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End of the dream

THERE is bad news on retirement.

Babies born this year will not get their state pension until they reach the age of 77. The good news is that, with increased life expectancy, the retirees of 2089 may still fit in two decades of post-work leisure. The generation after that may have to work on until the age of 84 but again have 20 or so years to fit in the odd cruise or tend the rose garden before they reach their allotted span of 104 years. Those who choose to soldier on beyond retirement age may receive their Buckingham Palace centenary birthday card at their place of employment.

It sounds incredible but take heed. These actuarial forecasts come courtesy of pensions experts at accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, the company that is so powerful it does not have to bother with spaces between words.

The Department for Work and Pensions is working on an automatic link between pension age and the rising rate of life expectancy. The PwC report warns that anyone who wishes to quit work in their sixties had better start saving more and saving earlier. Never mind school and university fees. The motto seems to be: it is never too early to start worrying about your baby's pension.

The thought of octogenarians clocking on makes the government plan to increase to 67 the age at which people can claim OAP status (due to come into force some time before 2028) seem like sheer luxury and unadulterated idleness. But not to those who will be the first of recent generations to toil beyond 65.

Also published last week was a much less dramatic and more thoughtful analysis of how people will have to adapt to staying on in the workplace. A report, Retirement In Flux, by the think tank International Longevity Centre UK, says it is about the entitlements and responsibilities of being a citizen. "Citizenship implies that, in return for recognising our duties such as obeying the law and paying taxes, we have certain entitlements - But what kind of contributions should people be making in return for this support, beyond paying taxes and, presumably, National Insurance during their working life?"

Increasing longevity is challenging the economic reality of retirement for both the state and the individual. It is challenging the concept of retirement which has emerged over the last 100 years. The report concludes: "Older citizens have a responsibility to remain in the labour market, where possible, to enable skills retention and minimise the fiscal burdens on taxpayers. But alongside this, older people should have a right to support from employers, and society more generally, to enable longer working lives."

The concept of citizen supporting state and state supporting citizen is laudable, verging on utopian. Life, as we know, is not like that. In real life, the failed banker retires in his fifties with a lavish pension while the binman is required to toil on well into his sixties.

The International Longevity Centre report offers an interesting history of retirement and a view of the future of retirement. But the crux of the matter is summed up in the introduction which quotes John Hutton, the former Labour MP who became the Conservative-LibDem coalition pensions guru. Hutton says: "We have designed much of our public policy concerning older people according to an image of life after 65 that is now redundant. The old notion that after this milestone in your life, all you can expect is decline and dependence, is hopelessly outdated. We must assume that older people will participate actively in society and in the workplace for longer and to the best of their ability. But the principal responsibility for retirement saving must rest with the individual and not the state."

The message to today's and tomorrow's pensioners is: you are on your own. Choose your own path. Which is no bad thing. I have personal experience of following the philosophy that retirement should be considered as a process rather than an event.

At the age of 54 I relinquished a reasonably fat salary. I took my pension (before someone else took it) 11 years early with substantial penalties. I got no redundancy payment. I would not recommend such eccentric behaviour to others.

The rationale,

if it can be so described, for my decision was that I could not cope with a culture change at my place of work. What had been the best job in the world had turned to ashes.

There were other personal factors, I must admit. Some depression, too much drink, and delusions of adequacy. Luckily, before I headed off to a new career selling the Big Issue, I was hired on a freelance basis by an editor with a sense of adventure and a sense of humour. He let me go walkabout. The job did not involve being in an office. A lot of the time it did not involve being in the same country.

The remarkable progress of information technology has made the business of treating retirement as a process so much easier. Working from the electronic croft (or the electronic hacienda) engenders an enthusiasm that was often sadly lacking in an office environment. There is the extra incentive of knowing that if you begin your labours early enough you can be out of the croft before lunchtime and down at the Arlington Baths Club in Glasgow getting gently steamed or toasting the weary bones in the Turkish room. Over in Barcelona an early exit from the hacienda means you can spend the rest of the day on the beach. In a working semi-retirement there is no need for presenteeism.

Part of the process is supposed to involve doing less work as the years go by. I find I am writing more now than I was in that unhappy office 10 years ago. I will be 65 next February and should, logically, be considering retirement. I want to be a cook when I grow up so that may be an option. But I fear I will not be able to give up entirely what passes for my attempt at journalism. Have laptop, have bus pass, will travel.

