Stop bullying pensioners into work – they deserve a long retirement if they want it

Do I detect a hidden agenda being rolled out, one designed to help the cash-strapped NHS by making older people feel guilty about inactivity?

Janet Street-Porter
Friday 09 December 2016 14:47 GMT
Do working pensioners really live longer? The evidence doesn't stack up for Janet Street-Porter
Do working pensioners really live longer? The evidence doesn't stack up for Janet Street-Porter

I’m beginning to suspect there’s a secret plan underway designed to demonise anyone of a certain age who fancies putting their feet up and doing bugger all. The propaganda has already started cascading from so-called health experts hell-bent on telling us how to live our lives “productively”.

The report, Fit For the Future, claimed that “good work” can improve our self esteem and boost brain power, and chief medical officer Dame Sally Davis (aged 67 herself) reckons that that older people should shun retirement because it will be better for their health. And, if we can’t be arsed to get a job, we should be taking up a new hobby.

What patronising bilge. I’ll be 70 in a couple of weeks, and enjoy earning a living – but my life is by no means typical. Do I detect a hidden agenda being rolled out, one designed to help the cash-strapped NHS by making older people feel guilty about inactivity?

Pensioners reunited

Remember how politicians enthused about “working mums” – and by default, made any woman who preferred to stay at home while bringing up her kids feel like a second-class citizen? From the Prime Minister down, those in Government kept harping on about every mother’s right to return to work, instead of providing adequate support for mothers who opted not to. Now lots of women work (many because they need to) and then see the majority of their earnings eaten up in childcare costs. And what about the millions of latch-key children in the UK who come home from school and have to get their own food because mum is working miles away? No wonder we’ve got fat kids.

Just as an irritated Theresa May pointed out, there’s not one neat group in British society called Jams (“Just About Managing”), and equally, there’s not one default attitude to work in the population at large. Why should work be regarded as the most desirable way to spend your time, from the moment you leave school to the moment you take your last breath?

I am lucky enough to work from home, or from a TV studio. My work is varied and I enjoy it. But most pensioners will have spent years doing tedious jobs which are exhausting.

Of course there will be older people who are lonely and who want to go to work to meet people and engage with the world, and good luck to them. But we should acknowledge that other people are perfectly happy not working, and they are not dying earlier. There might be more people in work in Britain today, but wages are not increasing. Most work is part-time, on minimum wages. Where are all these lovely jobs which older people can get? Jobs which don’t involve standing on your feet for eight hours at a time, handing out coffees or stacking shelves?

Another piece of propaganda was published this week making the claim that cheerful women are likely to live longer. If you go around smiling and being positive, you are likely to cut your chance of dying from heart disease and a stroke by over a third. Really? Not every pensioner is miserable and lonely, with a brain that’s starting to atrophy. Many look forward to retirement as a chance to have a bit of space and time to enjoy life, even on limited means. This crusade to keep the elderly “mentally active” verges on the distasteful. By 2020, the over-fifties will make up a third of the workforce – but let’s not assume those outside work are one step away from a coffin.

Fit For the Future is full of the same platitudes that accompanied previous public health campaigns to get us to eat five fruit and vegetables a day (a total failure) and lose weight (another lost cause). Older people have more disposable income than any other group, and many are using it to help their children and grandchildren get on the property ladder. We’re sexually active too: the fastest growing group using online dating services and a high proportion of pensioners enjoy more sex than clapped-out workers in middle age.

Sure, there has been a big rise in sexually transmitted infections in the 50- to 70-year-old age group, but the number is nowhere near as high as young adults. Dame Sally Davis wants pensioners to give up booze, lose weight and join a community group. To which I say: mind your own business.

Join our commenting forum

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


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in