Retirement should be a right. But it’s in danger of becoming a privilege for the rich
Dawn Foster/ The Guardian
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.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. 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.