Call in Mam’s and Dad’s army



ONE way to avoid a thorny issue is to kick the can down the road and the coalition has done this yet again over raising pension age. “I don’t see it going beyond 66,” said Taoiseach Michael Martin last month, excusing deferment of a decision with the comment, ”These are weighty issues.”

You could almost feel sorry for politicians, caught between a rock and hard place where, on the one hand raising pension age is controversial and the other the cost of funding pensions for an ageing population is financially unsustainable. Except for their lamentable lack of imagination around this issue and the failure to listen to what older people actually want.

Just because something was done one way in the past, it doesn’t mean it has to be done that way forever.

We are not back in 1908 when old age pensions were introduced in Ireland for the first time. Then life expectancy was 30 years shorter at 52, many jobs involved manual labour and unemployment was high. Now we have full employment and there are chronic staff shortages in many areas; not only are we living longer we are staying younger longer. We could use a Mam’s and Dad’s army if there were more flexible pension rules and work practices to encourage people over 66 to continue working if they want.

There’s an assumption here that all over 66s come in an identikit package. They don’t. Some would really welcome the opportunity to continue working for financial or social reasons, others want to retire early. Paul Kenny, former Pensions Ombudsman, quoted a finding among civil servants recently where 34% wanted to continue working and retire later and 35% wished to retire early for a variety of reasons from poor health, to caring for a relative, Common sense suggests that a flexible approach is needed around when people leave work and their pension entitlements. With a cost neutral scheme, early retirees could take less pension and late retirees accrue more.

Retirement isn’t necessarily the golden goal of later life. Leaving work can be one of the causes of poverty and loneliness. TILDA (The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing) found that a third of older people experience loneliness, over a quarter of over 65s in Ireland live alone and 14% of over 65s experience income poverty.

Why does the number of candles on a birthday cake have to dictate what we are supposed to do? In the creative arts, where people are self-employed, many choose to continue working – look at Paul McCartney at 80, the oldest performer ever in the Glastonbury 22 line up.

In the US, pre-pandemic, the Bureau of Labour Statistics, predicted that labour force participation for the 65-72 year old age group would be 32% with one-in-five citing enjoyment of work as their main reason for continuing to work and 35% citing the need for extra income.

So what is stopping us calling in the Mum and Dad army? Many private sector employers still have work contracts stipulating retirement at 65. Ageism, the last of the big isms, is another reason. Those aged 60 to 65 make up 20% of the long term unemployed here. Despite legislation to rule out discrimination on grounds of age, it takes middle aged and older people twice as long to get called for job interviews compared to younger people. Retraining and regular reskilling to make sure that older workers don’t have a sell by date would help and so would working hours to suit older people, a shorter working week or part-time work and tax incentives could make working more attractive. Now that many of us are WFH (working from home), it may be more attractive to continue than it was when faced with a commute and the 9 to 5 treadmill.

We need more people at work. The number of people over 65 is set to double over the next 30 years and the old age dependency ratio will be down to only two people of working age to one older person compared with five of working age currently. And no, it isn’t just the oldies fault for living longer, the demographic shift has just as much to do with the fact that people are having smaller families today. We could follow the UK suggestion to tax people who don’t have children, can’t see that idea catching on here.


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