It doesn’t seem that many years ago the experts were telling us that we’d be working shorter hours, have more leisure time and be retiring much earlier. The reality for many people now couldn’t be more different – especially in towns like Hartlepool.
The recent pronouncement by the Conservative government that the retirement age will be 68, and will be phased in from 2037 rather than from 2044, is bad news for everyone, but it’s particularly tough for workers in the north east and north west, where life expectancy is much lower than the national average.
Quite frankly, expecting people to work until they’re almost 70 is outrageous. In certain jobs I’m sure it’s bordering on inhumane.
I mentioned in this column recently that the average age of fire crews has risen spectacularly over the years. That is only going to get worse. I made the point that if you needed to be rescued from a burning building you’d want the firefighter to be a superfit 30-year-old and not a person 20 years or more older with arthritic knees.
The reality is very simple. The ageing process takes its toll on all of us but the decline in physical strength and fitness has a more marked effect on those in manual jobs or jobs that require excellent fitness levels. Whereas it’s perfectly possible that someone who is say an accountant or a computer engineer to be able to work well into their 60s or even 70s, the same can’t be said for a joiner who works out in the cold on building sites or a guy who is toiling away on an oil rig in the North Sea.
Health and mortality inequalities also come into the equation and all the evidence shows that there is a huge difference between North and South. But there are also huge differences based on deprivation. Nationally the gap between the most affluent areas of the country and the poorest is staggering: 16.7 years for men and 16.8 years for women. The latest figures for Hartlepool show that men in the poorest areas of Hartlepool die 11.9 years earlier than the wealthiest and 10.9 for women.
The thought of someone having to work their entire life and getting just a few years of retirement appals me. Sadly, for many people in the poorest and most deprived areas of Hartlepool, they won’t even see their first state pension payment let alone have a few good years of retirement.
Any caring and progressive society should be working towards lowering the retirement age not raising it.
We should also be putting resources into health and education so that people can not only get to a ripe old age but get there with a good quality of life and enjoy their retirement.
It’s a complex subject and one I’m sure we’ll return to in future, but as always I’d be interested in your views.
On a different note, as a former UNISON official, I am delighted by yesterday’s victory in the Supreme Court over unfair employment tribunal fees. Thanks to my union, these fees will now be scrapped and access to justice made easier.