The social Security Secretary Alistair Darling's first act as the self-styled "champion for older people" was to alter the tax rules to prevent workers from taking early retirement until the age of 55. The age change would come into force between 2010 and 2020, alongside the increase in the state pension age for women from 60 to 65. Publishing his report "Winning The Generation Game", Mr Darling insisted that he was not trying to kill aspirations but to prevent firms from laying off valuable workers too soon and forcing the state to pick up the bill: "What is a problem for all of us is where somebody comes out of the workplace involuntarily, not because they choose to, and they don't have enough income to make ends meet," he said.
It is certainly true that many firms treat workers over 50 disgracefully, seeing the offer of early retirement as a convenient way of dumping older employees. Employment rates among the over-50s have plummeted recently - from 84 per cent 20 years ago to 67 per cent now.
It is certainly right that employers who mistreat willing older workers should be stamped on. As life expectancy continues to rise, many older people will be hoping to have many years of productive work ahead of them. They rightly resent the assumption that their skills and knowledge are of little use to employers. But others don't feel this way. They carefully put money aside into occupational or personal pension schemes, and dream of the day when they can be free of the grind of unstimulating employment and set out instead on a more rewarding lifestyle, based on the saving they have accrued during their working lives. It is an ambition they may not realise when the time comes. But they have every right to dream, and the Government should not be deriding those dreams.
Some of the workers affected by the Government's proposals are in their mid-30s. They may have saved into pension schemes for nearly two decades, hoping that - by the age of 50 - they will have saved enough to retire. Now nanny Darling tells them that their place on the golf course must wait. The Government came to office pledged to "think the unthinkable" on welfare spending. That was an admirable ambition. But thousands of bored workers in their thirties will now be hoping that they could unthink this one. Tread softly, Mr Darling, because you tread on our dreams.
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