Ken Dodd was working until days before he died in his 90th year. It would be great if we all had a job we loved which ‘kept us going’. But we don’t so we need to consider new ways of providing support for the rapidly growing number of people who reach retirement age.
Of all the appalling nonsense that has come out of the mouths of Tories in the past few months nothing is more revealing of a callous lack of interest in the poor and vulnerable than the suggestion that people should have to work until they are 75 before receiving a state pension.
For some that is what they may choose to do. I hope to still be very active at the age of 75 providing that my health lasts. I am already of retirement age (oh you knew that did you!) and am still active in a number of ways. I still spend about 3 days a week ‘earning money’ and another 3 days a week doing stuff for free because I want to help a number of causes such as @worldmerit.org.
I am now able to choose easier and less demanding work. I don’t get up for very early trains or return very late. If something looks boring, I avoid it even if someone will pay me and if something looks interesting, I’ll find time to do it even if they don’t pay me. I am in good health, in an occupation which is desk or inside based and I’m fortunate in that I’ve been able to save for private pensions. This is a situation that is very true for my ward where most men and women are like me and where people on average live until they are 85.9 years old.
But what if I was a refuse collector having to get up at 6 every morning and move heavy bins around in all weathers. What if I was a lorry driver where not only manual skills are required but also the need to concentrate on busier and busier roads for very long stretches. For these people the move of pension age from 65 to 66 or 67 is already a stretch. Whilst it is possible to comprehend it in pure financial terms, do we as a society want to see people of 75 emptying bins? Do we really want to see juggernauts driven by tired 75-year olds? I am sure that the answer to that is a resounding NO!
If we look at the most deprived ward in the city people die on average at the age of 74.5 years old. In other words, many of the people in that ward will never reach a pensionable age. Indeed, quite a few don’t reach a pensionable age already. In effect this would be a big move of money from the poor to the wealthier societal groups.
In theory, perhaps we could subject everyone to some sort of health and means test in which people were assessed for their ability to work based on their age and profession. Really? Look what a mess the government is already making of health-based checks for the receipt of other benefits.
In practice there is self-selection. I can work so I choose to. Others can work but choose not to. Some have got a little job because it gets them out of the house and allows them to buy some extras and some would like to work but for a variety of reasons are unable to. I can see of no system other than a voluntary one where people will be working until they are 75.
There are however a number of things that can be done and two that have already started.
Automatic enrolment into a pension scheme which both employers and employees are contributing to private pensions will reduce the absolute dependence on state pensions and pension credits that too many people depend on.
Since 2010 the state pension has been in a triple lock which means after 25 years of decline in real terms under Tory and Labour Governments the state pension has begun to reduce the gap in average earnings. This only continues until next year and I am fearful of the Government seeing a reduction in the lock or its elimination as an easy cut to make.
Looking ahead we could move to a system of flexible retirement where from retirement age, or earlier, people could start to reduce the number of hours worked and not take a full pension. Part of the pension would be kept back to provide an even bigger pension as the hours worked dwindle to nothing.
Employers could benefit from the huge experience of long-serving employees by using them as mentors to youngest employees. Job descriptions could be altered to reduce certain elements of stress and physicality of some jobs in return for a lesser hourly but which does recognise that vital experience.
We could recognise financially and in other ways the important role that grandparents have in bringing up grandchildren and increasingly great grandchildren.
We could pay a higher level of state pension because ours is one of the lowest state pensions in the developed world in spite of the improvements since 2010. If we did that, we could abolish pensions credits and other means of providing support for the elderly. If we did this for everyone, we would recoup a fair amount of it back from wealthier pensioners who will have more of her income pushed into the taxation levels.
We could look at the age at which we start to get some things cheap. I was never able to understand why I as a person working full time until I was 65 got free prescriptions and a bus pass.
I’m not pretending that I have all the answers to the complexities of this issue but I do start from a principle. That whilst we are still fit enough to enjoy life after a lifetime of working and paying taxes that the state should be prepared to pay a pension which would enable us to live with decency and all the basic needs of life with a little bit extra for luxuries.
That’s what I am able to do – that’s what everyone should be able to do.