During a job interview, I was once asked how education could better prepare young people for a rapidly changing world. I chuntered on about retiring earlier and having more time to pursue their own interests. Fortunately, the vacancy wasn’t for a clairvoyant. Retiring early and having the wherewithal to pursue one’s own interests has become a pipedream for many.

In 2022, there were already half a million workers aged over 70. The increase has been sharpest among women, up by 66% as compared to 58% for men. Women have experienced a double whammy. Firstly, the increase in their retirement age from 60 to 65, followed by the next increase to 66. Those banking on the state pension for retirement, have had little option but to soldier on.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies reports lower paid workers, often in physically demanding jobs, will also suffer. They are unable to squirrel away spare cash for post-retirement nest eggs. The impact will be greatest in areas where poverty is already reducing life expectancy. AgeUK paints a bleak picture. Accelerating the rise in the state pension age “will condemn millions to a miserable and impoverished run-up to retirement and often beyond.”

That’s not the end of it. The state pension age is due to rise to 67 between 2026 and 2028. A further rise to 68 is scheduled between 2044 and 2046. It’s rumoured the Treasury is pressing for the latter to be implemented as early as 2035, a change that would impact on those presently in their mid-50s.

Our new monarch has in the past favoured retaining oldies in the workforce. At 74, he probably considers himself a royal role model. It’s true most of us could work longer if it just involved shaking hands, asking people what they did, or if they had come far. Real jobs however, tend to be more demanding.

It’s usually the feather-bedded with secure and generous incomes and pensions who are the most vocal supporters of raising the state pension age. In 2019, The Centre for Social Justice, founded by Iain Duncan Smith, floated a qualifying age of 75. Crossbench peer and former head of the Benefits Agency, Lord Birchard, suggested able-bodied elderly should do community-based work in return for their pensions. Helping in care homes for example. Just don’t expect to meet him wiping bottoms in your local care home any time soon.

Governments tend to be more cautious, well aware that this is a highly sensitive topic. The French recently revived their long-established and honourable tradition of taking to the barricades over an increase in the pensionable age from 62 to 64.

Public protest in the UK about similar proposals has been more muted. Nevertheless, surveys suggest around 20% of voters would switch their vote over the issue. Hence, Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride’s recent declaration that any decision on raising the state pension age to 68 would be delayed until after the next General Election.

Of course, pensioners are not a homogeneous group. While some are very poor and in dire straits, others are well-off and living the life of Reilly. Going down that road, however, opens the universal benefits and means-testing can of worms. Other benefits such as free prescriptions, heating allowances and the Christmas bonus would inevitably be drawn into the debate.

The mounting cost of care and pensions might well fuel younger people’s resentment. Professor James Sefton of Imperial College London wonders why the young, who are “increasingly subsidising the old,” were not already protesting about it.” Especially as they’re unlikely to enjoy similar benefits. Pejorative terms have crept in with the able-bodied elderly considered “economically inactive.” Their economic value as unpaid carers and volunteers tends to be overlooked.

There is no magic panacea. Any solution will be long term and phased in over many years. In the meantime, painful short-term “fixes” will be required. Working lives will be longer (AI permitting), with redistribution of post-retirement wealth from the better-off elderly to the less fortunate. Indeed, we need to rethink the whole concept of retirement.

Revisiting that interview question, I would now say you’re never too young to start thinking about pensions and funding for a comfortable retirement. After all, spending money is essential for spending quality time in requirement.