I had been warned to expect many experiences and emotions when I retired.
“The phone will stop ringing.”
“You’ll lose all status.”
“You’ll miss the structure of the working day.”
“You’ll be lonely.”
“The cut in income will be a shock.”
I’ve experienced all of this and, honestly, none of it has been a problem.
The emotion I've experienced which has been hard to cope with – and totally unexpected – is...guilt!
It’s the cultural and political context all pensioners now find themselves in.
In the Big Society, pensions have got a bad name, especially those which might actually provide an income that you can live on. Never mind that you’ve paid your taxes and contributed a significant part of your salary in pension contributions for 40 years or more – and perhaps even topped them up instead of spending the money on booze, fast cars, expensive restaurants and smart phones (whatever they are.)
No, that’s not good enough. The problem with pensioners in the Big Society is that they don’t work. They might be doing other worthwhile things, but let’s not get distracted. Basically, pensioners do not work.
The very aged and the elderly infirm – okay, they are excused. But pensioners who are able-bodied, who can see and hear and walk and talk – what they hell are they doing retired?
On the status ladder of the emerging Big Society, the able-bodied pensioner occupies a rung just above the social security scrounger. I don’t think it’s the paranoia of ageing when I say I can detect a trace of scorn and suspicion from the workers I meet.
“You look too young to be retired” is not the compliment it might once have been. Heavens, I’m starting to hesitate to present my Senior Railcard at the local station.
Of course, I understand the feelings of workers who might feel some resentment towards the able–bodied pensioner. After all, occupational pension schemes are being withdrawn or drastically reduced, the retirement age is to be raised and the real value of the state pension is plummeting. But who’s responsible for this state of affairs? I plead not guilty.
When I was a wee boy in the 1950s, I used to read that in the future growing prosperity and technological developments would gradually eliminate the need for most work. The days when men like my father had to work two nights and a Saturday morning to earn a living wage would soon be a thing of the past. Crivvens, eventually robots would do all the hard grind and let humans do more fulfilling things.
In the middle of the 20th century, we appeared to be going in the right direction. The standard working week had come down from 50 to 40 hours. The consensus appeared to be that it was unreasonable to force people to work for 50 of their 80 or so years on the planet.
Well, where did it all go wrong? How come we’ve arrived at the Big Society consensus that pensions, state or occupational, are luxuries and that people will have to work longer than they did in the past?
Don’t let anyone tell me we can’t afford to do otherwise. Our society is immeasurably wealthier than it was 60 years ago. It’s matter of choices. In the UK’s version of casino capitalism, employers have no interest in investing in occupational pension schemes. Senior executives earn a hundred times more than their lowest paid colleagues.
Politically, the UK has chosen to dismantle the welfare state, including pension provision. In the face of burgeoning youth unemployment, the elderly are forced to work on. And Brits now work the longest hours in Europe.
Can it be otherwise? Is there really no alternative to a ‘work-till-you-drop’ society? I’m sure there is. In the meantime, please don’t tut when I produce my Senior Railcard.
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