Retiring types? Not us!!

Posted on: 01 February 2010 by Mark O'haire

The odds still seem to be stacked against those who have reached retirement age ever finding work again unless there’s a major shift in attitude at all levels. Stewart Andersen reports.

It’s only three or four decades ago that by the time you reached 50 you were thinking in terms of a gold watch, retirement, possible ill health and a gradual slowing over the next few years. The chances were that you were considered elderly at 60.

Today, attitudes have changed among many of those reaching the official age for retirement. They aren’t interested in finishing work at 60 for women and 65 for men.

Whether by necessity or by choice, an ever-increasing number of this group of Britons is ready and willing to carry on working in some form or other. And even if they stop formal jobs, many are happy to turn to voluntary work.

Modern medicine has enabled us to remain as active as we were 15 or 20 years ago, allowing us to remain engaged in family and community and, in many cases, eager to continue working.

But there’s still a rigidity in the minds of employers who can’t begin to understand why they should keep on or employ someone they regard as past it when they can get a 20-year old, without experience but possibly for less money.

At a time of financial crisis in the UK, this is shortsighted in the extreme. While the 20-year old may (or may not) cost less, the reality is the older worker has years of experience that they can bring to the workplace.

According to Baroness Prosser, deputy chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), sixty eight per cent of over-50s who are unemployed but below pension age, and 85 per cent of people who are economically inactive and over pension age, said that greater availability of flexible and part-time work would help them to find the jobs they seek.

While research into shifting attitudes to retirement by the EHRC is eminently helpful, it hardly seems likely that it will actually affect the thinking of employers as long as ageism is still rampant in Job Centres where they simply don’t want to talk to anyone past pensionable age.

It’s been estimated that this attitude costs the UK as much as £30 billion each year. Surely it would make financial sense to help those past pension age to find employment, whether part or full time?

Redundancy looms as workers approach retirement age and yet employers are ready to throw years of talent and experience on the scrap heap.
The question is how to change that attitude? It’s like trying to turn round a supertanker and yet within two decades, around half the British population will be aged 50 plus. To ignore the positive values this group could bring to the employment scene would be both foolish and wasteful.

In addition, they would be a major force in any election.

In a sense, having a mandatory retirement age allows employers to assume automatically they can get rid of employees at 60 or 65. Perhaps the fact that moves are afoot to raise the retirement ages for men and women will help to resolve the problem.

According to The National Institute of Economic and Social Research, by extending the retirement age by just 18 months, £15 billion will be pumped into the UK economy. Can any government ignore this?

By Stewart Anderson

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