Should the default retirement age be 65?

Blog posted

24th August 2009

In March 2009, European Judges confirmed that the UK Government will have to overcome a high hurdle in the UK courts to explain why it’s social or employment policy objectives justify the National Default Retirement Age (updated) and therefore allow forced retirement. This has now been heard in the High Court and judgement is expected this Autumn.

Age Concern and Help The Aged report that nine out of ten over 50’s believe they should have a right to continue working past 65 if they wish, as long as they are capable of performing well in their job. Not everyone agrees. Michael Winner is reported in The Daily Telegraph when commenting on Selina Scott’s successful legal action for discrimination against Channel 5, as saying: “Now we’re told you can’t fire anyone on TV if they are over 50 because its ageism. So that means you have all these stupid women who thinking they have a right to a job for ever”.

The Statutory retirement age and the age at which one continues to work are essentially different. The statutory retirement age should be no more than the age at which the government has to pay old age pensions and provide other benefits such as bus passes. The Government has a right to fix this age because it is paying for the cost of the benefits from our taxes. It does not have the right to tell us when to retire however, that is a private matter between each of us and an employer.

The sad fact is that the Government, being mired in debt and knowing that half the UK population will soon be over 65 desperately needs the Default Retirement Age to increase in order to save money. At the same time the Government needs old people to leave their jobs to provide employment opportunities for the mass of young people from all social backgrounds who cannot find work, and in the current depression have little immediate prospect of work. They also have strong policies in favour of choice in old age. We therefore have the amusing, but not unique sight of our Government going in two opposite directions at the same time.

The decision when to retire will be made by each individual depending on his or her health, financial situation, and appetite for work, and these will vary for each of us. There is a difference however between providing the freedom to freely negotiate continuing employment and ascribing a right to people to work. Any such right must be balanced with the need for an employer to receive value for that labour.

Employers need to be flexible in the allocation of hours and work for older people, but older people also need to accept their physical and mental limitations. This may mean lower pay scales if their productivity is lower – illegal under current equal pay legislation – and it may also mean that employers have a free hand to decide when an employee is fit for work.

I suggest that the vast majority of old people would be happy to acknowledge their slow physical and mental decline and be happy to accept terms and conditions which reflect their changing circumstances and thereby enable them to enjoy happy and productive work into later years without the stress or competing against their juniors. For the rest the courts will have an absolute field day.

Nigel Welby