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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 June, 2004, 09:34 GMT 10:34 UK
Work till you drop
Britain's pension crisis could see us working into our old age. Will we become a nation of grandparents working until we drop? The Money Programme investigates how ageism in the work place could effect the government's plans.

Britain's pensions crisis is getting worse. An estimated 13 million people are not saving enough for their old age and many of them face having to work beyond their predicted retirement date.

But people are finding it difficult to stay in work as they get older, with workplaces plagued by age discrimination.

Old age conjures up images of slippers, walking sticks and false teeth, but today people are staying healthier and capable for far longer. When the first pension age was set a hundred years ago, most people died 25 years before they reached it. Today they live well beyond it.

On the shelf at 50?

Most people below 50 who want to work, can. But the older you are, the harder it gets. Nine out of ten people made redundant when they are over 50 are still out of work a year later.

Research shows that ageist stereotypes are even more strongly held than racist or sexist ones. Ageist attitudes are thought to cost the economy billions of pounds a year in the lost output of older workers.

Understandably, the government has promised to tackle the problem of workplace ageism.

"We must erode the present cliff edge at the end of a working life where someone is on Friday a valued member of the work force but by Monday they are shunted into retirement, says work and pensions minister Andrew Smith. "This will mean extending choice and will mean legislating to end age discrimination at work."

Happy birthday Keith

Keith Dixon is a British Airways cabin steward who should be looking forward to his fifty-fifth birthday in April. For most BA cabin crew, 55 is the compulsory retirement age. Even though Keith has passed medical tests to show he can fly a plane himself, BA says that Keith is too old to work in one.

"I have gone through a whole raft of emotions - anger, frustration, despair - and it's like you are racing towards a brick wall," says Dixon. "I am mentally and physically fit and I am going to find myself unemployed in 10 weeks. I feel frightened for the future."

For years, the airline and the unions have been arguing about raising the retirement age. But the bottom line is that retaining senior, better paid cabin crew instead of hiring cheaper, younger ones, is bound to cost money.

BA says it wants to raise the retirement age, but not yet. If it is lagging, so is the government.

Britain holds up ageism law

The European Union members signed a directive promising to bring in laws against age discrimination, but Britain was in no hurry and managed to persuade its European partners to extend the deadline for legislation until 2006.

"We are certainly committed to legislation to tackle age discrimination and what we plan to do is consult further on proposals later this year. We want to have those proposals in place by the end of 2004 so that business and others have got time to get used to the new system before it becomes binding law in 2006," says Smith.

Companies like BA are now claiming that it is the government's slow timetable for new retirement law that is holding up their own changes, because they need to see what the new legislation means for them.

The idea that you can 'work till you drop' if you want to improve your income in old age remains rather elusive, at least for the next few years.

This programme was first transmitted on Wednesday 19 March 2003.



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