Not retiring: Fears over pension poverty

Amid reports of mounting problems for older people, fears about the future are rising.

Woman leaning against a wall looks out into the distance thoughtfully. She is wearing a green top


A report out this week presented some depressing findings and warned of a potential pensioner poverty surge over the next few years.

The report is based on a survey by Independent Age, an older people’s financial hardship charity, which found that 41 per cent of people aged 50 plus are concerned about living in hardship when they stop working. The vast majority thought the state pension wouldn’t cover their living costs [and they’re right about that] and 67% said they were not confident that their retirement income would even cover their rent.

It’s not the first report of this kind and our own polling shows similar concerns about retirement income. In fact, this week research by the Pensions Management Institute found almost half (49%) of working adults have changed their retirement plans because of the cost of living crisis, including 24% of people who are set to delay their retirement and 23% who have reduced their pension contributions. It also found that one in 20 people have stopped their pension contributions entirely, meaning it will be even more difficult for them to retire later.

With the International Longevity Centre’s Healthy Ageing and Prevention Index recently warning that the state pension age may have to rise to 71 by 2050, this is a problem that is likely to worsen. A Women and Equalities Committee meeting this week addressed many of the problems facing older workers and heard that the UK needs a cross-departmental minister or commissioner for older people to bring together all the factors that affect them which are closely linked, from health to work.

Professor Wendy Loretto from the University of Edinburgh Business School told the inquiry on older workers that the problems facing older people are not just employment-related and all of them are linked. Jonathan Boys from the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development said demographic changes brought in a range of different policy issues, from immigration to fertility, and he said the UK needs more expertise in this area.

Of course, older people are not a homogenous group and this has led to a divergence of narratives about them. One – mainly advocated by white collar workers – is that working is good for your health and that people are living longer so why should they retire. The other is more focused on chronic health issues and the need for a better safety net for those who won’t be able to work longer.

Both things can be true at the same time, but the issues related to health are urgent – and made worse by the current health crisis – and they won’t go away. There are so many strands to the problem because chronic health problems can be a long time in development. Insecure, low paid jobs are not a recipe for long-term health; neither are overly intensive, high stress ones. Housing costs and availability are a major issue and bad quality housing clearly affects health, as does lack of proper heating or food. All require an overarching social and employment policy which sets the infrastructure necessary for us to enjoy our old age or at the very least not to be miserable or terrified about ageing. I was talking to someone this week who said that older people don’t like to be called older. That’s really just inverted ageism. It shouldn’t be a negative to call yourself older, but when being older seems so scary maybe that’s what is to be expected.

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