It seems innocuous, putting the pension back a few years, for women from 60, to 68. We are all living longer. That is a fact. Both my parents died aged 94, and were exceptionally lucky to remain in good physical and mental health up to the last year of their lives. And both were forced to retire at retirement age, even though neither wanted too. The policy then was make way for the young ones. But my Dad cleverly circumvented the compulsory retirement by re-taking his radio exams and going back to sea, until the Union caught up with him and forced retirement aged 70. But my parents are unusual. Not in the age they lived to, but remaining completely fit until nearly the end.
If this was typical, the arguments justifying pushing the retirement age back would be fair. But longer life does not mean longer health. I was very fit and healthy until age 55, when I was struck down, overnight by polymyalgia rheumatica. Without the miracle of modern diagnosis and modern medicine, I could have been permanently mobility impaired for life. As it happens my polymyalgia passed, but morphed into rheumatoid arthritis, a permanent condition for which there is no cure.
After the age of 50, it is a fact of human ageing that age related illnesses and health breakdowns become more common. Sometimes they are predictable, where there is a genetic connection, or where there has been an unhealthy lifestyle. But often the health breakdown is completely unpredictable. It can neither be predicted nor prevented.
Our retirement age was probably about right, although it would have made more sense and been fairer to be slightly later for women and earlier for men. My guess is about age 62 for everyone. Age related health breakdowns start in the 50’s, and increase again in the 60’s, and so on.
In Britain we pay an amazing amount of our income in taxes. Tax freedom day occurs later every year. This year it occurs in May/June. So for all our working lives we are paying nearly one half of our earnings to the government. Put this in context. We are told that each person in Britain only contributes 50 pence to the support of the Royal family per annum, and this is good value for money. 50 pence, multiplied by millions is a lot of money. Nearly half your income multiplied by millions over everybody’s lifetime is also a lot of money, surely enough to provide pensions for everybody when they reach old age. Pensions are important. Consider the schemes our politicians, local council officials, and the monied elite bestow on themselves. The more modest pensions of ordinary people are needed, and at the right age. Only a few years ago Britain had the best private pension scheme in Europe, if not the world, until our politicians took an axe to it. What for? To make us equal with Europe? So why did they exempt themselves from the pension carnage.
When people say the recent changes to pensions will bring about a “work till you drop” situation for most people they have really missed the point. That is not the future. It is happening now.
Consider an elderly couple in their 60’s. It is quite likely that in at least one of the partners health problems have emerged. Also despite the rhetoric about living longer, people start to die from age related conditions from the age of 50 onwards. My late husband, who died aged 69, and who had struggled to work past retirement, having contracted cancer aged 64, had an actual retirement of less than 2 years, having contributed taxes for 55 years. But he became quite depressed in his fifties when his friends, men in the same age group as himself, started to die off. Of course, this was in London, not a country area. People seem to die younger in London.
A few years ago women retired at 60. Now what situation do women in their 60’s having to wait ever longer to receive their pensions find themselves? They may find themselves in some variation of my situation. Alone, since their partner has died , with the huge increase in the cost of living which follows when you now have to pay your entire housing costs and bills on your own. Often suffering from an age-related impairment, which means even if there was not age discrimination from employers, there is absolutely no reason for an employer to take you on when he is spoilt for choice by a large number of younger, fitter applicants. So there is an increasing gap between the end of your working life to when your pension starts. And this situation is just going to get worse as the retirement age is rolled back. And it is clear Unemployment/Sickness Benefits are not going to fill the gap. So you go to the Job Centre to sign on, and are required to meet impossible health targets to prove you are fit for work otherwise Unemployment Benefit is refused. Or another set of impossible targets to meet otherwise Sickness Benefit is refused. How many years can the average woman worker support herself before she becomes eligible for pension? Did I say years? More like months.
What is happening, right now, is a formula is being applied, that when you stop work, for health reasons beyond your control, there is a hiatus of years before your pension kicks in. And policies are being pursued to prevent unemployment/sickness benefit taking up the slack. What the future holds, and it has already started, that men and women who have not been able to continue working up to an increasingly later pension age will be left, for years, without any means of support.
And a new world phenomenon, increasing homelessness among women in the 50 plus age group, who had full working lives, something that has caused consternation in the States and Australia, but seems to be a matter of indifference in ageist Britain.
The UK is one of the richest countries in Europe. A short time ago had the best occupational pensions in the world until our government trashed it. Our pensions are among the lowest in Europe. We already have among the highest retirement age in Europe and that retirement age is being pushed back. But all these detriments only affect ordinary people, not the elite who swan from one 6-figure salary job to the next, collecting gold-plated pensions as they go.
What is going on?
If you hadn’t been paying close to half your income to the government for the last 30, 40, 50 years, you could have saved that money to live on.
Perhaps we should start a new campaign. Either pay the pensions we have been paying for all through our lives or give us back what we paid in taxes.