Leading article: Let people work longer

A court ruled yesterday that British employers can continue to force their staff to retire at the age of 65. But the judge who made the ruling declared that the law is unsustainable, and said he would have ordered the Government to conduct a review of the law had Gordon Brown not already promised to do that. That review is urgent.

The age for compulsory retirement is set to rise anyway. By 2020, women will be brought into line with men to retire at 65. Six years later, it will rise to 66. By 2036 it will be 67. By 2046 it will be 68. That is not enough, which is why David Cameron was right to hint that a Conservative government may accelerate the timetable.

But more must be done. At present, employees may request to work past the compulsory retirement age but employers can say no. They can also refuse to recruit anyone over the age of 65. Employers like this as it makes their planning easier and allows them to force older workers out in favour of younger, cheaper replacements.

But more people now want to work past 65. The proportion of working people over the age of 50 has risen steadily over the past 12 years – from 60 to 70 per cent among women and from 65 to 75 per cent for men. Most retire before 65, but 1.4 million people work past state-pension age. Surveys show that two-thirds of people now expect to have to delay their planned retirement date by as much as nine years. A report by the Office for National Statistics recently bleakly confirmed this. An ageing population and the state of the economy will increase this pressure.

In the short term, people are finding that, thanks to the global recession, their pensions, investments and savings are worth less than they had assumed. So are the houses they hoped they could sell to fund their old age. Many will have to work longer to secure a decent retirement. In the longer term, demographics will make things worse. The population, for the first time, now has more people over 65 than under 16, which has serious implications for the future funding of care for the elderly. Those who are willing and able to work for longer should not have retirement forced upon them.