Sam Dunn: Stay younger and richer: work longer

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The Independent Online

Imagine yourself living happily in later life, enjoying time with your grandchildren, tending a well-kept garden, and catching up on all those books you meant to read.

Imagine yourself living happily in later life, enjoying time with your grandchildren, tending a well-kept garden, and catching up on all those books you meant to read.

Or perhaps, at Dylan Thomas's urging, you don't plan to go gentle into that good night. Then you might be enjoying racy foreign holidays, driving a sports car or even bungee jumping.

Whatever your vision, I'll wager it doesn't include having a job. Happily trotting off to work every day is rarely considered an essential ingredient for contentment in later life.

But for too long, there has been a stigma attached to the idea of gainful employment past the usual age of retirement. It's as if working into your late 60s and beyond is a sign of foolishness, financial desperation or even, somehow, demeaning.

There will, of course, be many people who are forced by unfortunate personal circumstances to earn money to survive financially in their old age.

But the cultural prejudice against older workers is badly outdated, and attitudes need to change. Happily, there are signs that such a shift is on its way.

For more than 10 years, the DIY chain B&Q has actively recruited among the over-50s, and it seems to have helped set a trend. Nationwide building society last week raised its compulsory retirement age for staff to 75. It was already set at 70 - the bar was first lifted from 65 in 2001 - and Nationwide says its decision to raise it again has come in response to demands from workers.

The announcement by the building society anticipates new legislation, to be introduced in autumn 2006, giving staff the right to request permission from an employer to go on working past the age of 65.

Under the new law, which is part of the European Employment Directive, your employer must have good reason to refuse the request.

Quite what these grounds for refusal will be is unclear. The TUC has already warned that companies may hide behind poor excuses to avoid keeping on older staff. But the Government has made it clear where it stands on the issue: since April, it has offered cash incentives - a higher monthly income or a lump sum in their later years - for any workers who want to delay take-up of the state pension.

However, the benefits of working in later life don't just come down to cash. A job can help foster an active, creative mind, and bring companionship and a sense of achievement for the individual. For employers with a policy of recruiting older staff, the advantage is a reliable, loyal and responsible workforce.

Our failure to save for retirement has often been highlighted in these pages. I wonder if this failure is partly down to outdated attitudes about work.

Consider a job simply as a way to make money, and saving for a pension will feel an onerous - and expensive - task. But a mindset that sees work not as a toad squatting over you, but as a positive experience, might encourage a more enlightened view of saving for the future.

s.dunn@independent.co.uk

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