One of the challenges of treating retirement as a process rather than an event is finding a balance between work and other interests. As part of my research it was suggested I speak to Willie Young, a leading lawyer and former football referee.

A sports journalist said: "Willie, the lucky fellow, is always on the golf course." Young admits that while he now manages to fit in a satisfyingly substantial number of rounds of the royal and ancient game, he has not entirely retreated to the golf course. Or the golf courses, as he is a member at East Renfrewshire, Prestwick St Nicholas, and Glasgow Gailes.

He says: "What I have been able to do is change the emphasis of my working life." For many years he was managing partner in the busy law practice of Brechin Tindal Oatts. He was able to fashion a parallel career on the football park as a referee with the SFA. "I couldn't have had the time to have so much fun getting dog's abuse on the football park without the support and consideration of my work colleagues. When I stopped refereeing in 2005 at the age of 50, I wanted to maintain my interest in sport. So I stood down as managing partner and became part-time chairman of the law firm."

Young is now on the SFA referees committee and works as an observer in Scotland and with Uefa. He also coaches up-and-coming referees. While much of his time is devoted to public speaking engagements and charity work, Young admits he does not lack the opportunity to swing a golf club.

The main thing is not to waste the precious years of retirement. Jimmy McGuire took a deal at the age of 57 and quit as principal art teacher in a Glasgow school. He has gone back into education and is now a student of what he describes as the intricacies of the Cremonese art of violin-making.

McGuire, a fixture on the Scottish traditional music scene, said: "I had always wanted to make my own fiddle so for the past two years I have been on a stringed instrument-making course at Anniesland College. I set out to make a Stradivari but the process of making a violin is quite unforgiving and with a few technical deviations on the way what I have made is more of a McGuiriari."

Working with wood has been the perfect antidote to the pressure of the modern education system. He says: "I never lost my enthusiasm for teaching, for creating interesting lessons, and working with kids to see them achieve good results. But as a principal teacher I found it had become difficult to protect my staff from a crumbling disciplinary system."

Increasing bureaucracy left him with less time in the classroom and when the opportunity arose, he clambered aboard one of the last helicopters out of teaching and into retirement.

"My health has improved," he says. "The blood pressure is way down. The main stress will be at the end of term when a professional musician comes into college to test the violin I have made."

"There have been financial adjustments to make," he adds. "Do not believe the myth of the gold-plated public-sector pension. I considered the possibility of working a few days a week as a supply teacher as many former colleagues have done. But I realised there was no way back to the classroom except as a student. I had spoken to people who had gone back but had lasted only a few weeks before they remembered why they had chucked it in the first place."

WHEN the babies of 2012 are still working at the age of 77, they will be on a par with Baroness Sally Greengross who at that age is still chief executive of the International Longevity Centre UK which produced the aforementioned Retirement in Flux report. Her other appointments include chair of the advisory groups for the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing and the New Dynamics of Ageing.

She was previously director-general of Age Concern England and chair of the Institute of Gerentology. She has fashioned a long career out of longevity. Baroness Greengross now puts in full shifts as a crossbencher in the House of Lords where she chairs various all-parliamentary groups on age issues.

I ask her if she has any message for the retirement class of 2089. "By the time today's children reach that age, work will have changed out of all recognition," she says. "It will be flexible with much less physical labour involved. The most important thing is to recognise that age is becoming less relevant. People should be allowed to do what they are capable of and what they want or need to do. It's time to stop insulting older people by ruling out their contribution as irrelevant.

"Work can be good for you. It is not a curse but a blessing."

An inspiring example of the philosophy of work till you drop is Peter Daniel from Foulden in Berwickshire, who is an active landscape architect at the age of 87. He was recently entrusted by the Royal Botanical Gardens of Scotland to carry out a major assessment of its estates.

Why is he working at such an age? Because he enjoys it. Because people still want to hire him. It also helps to supplement his state pension. "The key is that I thoroughly enjoy my work. I would be terribly bored without it. I don't do golf. I don't do gardening as such although I love growing things to eat.

"I meet a lot of younger colleagues and they keep me going with their liveliness and enthusiasm. I taught part-time at Edinburgh University and had a constant flow of younger people in the profession. I couldn't imagine sitting around with people whose main topic of conversation is their illnesses and doctors' appointments.

"I have been very lucky. It must be a horrifying prospect for someone to have to work on in a job they don't like or a career they have fallen out of love with."

Which brings the retirement debate back to individual rights and responsibilities. Sometimes there have to be difficult choices between perceived financial security and a sense of fulfilment.

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