Early retirees writing themselves off? Hardly – they keep us afloat

These early retirees aren’t stripping the economy, they’re helping the rest of us to prop the damn thing up

Hannah Fearn
Monday 14 December 2015 18:45
comments
At the core is a distinction in the way you assume your will affects your ability, and it has a powerful effect on kids.
At the core is a distinction in the way you assume your will affects your ability, and it has a powerful effect on kids.

It’s hard to feel sorry for the generation that had it so good, the baby boomers who got rich quietly by the sheer luck of finding somewhere to live and holding on to it, and who now close the doors on their careers with life expectancy rising almost daily and a fully funded pension on which to sit out the decades that remain. They have at their disposal a freedom never afforded to their parents and which their children (hey, that includes me) will not have the chance to share either. They are retiring early and enjoying their spoils – and, according to Baroness Altman, it’s bad for all of us.

Lady Altman, the pensions minister, says too many boomers are opting out of the workplace too soon, while still young and healthy and with lots to give. “People in their 50s and even their 60s are not old, so why should we write them off and why should they write themselves off?” she said. “It would add 1 per cent to the economy if people worked a year longer.”

It’s true that the boomers are stepping out of the workplace earlier than ever before. Men now retire at the age of 64, three years early than their grandfathers in the 1950s, while women retire at 63, a year younger than their own grandmothers (their children – yes, that’s me again – are, by contrast, likely to be struggling on into their late seventies). Figures show that in some parts of the country only half of the population aged between 50 and 64 are in work. And, according to research by Les Mayhew of London’s Cass Business School, a 50-year-old today is likely to have as many years of good health and potential productivity as an average 42-year-old of his or her grandparent’s generation.

But “writing themselves off”? I rather think not. And, more’s the point, these early retirees aren’t stripping the economy, they’re helping the rest of us to prop the damn thing up. For while there will be some who are sitting back and enjoying the proverbial crossword and slippers, others (if not most) are knee deep in the kind of unpaid labour that the economists cited by Lady Altman and her colleagues rarely bother to consider when calculating the strength, or otherwise, of our economy.

Almost 2 million grandparents have either given up work or reduced their hours to take on childcare for their children’s children – no surprise given that the cost of professional childcare has risen 27 per cent in five years too. The charities Grandparents Plus, Save the Children and the Family and Childcare Trust describes these willing volunteers as a “hidden army”, allowing the nation’s parents to stay in work. And they are spending their pension to allow that to happen too: these charities calculate that the bank of gran and grandpa is also contributing as much as £8bn to bridge the gap between shrinking salaries and rising childcare costs. In other words, keeping parents – mothers, in particular – in the workplace and contributing to the economy.

Meanwhile, another 2.3 million adults have given up work to care for an elderly parent, disabled person or seriously ill loved one, according to Carers UK. Another 3 million who are yet to retire have reduced their working hours to do the same. And a further two fifths of retirees are engaged in voluntary work.

So while there might be much to envy in the choices that baby boomers have about how and when to take their retirement, let’s not pretend they’re putting themselves on the scrapheap and taking the economy down with them. The more pertinent problem is what the next generation of business people will do when they can no longer rely on an unseen “army” of comfortably-pensioned, amicably-minded care workers to keep their employees productive and at work.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments