Leading article: The age of change

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The Independent Online

It is a palpable nonsense that an individual is fit to work on a Friday but unfit the following Monday because they have had their 65th birthday inbetween. Plans by the Government to raise the age at which we retire rightly acknowledge the changing reality of the way we work.

Shifting social attitudes to work-life balance and improved communications technology have already brought forms of flexible working to 45 per cent of British companies, according to the last CBI employment trends survey, with 24 per cent more considering similar changes. They should change the way we think about retirement too.

An extended period of part-time, tapering or flexible working would do away with the arbitrary cut-offs of retirement at a fixed age. That would be better for businesses because they would not suddenly lose the skills and experience of their older staff. It would be better for many working people who have found that their pensions and annuities have fallen in value. And it would be better for the public purse if the Government delays paying out the state pension until we are 66.

The concept of retirement needs to become flexible too. We are all living longer. We are healthier in our later years, and are more able to work after the age of 65 than were our grandfathers. Just as well, since the average man now lives for more than 20 years in retirement, compared with seven years in 1940 when the current retirement age was fixed.

There are caveats, of course. Union leaders have accused the Government of wanting people to "work until they drop". Manual labourers might not be able to continue working as long as someone who works at a computer; the current system of pension credits will need to reviewed to accommodate that. But social attitudes need to shift too. Workers must accept that they may need to change the nature of their occupation as they get older. And employers must rethink ageist prejudices which ask how old someone is, rather than whether or not they can do the job.

Changes are required from government too. Ministers lament that 10 million of us are not saving enough for retirement. That is because many people have lost confidence in pensions, having invested significant sums over their working lives only to find that the money they locked away will produce a far smaller retirement income than they had been told. To address the retirement crisis, ministers need to do some radical rethinking of pensions too.