Working later into your 60s or 70s plus has some positives, but not for everyone and it is going to rely quite heavily on the kind of jobs available.
I was talking to someone the other day who was getting to grips with the whole older workers having to work longer agenda. She said that it made absolute sense to try and keep people in the workforce for longer for a number of reasons – to boost their earnings and prevent people falling into poverty and to address the issues of status and purpose which work can provide and which can lead to poor mental health when they are taken away and so forth.
It is true that there are positives to be had from working longer if we are living longer…in good health. But many aren’t and they have other responsibilities which might be able to sit alongside part-time work, but might require time out of the workplace, even if only temporarily. Many have been in the kind of jobs which become harder to do in old age. The response to this is usually something along the lines of to talk about the need to promote better quality jobs and to transition people into these kind of roles. And this would help, but it is unlikely that there will be enough of this type of job at the scale needed any time soon.
If you want a dose of reality just look at the experiences of the Waspi women. Whatever the findings of the drawn-out legal proceedings about whether the women were properly informed or not – and many maintain that they weren’t – their experiences, detailing health issues, caring responsibilities and the like as well as a lifetime of lower pay than men and career breaks and problems finding work in their 60s due in part to ageism, are a cautionary tale.
One woman writes: “My mam was put end of life and I didn’t want her put in a care home. This was when I was 59 , so I phoned the pensions office for the paperwork to claim my pension! I was told over the phone when I was 59 that I had to work till I was 65 , so I had to reduce my working hours to care for mam . I have worked till I was 67 to try and get some savings, but unfortunately have had to finish due to ill health.”
Another said: “I sadly lost my husband. He didn’t live to draw his pension and I had to carry on working while he was ill and after he died for a further three years. I retired last year at 66 and was only able to work part time due to my own health issues.”
Yet another said: “I have a husband with a terminal disease. I should be spending my retirement with him not still working at 68 to make ends meet.”
With mortgage rates rising and some banks extending payback timescales up to the age of 80, are we just storing up even more problems for the future? What happens if a 78 year old is still having to pay their mortgage while also suffering chronic health issues that impact their ability to work?
Debt is becoming absolutely embedded in the whole life cycle. I look at my children and they will be paying back university fees and living costs – even just the interest – for decades to come. Many of those hardest hit by rising interest rates in terms of mortgage payments will also have student debts to pay back at a time when they are considering starting a family and having to fork out thousands for childcare. When are they expected to stockpile to cover potential health problems and caring responsibilities? There will need to be much broader thinking to provide the kind of safety net which will be needed if people are to avoid a miserable old age.