The report, entitled A New Vision For Older Workers, was produced by Dr Ros Altmann, a former banker who is occassionally on television. To anyone who has followed the ongoing destruction of an adequate benefits system for sick and disabled people it is chillingly familiar.
“Encouraging and enabling those who want to work longer is an idea whose time has come” the report declares before trotting out the exact same assumptions that were used to justify the introduction of vicious assessments – and eventually forced training, job search and workfare – for sick and disabled claimants. Older people want to work according to the report, and of course, work is good for your health. It then goes on to make dire predictions about the future of the economy as people live longer than ever before – presumably because retiring is also quite good for your health.
The truth is that the research this report was based on shows that most people are pretty much happy to retire at 65, although some would like to work part time for a period first, and a much smaller number afterwards. Only 10% of people wanted to work full time over the age of 65, whilst 26% would like some part time work. The main reason people didn’t want to give up work was because they were worried about money. Only 9% of people questioned said they wanted to stay in work because they liked their job. Just 22% of retired people said they missed work, and of those most of them missed the money. People like money, and they like retiring. This is not a big fucking surprise.
It is also not what Ros Altmann, or the DWP wants to hear. The report says we need to ‘rethink what retirement looks like’ and goes on to propose measures such a government funded Apprenticeships for older workers. It also calls for similar ‘work placements’ to be made available to those inflicted on young people such as the unpaid Work Experience and Sector Based Work Academy schemes. Despite spending much of the early section of the report arguing that more measures to keep older people in work will not affect youth unemployment she says that employment schemes aimed at the young disadvantage older workers. She thinks pensioners should have the right to work in Poundland for no pay as well.
The report is discussing all workers over the age of 50, and Altmann doesn’t seem to know that older unemployed people can be sent on workfare right up until they draw a pension. This doesn’t mean that pensioners are off the hook however, the report is adament that “age should not be a barrier to training opportunities”.
It is important to point out that Altmann talks about encouraging people to work longer or take up an apprenticeship, not forcing them. They are not yet that confident. But this is exactly the kind of smiley faced rhetoric that was eventually used to justify workfare and benefit cuts for sick and disabled people. Altmann even proposes an Age Confident campaign, modelled on the DWP’s current Disability Confident initiative, the shoddy PR programme introduced to provide soft cover for cutting disabled people’s benefits.
Workfare for your pension may be some way off but that is no reason to be complacent. Reports like this are how it begins. Encouraging people to work longer is presented as helping them, or ending age discrimination. Liberals will cheer, the Labour Party will applaud. Charities for older people will start thinking about all those juicy contracts to train pensioners in how to write a CV that might be on the way. Middle-class professionals, who earn more in an hour than some do in a day, will think it’s just common sense to do a few hours work after you retire – as long as the money’s right of course. And slowly those who choose to retire at 65 will be start to be criticised for not taking up all the exciting opportunites now available to work for the minimum wage until the day you die.
Eventually anyone who doesn’t want to be worked to their death will be a scrounger and a drain on society. They will need to be punished, by stopping their pensions to help ensure they make the right choices and that the system is fair. Sounds far-fetched doesn’t it? Yet that’s how people with cancer, MS, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia and other serious and sometimes terminal health conditions are treated every day by the DWP. Who would have predicted that a couple of decades ago?
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