Steve Bee: Where will the jobs come from for older workers?

steve bee

Over 20 years ago, towards the end of the 20th century, our government decided to require millions of older people in the future to remain in the workforce for longer. That decision was in response to the generally accepted view of likely increases in longevity.

At the same time, it also decided to equalise the state pension age for men and women. The age for women had been reduced from 65 to 60 during the Second World War, while for men it had remained 65.

A common pension age of 65 was re-established as the century closed, as was the means of enabling the future common pension age to increase over time. But time was allowed for people to adjust to the new order of things and nobody born before 1950 was affected.

Men and women born in the 1950s were set to be the first generation to begin to have access to state pensions at the same age once more and, for some, that common age would be above 65. Those born in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and beyond are likely to be required to remain in the workforce for the whole of their  seventh decade of their lives.

The established timetable to implement this enormous work of social engineering was changed at short notice at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, when it was decided to accelerate the planned increases to the new common pension age. For many women born in the 1950s, who were already affected by two increases to their expected state pension age, the 2011 acceleration of policy caused widespread unease.

That general sense of unease coalesced into a movement of protest under the name of Women Against State Pension Inequality. It called for a Parliamentary rethink of the combined policies and the social and financial effects they had had on so many people, many of whom had not even been aware of the changes. Much of the ensuing debate centered on the poor communication of such important information on the part of successive governments.

However, it must surely have been seen as inevitable before the 1995 legislation was passed that it would likely cause financial hardship for many, particularly women and even more so those who selflessly devoted their time to supporting the lives of others.

Even if the government had implemented a communication plan to ensure all affected were aware in advance, there would clearly still have been many who could not have done much to alleviate their likely poor financial situation in  the future.

Indeed, there seems to have been little  thought in the run up to the 1995 changes as to how so many older people could be accommodated within the workforce of the future, nor how those unable to work could be offered adequate support. The future provision of so many jobs for so many people across the country is something the new Government must discuss most urgently.

Steve Bee is director at Jargonfree Benefits