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In the past 10 years, the number of people over the age of 65 who are at work has doubled. More than one million of Britain’s pensioners are now clocking on. But is this by choice or is it due to circumstance? And what does this imply for the rest of us? I went on a journey across the country to find out.
For some like 92-year-old Tom Brogan, work clearly enhances life. I could see how much he enjoys interacting with his customers at Asda and how much his fellow employees cherish him. Tom talked of how work gives him “independence” and of how it “gets me out of bed”. Similar sentiments were shared by several of the other over-65s in work I spoke with.
And I get that, being stuck at home all day could be really lonely and dull. But what if you’re not healthy enough to go out to work each day? Or don’t have enough energy? Forty percent of over-65s have limiting chronic health issues.
And is it that easy to get work if you’re older? Because despite laws against age discrimination the reality, as I found, is that getting a job when you’re over 50 is tough. More than a third of over-50s who were looking for work past year had been searching for more than 12 months.
Julia Clancy – a charismatic former hairdresser – is 59. She’s been applying for hundreds of jobs to no avail for the past two years. I could understand how demoralising it was for her “to imagine a future when all she had to live on was £73 a week”.
“I can’t see any light at the end of this tunnel,” she told me.
It’s not that older employees make worse employees, the opposite is in fact true. Andy Briggs the Government Business Champion for Older Workers had enlightening statistics to share. An over 50-year-old is less than half as likely to take a sick day than a 20 to 25-year-old and five times less likely to leave and change jobs than a 20 to 30-year-old. And whilst some of our skills do wane with age, our experience and knowledge grows.
Businesses need to wake up to the fact that older workers can add significant value and nurture their older employees better. Most could do much better than they currently are on this front.
For those of us not yet approaching retirement my journey shed light on something else: how ill prepared most of us are for our twilight years. In Holland it’s common for people to save 20% of their salary for their retirement. Here in the UK, latest figures from Prudential show nearly one in seven workers retiring this year have made no other financial provisions for life after work and will be relying solely on their state pension to survive.
What this means it that for most of us working into later life will be a necessity, if we hope to retain a decent standard of living that is.
Retirement is increasingly a luxury many will never be able to afford.