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Work on and live with purpose

By Jilly Forster

27 May 2015

The good news – we’re living longer. The challenge – we haven’t updated the way we think about our working careers and ‘retirement’. You simply can’t finance a 30 year retirement with a 40 year working life. But that’s what it seems we’re trying to do! It’s time to redesign the approach to retirement.

In the report launched last week, The Missing Million: Recommendations for Action, Business in the Community calls for urgent improvements to over 50s employment, due to the fact that the UK faces a talent gap of millions and needs to help more older people stay in work for longer.

The projected figures are stark. With the number of people aged over 65 set to double by 2050, it is crucial that people work up to and beyond state pension age to fund an ageing population. Without tackling barriers to retention and recruitment of over 50s, the UK economy faces a predicted recruitment black hole of 7.5 million jobs by 2022 and long term economic challenges.

Retirements are becoming longer and more expensive. Average life expectancy at 65 increased by 23% (4.6 years) for men and by 17% (3.4 years) for women between 1981 and 2008, increasing the requirement for retirement savings. Increases in care costs will also increase the savings requirement in the absence of a cap on personal contributions.

UK workers’ savings are inadequate. Only 46% of the UK workforce have an occupational pension, and many of these aren’t enough  to support retirement.  Accordingly, only 20% expect to have a financially secure later life and the average employee expects to work to 68.

The most disadvantaged in society are the most at risk. Evidence also shows that women are more likely to face inadequate retirement income than men, and that those households with the least income, the least wealth, the least education and the least income security are also the least likely to have occupational pensions. This is a crisis which, like many, will be most acute for those who are already most disadvantaged.

What to do?

While we’re living longer, most of us are still retiring at the same sort of age. So, while we used to live about 9 years into ‘retirement’, we’ll be spending two decades+ in retirement soon. We have to redesign culture to incorporate our longer and lengthening lifespan. We need to rethink mental and physical health, jobs, careers and financial planning.

The solution is to embrace later life working. We need to help realise the potential of older workers. This isn’t about being forced to work on, but enabling and encouraging those who need to and want to.

Ok, so the default retirement age has been abolished and the right to request flexible working has been extended. But so much more is needed. How about older apprenticeships – particularly for those wanting to return post caring, or need a change of career? More age-friendly policies – flexible working, phased retirement, family care leave, even ‘gap’ breaks.

So, older age is coming. Don’t write yourself off. Rethink later life working plans. See retirement as a process rather than a one-off event. Break away from the social norms we’ve grown up with. If you’re looking for purpose, structure and fulfilment in life, refuse to stop working in your 60s.  Do it differently. Do something different.

To read this article in full, please click here. For more information about how we can better prepare for an ageing workforce, please keep a look out for The Work Foundation’s upcoming policy paper examining how policy can better support older workers with health conditions to remain active in the labour market.