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Working for ‘The Man’ Every Night and Day?

Recently the National Pensioner’s Convention (NPC) slammed a recommendation by the Equality and Human Rights Commissions (ECHR) to raise the default retirement age (the age at which you can be legally required to retire whether you want to or not) to above 65 years old. Based on a (presumably representative) survey of “1,494 men and women aged 50 to 75 across Great Britain” the ECHR said:

“The majority of workers over 50 (62 per cent of women and 59 per cent of men) want to continue working beyond state pension age” and “Working longer is not a burden borne purely out of necessity: those who have elected to work longer are happy and enjoying what they do.”

Not so, say the NPC, “Britain's biggest pensioner organization; representing over 1000 local, regional and national pensioner groups with a total of 1.5m members” (NPC website). They say the “proposals have failed to properly quantify issues such as the rate of unemployment and availability of work, the rights of younger people to find a job, the quality of the jobs older people will be offered (and will be prepared to accept) and the loss to wider society if pensioner volunteers (currently undertaking unpaid caring and charitable work) were otherwise in paid employment.” The NPC raises the issues of those people who want to retire; the need for an “improved state pension system” and says “removing the default retirement age would condemn the very poorest in our society to carry on working until they die”.

A clear division of opinion then, which appears to boil down to whether you consider being able to work longer to be a form of freedom or a form of oppression; whether you have a vision of yourself still bestriding the narrow earth like a Colossus or whether you’re going to end up walking under the huge legs of others, peeping about (if you’re curious, it’s Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar I’m mangling here).

I must say that I was surprised by the vehemence of the NPC’s position. I don’t read the ECHR proposal as saying: “you must work past 65” and they don’t explicitly refer to the UK Government’s planned rise in the age at which you will be allowed to draw a state pension (67 by 2034, 68 by 2044). Nor do they say employers would have to keep you on no matter how bad at your job you were. In other words, the immediate consequence of their proposal would be merely to give to those for whom 65 appears (as it always has, in fact, been) an arbitrary age at which society deems some people “too old to work” the right not to be retired at the behest of another for no other reason than that they have had one birthday too many. In other words, the right currently enjoyed by the likes of judges, politicians and, indeed, the self-employed. It wouldn’t take away an individual’s right to choose to retire nor would it get rid of the situation that I would have thought might bother younger people looking for work a bit more, namely the fact that currently you can claim a state pension at 65 and keep on working if you can find suitable work. Personally; I have no problem with that ‘anomaly’ but I can see how a young person might see it as like being allowed to claim unemployment benefit at the same time as having a job i.e. “make up your mind, auld yin, are you retired or not?”

Whether someone is “too old to work” because society thinks they’re a clapped out old donkey or because it thinks it’s time they should be rewarded with a life of leisure; it doesn’t change the fact that currently people can “be retired” at 65 with no comeback; a little bit like in the movie Logan’s Run where folk were exploded when they hit 30 to keep the population down inside the post-apocalyptic bio-dome. If I were an employer I’d hope to have better performance measurement criteria in place than age alone. If someone’s crap at their job it doesn’t matter of they’re 26, 36 or 66 does it? Get shot of them! And if someone is brilliant, wouldn’t you want to keep him or her on, yea, even unto the nonagenarians?

Look at this way; I’m 39 and relatively fit. Arnold Schwarzenegger is 63. You’re about to be mugged. Who would you rather see coming up the street to help you? “Aha”, you say, “Arnie’s an exception”. But that’s exactly the point. And that’s why we need to account for individual choice: whether it’s to work or retire. After all, eventually, we’ll be gone for good and none of us will be back. No hasta la vista baby!

Posted by Andrew Jackson at 16:45 Monday, 01 February 2010.