Life begins at 65: workers can now stay on if they want

Abolition of set retirement age welcomed as a 'milestone' in fight against discrimination

For many people, retirement is something to look forward to. But for others, it is not. When Knud Moller, a former government statistician, was forced to leave the job he loved in 2007 simply because he had turned 65, it was a horrible blow.

Mr Moller had hoped to keep working at least until the next national census, which was four years away, in 2011. Unfortunately, he didn't have a choice. The law required that he retire, and the Stoke native was forced out of his job.

"I felt very unhappy. You lose your professional dignity and you, in a sense, become nobody," Mr Moller, now 70, said. "I felt very bitter. I have applied for many jobs since then but often don't even get an acknowledgement of my application."

From today, however, the forced retirement law is no more. The Default Retirement Age (DRA) – which allowed employers to force people to retire when they reached 65 – has been abolished and older workers will be able to choose when they stop working.

Charities and senior citizens' groups have campaigned against the DRA since it was introduced as an anomaly of new age-equality regulations in October 2006, arguing it discriminated against workers because of their age.

The charity director general of Age UK, Michelle Mitchell, welcomed the end of the law as a "major milestone in the fight against age discrimination".

"We hope that now it is illegal to force someone out of their job simply because they are 65 or over, it will make employers look beyond their staff's date of birth, objectively assess their skills and contributions and trigger a more positive and realistic attitude to older people," she said. She warned that people over 50 find it harder than any other group to get a job.

But there are 955,000 people over 65 currently in work, or nearly one in 10 of that age group. This figure has risen steadily in recent years. Aside from the financial incentive, many of those who have continued working do so because they enjoy the activity. Gary Wakefield, 68, from Battersea, London, has worked at B &Q since his former employers made him partially redundant at 62, arguing that he was too old to continue as a forklift driver.

"I have always been a busy person. I cannot see myself sitting in front of the TV. I have been married for 48 years but I think that if you see your wife 24/7 it doesn't always work, so it's nice that I can be away for four hours every day."

Case study: 'I like working. My life is much more fulfilling'

Jean Rumbold, 70, from Southampton, was forced to retire as a GP surgery receptionist aged 65 and also had to give up the Brownie pack she had run for the past 32 years. Today, she works as a medical records officer at a local hospital in the mornings and as a swimming teacher in the afternoons.

"I felt cheated because I was doing a job I absolutely loved and I could have carried on. But there was no way I was going to give up work. I just like working. I feel as though my life is more fulfilling because I work. I enjoy my leisure time when I've got it but I like to keep busy.

"I also like the extra money. I get a state pension and the money from my two jobs has enabled me to buy a new car, go to the theatre and know I do not have any money problems.

"My husband is disabled – he's got severe osteoarthritis. I work to 12.30pm at the hospital then come home and see to him. I need that job to keep me sane. Watching TV all day would drive me round the twist. I just love teaching swimming – there is a real sense of achievement".

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