currently in turmoil over the austerity programme insisted on by the IMF (International Monetary Fund) whereby pensions will be substantially reduced and the RA will go up from 61 to 63 by 2015. The French have also taken to the streets ( in a nationwide strike on June 24th organised by the country’s six main unions) to protect “their right to stop working at 60”. President Nicholas Sarkozy wants to put it up to 62 and (say Agence France-Presse) he is determined not to back down on this issue. Meanwhile, in the UK, where the average life expectancy is now 77.4 for men and 81.6 for women, it is conceivable  that eligibility for a state pension could eventually be revised upwards again to 70. This will have contradictory implications for Britain’s younger generation: They won’t have to support an ageing population – but their work and promotion prospects will be blocked by the ‘oldies’ hanging onto their jobs for as long as possible.

Filed under: Politics, Society | Posted on July 7th, 2010 by Colin D Gordon

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