Friday 31 May 2019

Retirement should be a right. But it’s in danger of becoming a privilege for the rich

The number of working over-70s has more than doubled. Older people shouldn’t have to choose between work and poverty

If, like many people, you dread your daily commute and the early mornings associated with work, why do it for more years than you have to? But for a lot of older people, that prospect is fast becoming reality – more than twice as many people over 70 are working now than a decade ago. Some people will naturally want to remain in the workplace on a full- or part-time basis, and enjoy their job, keeping active and spending time with colleagues. For many others, however, it is a necessity rather than a choice.

Like all of us, older people have been hit by the rise in living costs, and some are forced to keep working beyond the retirement age to avoid falling into poverty. The decision to retire is, for many, an individual one, and an awareness that your financial situation remains precarious, and that working while you can is your only prospect of topping up your savings and pensions, is likely to weigh heavily on any decisions to stop work. Pensioner poverty has fallen from its peak in the mid-1990s but has begun to rise again in the years following the financial crash, with 16% of pensioners living in poverty, despite benefits for over-65s having been protected against cuts.

 ‘Everyone should have the right to retire and stop work.’ Retired people in Paignton, Devon. Photograph: Alamy

There are benefits to working beyond the retirement age: the fact loneliness can be partially curbed by work is important – though it’s worth pointing out that many people in work feel deeply socially isolated – and keeping active is a boon to health. But rest is also beneficial, and time to explore personal interests or spend time with family should be a right afforded to everyone after a lifetime of work, rather than a luxury increasingly reserved for wealthier people. Our pensions should support us in later life, and society should be able to provide for people when they need time off, whether they’re sick, raising children or have reached retirement age. If more people are finding it hard to make ends meet in retirement, the government should act now, rather than simply extolling the virtues of working until you drop.

And if some people are struggling to retire now, how on earth will many manage in the future? The slump in home ownership, with people getting on the housing ladder later, and the rise in private renting, makes it much less likely people will reach retirement age with affordable housing costs. Far fewer people will have paid off their mortgages, more will be renting and the number of parents remortgaging to help their children with a deposit will have a further impact.

Auto-enrolment was designed to address low rates of pension saving and a growing fear that with people living longer, pensions wouldn’t cover the cost of retirement.

And if pensioners today are struggling, what hope for younger people who will be retiring with smaller pensions, or without any pension at all? Given the high cost of childcare, and how many people would be unable to make ends meet without family members helping look after their grandchildren, what happens when more grandparents have to work to cover their own living costs? The cost of childcare and adult social care are not negligible: with living costs rising inexorably and earnings failing to keep pace, a very finely balanced intergenerational pattern of caring is at risk of collapsing.

Everyone should have the right to retire and be able to stop work as they approach retirement age. We already know that your birthplace, social and economic class and earnings impact your life expectancy, but also your quality of life: working-class people tend to have a lower disability-free life expectancy – the expected length of time you live without considerable health problems. Rising levels of inequality mean richer people can retire whenever they see fit, and have the financial comfort to do so. But the poorer you are, the later you can afford to retire, and this comes on top of a shorter life expectancy. Overall life expectancy in the UK fell by two months between 2017 and 2018, in what actuaries called “a trend not a blip”. This year, data showed the gap is widening: for the poorest women, life expectancy fell by three months between 2012 and 2017, while it rose by almost three months for the richest women. In other words, least affluent older people are likely to enjoy shorter retirements.

Inequality isn’t just about earnings, but quality of life and the amount of time you spend with loved ones. Pensioner poverty should be stamped out through a fairer tax and benefits system, rather than expecting the poorest to work themselves to and until death.

(Source: The Guardian)

No comments:

Post a Comment