The twilight zone of the semi-retired

Posted on: 01 February 2010 by Gareth Hargreaves

Tony Page is one of 20 million people over 50 years old who resent being labelled as the 50+ sector.

Hi there! This internet ‘stuff’ is all new to me but the world of older people isn’t!

My name is Tony Page. Six months ago three colleagues and I took over 50connect and since then we’ve  been working hard to improve the site for all our members.

In my previous life I ran Age Concern Enterprises the largest social enterprise company in Europe and for the past twenty years I’ve worked in the area of what is known as the 50+ sector’. When I joined Age Concern England I had barely thought of retirement and now some twenty five years later I’m sitting in the middle of it – I’ve been sectored! Did you realise you were part of a sector?

My first involvement in the ‘sector’ was in 1987 when I created a national exhibition called ‘Retirement’87’ and two years later started an organization called ARP050. This was a membership organization whose main purpose was to campaign on behalf of older people and in its early days had some considerable success! At its peak it had over 120,000 members. So for the past 20 or so years I’ve been very much at the hub of issues, opportunities and problems facing people as they age in this country.

So what of the future? You and I are two of the 20 million people over the age of 50 in the UK. A lot of us are working, some are retired and some in the twilight zone called ‘semi-retired’. Wherever you sit the past two years have not been much fun have they!

Petrol costs keep rising with no evidence of a halt but then if we drive less that’s better for climate change and the environment. But contrary thinking then says if you wanted to get a new car your perfectly good old car could be ‘scrapped’ with a £2000 allowance. Something funny there! But presupposing you did want a new car would you have the balance of the cash for the purchase. If you don’t then no problem you can get a bank loan – remember interest rate are the lowest they been for nearly a century! Oooops that’s only if you lend money to your bank– if you want them to lend you then the rates don’t seem to have changed much - they are still high! But now you tell me the poor old banks have got to recover their balance sheets after the terrible debacle of the credit crunch. Excuse me but that means the good old consumer is paying for the banks’ cock ups. Hang on nearly 50% of the high street banks now belong to the tax payer (RBS, Lloyds and HBOS) so we should be getting a better deal shouldn’t we! Wrong again - the Government owned banks have got to recover themselves so they can pay the Government back the taxpayer’s money they borrowed. Now I understand – we’re paying high interest rates on money we borrow so we can pay ourselves back! Simple isn’t it!

Now what about gas and electricity – I’ve changed utility supplier twice in the past three years and each time I was going to save money. Ooops, I forgot the energy companies have to buy energy supplies on the ‘futures market’ in line with projected demand and therefore it’s hard to gauge the price we should be paying.  I do know one thing: the prices rise quicker when the wholesale prices rise than the rate and speed they go down when wholesale prices drop - funny that!

But then of course we’re only consumers – what do we know? Well one thing we know is that it is getting more and more expensive to live while incomes have, at best stalled and at worse dropped significantly! Is this situation new? No the consumer always pays but when you are on a fixed or semi fixed income it hurts!

Over the past two years we’ve listened to the Prime Minister and his cabinet tell us that it’s going to be tough but we have to save the banks, and then the jobs, and then our education system, and then Afghanistan and then the Third World and then the planet and on and on! Not once have I heard anyone speak out for the millions of retired people who depend on bank interest to supplement their income. It’s not surprising that Baroness Prosser (Chair of the Equalities Commission) last week was saying that flexible retirement is a good thing and older people really want it that way. Want it or not, we’ve not got much choice!

Until tomorrow – keep happy and keep working!

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