Saturday, April 05, 2014

Employment and Retirement Blues - A-Z Blog Challenge

I've just realised it's nearly Easter. Nearly Easter! This year has been galloping along and I seem to have achieved nothing. There have been reasons - some more important and/or valid than others. I have had a lot of sickness and that always slows things down. Added to that Pisces has also had health problems. Being forced to leave from a part-time job he really enjoyed and accept full retirement has not been easy for him - and nor has coping with the fact that, in his eyes at least, this makes him "old".

This has all made me think about ageing and the personal and societal impact of getting older.

There has been a drive here, led mainly but not entirely by the right wing conservatives, to lift the retirement age - that is the age at which you can draw an aged pension. It's been slowly creeping up for the past decade or so. Until a few years ago the retirement age for women was sixty and men, sixty five. Then the age for women was gradually raises to be the same as men which made sense.

What doesn't make sense is continuing to raise the age at which people are eligible without factoring in that many older people are starting to physically find work harder and finding it harder to find employment. Employers are legally barred from discriminating on the basis of age but that is easily got around.

Then there are the health issues. As an example, until recently Pisces had been able to do a full day of work - some of it quite heavy lifting - with no problems and he swam and walked regularly. Then in the space of three weeks his back, which had apparently been fine, was no longer fine and he could barely walk, let alone lift anything. Turns out that a working lifetime of having to lift heavy things had been wearing away at joints in his spine and now they were, to put it bluntly, shot. According to the doctors there's nothing to been done about it, no cure or operation available. All he can do is exercises to try to build up his core muscles and avoid putting any stress on the joints. At the same time, because he was still trying to work, he managed to damage both shoulders. Work is no longer an option and he isn't even seventy - the retirement age being touted by lots of - fortunately for them healthy - politicians.

I used to watch one of our strutting Prime Ministers - a man obviously blessed with excellent health - out for his morning power walk and then hear him pontificate on how his peers should do the same. Well, no. We're not all fortunate enough to have good health and, when I look around at my circle of acquaintances, many of whom are in their sixties, I can see how they are no longer as fit as they were.

For example, we meet up regularly with a group whose ages range from low sixties to around seventy with most in their mid sixties. The group is mixed, consisting of twenty men and women. Of these currently one is in hospital with a long term illness, one has had a stroke and has residual problems from it, one has had two knee replacements and recently survived a heart attack, another no longer drives because of health issues, three are severely crippled by arthritis, one has an ongoing battle with complications from surgery twenty years ago and one has severe back problems. None of them are capable of working full  or part time. That is nine out of twenty from a fairly typical group of people with an even gender division and varied educational background. Of the remaining eleven, four are in paid employment and three are acting as unpaid baby sitters for grandchildren. Because, even if you are well as you get older, you start to get tired and an accumulation of health niggles make full time work difficult, another three (lucky enough to have substantial superannuation) are fully retired and one works part time. A number are also heavily involved in voluntary work and/or caring for ageing parents.

This group is fairly typical of their age group too, inasmuch as most don't have substantial superannuation. This is because they entered the workforce with the expectation - encouraged by the governments of the time - that they would be eligible for an aged pension. You paid your taxes all your working life and in return you would have a pension if you hadn't been able to save enough to live on. If you had superannuation you thought of it as a supplement, not the main source of income. Then they shifted the goal posts but for most it was too late. They didn't have time to accumulate a substantial stake in superannuation and anyone with a broken employment history - women were particularly vulnerable (having children has a big effect) - still relies on government assistance now they are unable to work.

Add in the many grandparents who are the free childcare option for their grandchildren while their adult children go out to work and we have another major problem bubbling away. What happens if this childcare dries up because older people are forced back into the workforce? There aren't enough childcare centres available now and it's very expensive. It seems to me there'll be another serious issue arising. Then, of course, there's the reluctance for employers to take on older workers. The whole situation is a mess that simply raising the retirement age is not going to resolve.

Okay, the rant is over but if you want to find out more about it this article is very informative.

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