The number 42, according to the late Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy is the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.
Well, according to Jock, the ultimate answer to a happy life is 20-40-20. Here's how it works out:
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20 years of play, education and training
40 years of work
20 years of retirement.
The raising of the school leaving age means that soon everyone will be in some form of education or training till 18 and that's the way it should be. Add in a few more years of higher education or further training and that takes care of the first 20 years or so.
40 years of work in a lifetime seems more than enough to me (with laws in place of course to ensure appropriate pay and conditions). My working week was typically over 20 hours more than my contract stated, but it was fulfilling labour and I did it gladly.
But there comes a time to recognise that younger colleagues have more energy and ideas. It's right to move over and let them have a go. Moreover, our priorities should be school leavers and young families. It's grotesque that we are currently forcing older people to work longer whilst youth unemployment burgeons.
I also found that once I got to my sixties, I started to find aches and pains which weren't there before. I certainly wouldn't fancy being a roofer or builder forced to work on into my late sixties.
Let's keep 65 as the age for the state pension. If people want to work on beyond 65, that's fine, but the state pension should be at a level that allows people to call it a day at 65 if that's what they want to do.
In fact, the strict application of my answer to everything (20-40-20) really calls for a lowering of the retirement age to the early sixties!
A few decades ago, the general pattern of a working life was 50 years followed by a couple of years of retirement before pegging out. (My family history reveals that my father was the first in our male line stretching back to the start of the 19th century not to die in his fifties. Those guys never even reached retirement!)
Thankfully, life expectancy is increasing. In Scotland, it's an average of 75 years for males (compared to 69 in 1969) and 80 for women (compared to 75 in 1969.)
However, currently healthy life expectancy is only 68 years for males and 71 for women. So Scottish males and females on average spend their final 7 or 9 years respectively in poor health.
These statistics (and my aches and pains) tell us what we already know. Once you get on a bit, health and well-being become less certain. But one thing we can be sure of – we're certainly not going to get healthier and stronger after the age of 65.
So my formula of 20 years of happy retirement currently looks optimistic. Despite that, our policy-makers think the retirement age should rise in line with increasing life expectancy.
Instead of celebrating rising life expectancy as an opportunity for the older members of the community to take it a bit easier or do all the things we don't have time for during a working life (including voluntary work and babysitting), it's portrayed as a social curse.
To all the younger members of society who think the oldies are just a growing burden, I'd say this. Ageing is the most democratic factor of them all. It comes to all of us.
I can assure the young yins that when you get to your sixties, being forced to spend even a few extra years in harness against your will is a desperately depressing prospect.
My 20-40-20 may not be The Answer To Everything, but it's lot more humane than the formula of raising the retirement age to 67 and ever upwards thereafter.