Leading article: The positive side of an older workforce

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Two tentative conclusions can be drawn from the figures on working beyond 65 just released by the Office for National Statistics, one negative and one positive.

The negative conclusion would be that the doubling since 2000 of the number of people working, either full-time or part-time, past what has been the state pensionable age reflects need rather than inclination.

As such, it shows the parlous state of the pension system in Britain, and perhaps also the fact that more people are reaching 65 with mortgage or other debts still to be paid.

Whatever the contributory factors, however, it is clearly undesirable that people should have to stay in work, or seek employment, in order to eke out an inadequate pension. To the extent that this is happening – and will probably remain an uncomfortable fact of life – it represents a major failure of the state and places Britons at a disadvantage compared with most of our European neighbours. Almost nowhere are the provisions of the private pension system as meagre or as capricious as in Britain.

But the figures can also be interpreted in a more positive light. The likelihood is that a good proportion of the new over-65 earners are working because they want to. Not only that, but they are keeping, or finding, jobs. Admittedly 10 years is quite a long time, and the doubling of the number in work is from a small base, but the increase gathered pace as the decade went on, and – unlike youth employment – appears to have been unaffected by the recession.

The big concern was that planned rises in the pensionable age and the abolition of a statutory retirement age would leave people in a double bind: on the one hand they would have to wait longer for their pension; on the other, they would find it nigh-on impossible to find employment because of ingrained age discrimination. While those over 50 still find it hard to find employment if they are made redundant, the ONS findings suggest that working past 65 may present less of a problem than had been feared. If this means that employers' attitudes are slowly shifting, that is a move in the right direction – and a very necessary one at a time when the population is ageing.

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