What should older people contribute in retirement?

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Last week, a session of the House of Lords Select Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change [1] hit the headlines, as Lord Bichard called for people receiving their pension to continue to contribute through some form of service to the state.

In his evidence, Lord Bichard suggested the possibility of policies which attached some form of penalty on older people not contributing to society, along the same lines as removing benefits from people who are not looking for work. He questioned whether we are “using all the incentives at our disposal to encourage older people not just to be a negative burden on the state but actually be a positive part of society?”. [2] These recommendations have met with criticism in the press, with commenters suggesting that Lord Bichard’s remarks do not reflect the contributions already made by older people, and that they are a tantamount to “national service for the over 60s”. [2]

Earlier this year, ILC-UK challenged the assumption that older people should automatically cease to contribute after they have left the labour market. In our paper ‘Retirement in flux’ [3] debated the current purpose of retirement, and proposed that the current paradigm of contributions during working life coming to an abrupt halt on retirement is outdated and unsustainable in light of an ageing population. Instead we should consider a model of rights and entitlements as well as responsibilities (which met with a similar press response).

The basis for these proposals is grounded in a realistic picture of our population and its capacity. We should greet the growing number of active and healthy post-retirement individuals with joy, but also with pragmatism. Age is no longer a reliable proxy for ability to contribute to society, and as such we need to shift our paradigm. In times of economic hardship, we need to examine why we exempt (and in many ways exclude) a section of the population from contributing when there is capacity and economic need for the healthy members of this group to do so.

Moving towards an age neutral society will mean that we can support those who are not able to contribute owing to their lack of ability (for example, through ill health). At the same time, we can acknowledge the considerable contribution made by many older people and work towards this model becoming the norm. Additionally, decision-makers need to recognise the benefits in physical and cognitive health that can be the result of remaining involved and engaged, as well as the boost to quality of life.

These are not comfortable decisions to be made, and the Government will require courage to challenge the status quo here. Continuing evidence to the Committee will hopefully bolster these proposals and support these difficult, but ultimately necessary, decisions.

Jessica Watson

[1] Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/lords-select/public-services-committee/
[2] BBC News – Lord Bichard: Retired people could do work for pensions http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-20044862
[3] ILC-UK (2012) Retirement in flux http://www.ilcuk.org.uk/index.php/publications/publication_details/retirement_in_flux_changing_perceptions_of_retirement_and_later_life
ILC-UK evidence to the Committee is available to view here: http://www.ilcuk.org.uk/index.php/publications/publication_details/the_impact_of_demographic_change_on_public_service

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