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Friday, 20 September, 2002, 16:00 GMT 17:00 UK
The complex politics of a grey workforce
Sainsbury's worker
You can't afford to give up early these days

You will either love or hate the notion of not retiring until the age of 70, the brainchild of the Pension Policy Institute this week.

According to the think-tank, extending our working life well beyond 60 could be the only way to avoid the country's mounting pension shortfall.

The notion could please campaign groups, which have long been calling for rules to combat ageism in the workplace.

But the campaigners stop short of a one-size-fits-all attempt to enforce later retirement ages, arguing that our working lives are too diverse.

No choice

Research from campaign groups suggests that working to the age of 70 is not as easy as it sounds.

The changing workforce
By 2006, 45-59-year-olds will form the largest working group
95% of men aged 55-65 were working in 1975
In 1999, 60% of men aged 55-65 were working
75% of people in local government retire early

Age Concern told BBC News Online that it was often the case that older employees, especially in their fifties, are those chosen for redundancies and then cannot find new jobs.

The group says one-third of people aged 50-65 now don't work, with the number of men not in work in these years having doubled in the last 20 years.

'Disillusioned workforce'

The Employers' Forum on Age (EFA), which campaigns for diversity in the workplace, says at least 40% of people who retire early feel they were forced to do so against their will.


A disillusioned and underachieving workforce can damage the financial performance of a business

Employers' Forum on Age

The EFA says the problem often sits at middle-management level and above, where "preconceptions about different age groups influence employment decisions such as employment, recruitment and retirement".

This can include the idea that older people are slower to take on new technology, are not interested in training and are "out of date".

The group warns that "where age prejudice goes unchecked", the result is a "disillusioned and underachieving workforce that can damage the financial performance of a business".

Illegal ageism

The UK is now having to prepare for an EU directive that outlaws age discrimination in the workplace.

This comes into effect in 2006 and means a number of companies are already taking steps to change their ageist environment.


Some people are exhausted by the time they get to 60

EFA
The Royal Bank of Scotland, for example, ran a campaign across radio, newspapers and buses, advertising that it was interested in recruiting those aged over 35.

But despite these initiatives, there is the converse argument that forcing the population to work longer is another form of discrimation.

Campaign groups say suggesting everyone works until the age of 70 fails to recognise that in some sectors, working life starts much earlier than others and is much more physically demanding.

The EFA says the concept "does not acknowledge that some people are exhausted by the time they get to 60".

Instead, campaigners would like to see retirement ages based on the number of years that pension contributions have been paid.

What crisis?

And Age Concern questions the very idea that there is in fact a crisis in the funding of the basic state pension.

The group says people may not be saving enough in private pensions but says it is not the case that the state is having to pay out more in state pensions.

Age Concern says state pensions as a proportion of UK annual economic output have stayed level at around 4% - unlike elsewhere in Europe such as Germany where it is rising to around 16% of GDP.

"It is not true that working generations are going to be spending more than previous generations on supporting older people. This is because the basic state pension itself is losing value," said Age Concern.


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19 Sep 02 | Business
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