Grey power is stepping to the fore in the UK workforce and there's no stopping it, going by the response to government plans to scrap the retirement age of 65. Almost every editorial, opinion piece and reader's comment in the mainstream British media gives a thumbs-up to the move, which is due to take effect in October next year.
On the surface it looks like a win-win scenario for all sides. For the government, grimly looking down a black hole in public finances, the change would raise tax revenues and reduce benefit payments. It would also do the new coalition's image no harm to be seen protecting the rights of older people to work. For employers, it would mean retaining the experience of older workers. For workers who want to continue active employment, no longer having to retire simply because of their age is a big relief.
And with people expected to live longer, until the average age of 78 for men and 82 for women, the thought of living in enforced idleness for more than two decades might be alarming. Hundreds of thousands of older workers will take advantage of the new regulation, surveys suggest. Campaign groups have hailed the change as a victory against age discrimination. But in reality the picture is not so happy. Honestly, who wants to work forever? Unless it is a most gratifying job, it's like being in prison without the hope of parole.
Given the choice, wouldn't you rather spend your time going for walks or playing golf, or watching midweek matinees at the theatre rather than being stressed at work? Here lies the problem: for many Britons there is no choice, because they just cannot afford to retire at 65. Many have failed to save a large enough nest egg to enjoy a comfortable retirement. Others are still stuck with a huge mortgage in their 50s, or a family that still needs financial support.
A recent study by the pensions group Aviva yielded the depressing result that one in 10 believe they will never be able to give up work. While it may seem good and fair to allow ageing workers to continue contributing to their pensions, thought must also be given to the impact of the new rules on young people seeking employment. They are already disillusioned with the tough labour market, and now their working grandparents are further cutting their chances of getting a job. One in five people aged between 16 and 24 are unemployed.
For employers, non-retiring staff would also deprive them of fresh talent and make it more difficult for junior workers to be rewarded with promotion. "How are we going to attract and retain young people if those at the other end of the scale refuse to leave?" asks one human resources director. Businesses also fear a surge in tribunal claims. The proposals would make it very difficult to get rid of staff experiencing too many "senior moments".
Instead of letting retiring workers leave with dignity, the employers might have to sack them for underperformance and then prove their case in a tribunal. Companies have three months to voice objections or suggestions on how to improve the plans but ministers have made clear that the decision will stay in principle. Together with proposals to raise the state pension age to 66 for men in 2016 and gradually over the next decade from 60 to 66 for women, the end of the retirement age will certainly help government efforts to cut its gaping deficit.
But Granddad, before you stamp your foot and insist on carrying on working into your 70s, stop and reflect for a moment. The spirit may be willing but the flesh may not. Work until you drop? Hardly a happy way to end a living. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org