Tuesday 20 February 2018

Happy New Year - but it looks like you'll have to work forever

Pensioners may be allowed to keep their jobs if they want to carry on working

AGE IS NO BARRIER: Helen Mirren (71) won an Oscar at the age of 61, an Olivier Award
aged 67 and a Tony at age 69 — and she shows no signs of stopping anytime soon Picture: Reuters
AGE IS NO BARRIER: Helen Mirren (71) won an Oscar at the age of 61, an Olivier Award aged 67 and a Tony at age 69 — and she shows no signs of stopping anytime soon Picture: Reuters
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Over the Christmas break, most us of will spend time with older family members and relatives. Some we hadn't seen in a while and others we should make an effort to see more often.

For those who you don't see that often, Christmas becomes a yardstick for the ageing process. You might notice a grandparent moving a little more gingerly than usual or an aunt who seems to be getting slightly forgetful. Then there are the relatives who have aged so gracefully they make you hope your genes came from their side of the family.

Either way, there's nothing we can do about ageing - it will happen to the best of us.

The good news is we are all living to be older than ever and for the best part of these years we are in a healthy condition. For example, if you are a 65-year-old man, you will on average live for another 18.4 years, and if you are a woman you've got another 21.1 years. Of those years, men can expect to be healthy for 11.4 of them, while women should not have to regularly see a doctor for 12.3 years.

The statistics come from a Eurostat study which featured in the recently published Positive Ageing 2016 National Indicators Report.

The report was launched last November by Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People Helen McEntee but got very little media coverage, which in itself gives an insight into how we view our more senior citizens. The information feeds into the Government's National Positive Ageing Strategy, which is aimed at celebrating older people and ensuring they "live happy, healthy and fulfilled lives".

A central plank of the strategy involves creating a country in which older people feel they can participate more in society. Just as with all stages of life, work is a key ingredient to living a fulfilled existence.

As revealed in today's Sunday Independent, there are currently plans afoot to make landmark changes to retirement laws to allow people to work longer, if they so wish.

This will include abolishing mandatory retirement ages (generally around 65 years old) and putting an onus on employers to provide employees with objective reasons for bringing their contract to an end due to their age.

The change in government policy is a reaction to the changing nature of the workforce and the looming threat of a pension time bomb.

Ms McEntee's report shows 63pc of the population hold some description of employment between the ages of 50 and 64, but this drops dramatically to just 18pc for those aged between 65 and 69 - when most people retire from the workforce.

Between the ages of 70 and 74 it drops further to 9.4pc. In both of the later age categories, Ireland is above the EU average.

We are also a healthier nation than we give ourselves credit for, as 78pc of people aged between 65 and 74 report their health is either good or very good. However, one in four people in the same age group says they have a physical disability.

This includes difficulty with pain, breathing or any other chronic illness or condition; blindness or serious vision impairment; deafness or a serious hearing impairment; or any difficulty with basic activities such as walking, climbing stairs, reaching, lifting or carrying.

Chronic diseases are more prevalent among 65- to 74-year-olds, with 66pc of men and 79pc of women stating they have been diagnosed with conditions such as arthritis, asthma, diabetes, cancer or heart problems.

Some of these figures look stark and would have you believe the large majority of our older citizens are bed-bound invalids. However, a mere 7.3pc of people who report a long-standing illness or condition say their disability stops them from attending further education, work or participating in social activities. This unsurprisingly jumps to 26pc aged 75 or older.

When broken down further, the figures show just 4.6pc of 65- to 74-year-olds find attending work or education difficult, while 10pc of respondents aged over 70 gave the same response.

The report states: "The extent to which someone adapts to a disability may depend on the person's level of resilience, which can depend on factors specific to the person and their contextual circumstances."

In other words, everyone's situation is different. But, according to the statistics provided, a lot of people do not feel diseases or conditions brought on by old age are necessarily preventing them from going about their daily lives.

The report also found contentment with one's own circumstances increases with age and 86pc of people aged over 65 say they have a "high life satisfaction", which is six points higher than those aged 52 to 64.

This could be interpreted two ways. The fact that life satisfaction increases beyond 65 could mean people are happier in retirement or, alternatively, they have become more content with their lot in later years.

Symptoms of depression and anxiety also decrease as people get older. All in all, older people seem to be happier in their twilight years.

Now, I'm not for a minute suggesting people should be forced to stall their retirement plans because they are healthy, fit and full of the joys of life, but those who feel they can work should not be prevented from doing so.

However, as things stand, a third of people over 50 say they have experienced age-related discrimination in their workplace, and almost nine in 10 say they have been discriminated against while looking for work.

Naturally, there are hard facts that show why an employer might want to replace a retiree with a younger, more tech-savvy and cheaper member of staff.

In almost every profession, workers hired pre-financial crash are paid considerably more than colleagues doing the same job who were employed post-2008.

There are also issues around education and training, especially when it comes to the ever-changing technological landscape.

For instance, around a quarter of all respondents over 65 say they use the internet while not at work and just 5.8pc say they do so on a weekly basis.

While above the EU average, we still have very low levels of people taking part in formal education and training in later years - just 2.3pc of adults between 55 and 64.

If government policy is to shift towards encouraging people to work longer, it should be complemented with a strategy to upskill and train workers for technological advances in the workforce.

It's all well and good pushing people to work later into life but if they do not have the skills to do so they will a) not feel like they are contributing and b) not be seen as possible candidates for positions that may arise.

There are undoubtedly workers, mostly in the public service where they are legislatively required to retire at 65, who would like to work for a few more years, especially since their pension doesn't kick in until they are 66.

Removing mandatory retirement ages will lead to consternation, mostly among owners of private companies who do not want the Government dictating their human resources policy, as it did in the UK when similar legislation was introduced.

As the Government prepares to change laws in this area it should be - and most likely is - aware of one final statistic: more than one in four people aged 65 or older have been involved in political activities in the past 12 months.

This includes attending a meeting of a trade union, political party or a political action; attending a protest or demonstration; signing a petition, including email or online petitions; or contacting a political or public official.

If the Government is to survive the next general election, it will have bring on board the ever-powerful grey vote when it looks to make landmark changes to their work lives.

Sunday Independent

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