While almost two thirds of adults would like to see the default retirement age abolished, few are sure what the right age for quitting work should be and most are failing to plan for the future.
According to a survey undertaken among 1,011 people by Age UK, which was formed out of the merger of Help the Aged and Age Concern, a further seven out of 10 respondents believed that employers should not be allowed to force people to retire when they hit a certain age. The charity claimed that tens of thousands of workers had to give up work in 2009, causing an estimated loss to the economy of £3.5 billion.
Michell Mitchell, its director, said: “The Default Retirement Age is a hugely unpopular law, which is well past its sell-by-date. Forcing people in later life out of the labour market when they want to work, save for their pensions and pay taxes is nonsense. It makes a mockery of the government’s plans to help people work longer.”
As a result, she called for a clear commitment by the coalition government in its Budget today to scrap “forced retirement” by next April in order to end “speculation and confusion among employers and employees alike”.
But a second study based on in-depth interviews among staff aged 50 plus, their HR and line managers in five public and private sector organisations by the Institute for Employment Studies revealed that few had done much in the way of forward planning and were uncertain about the future.
Most were ambivalent about even whether to undertake such planning in the first place and were likewise unsure about how to go about doing it. The situation had not been helped by the recession, which had led to higher levels of unemployment among older workers as a result of redundancy and recruitment freezes.
This scenario had bred uncertainty because, not only did many respondents feel like a potentially easy target for companies wanting to cut costs, they understood that if they did lose their jobs, they would no longer be able to afford to take early retirement. As a result, they had little idea when they might have to leave work and were unsure what a good retirement age would be anyway.
Marie Strebler, an associate fellow at the Institute and one of the report’s authors, said: “Employers seem to be stuck in reactive mode. They provide retirement support, but are failing to encourage people to stay, treating requests on a case-by-case basis and thus missing opportunities to retain much needed and valuable skills.”
A “tremendous shift” was required in deep-seated stereotypical attitudes to work and ageing if employers wanted to foster a culture where early retirement and prolonged working lives could co-exist, she added.
But “this can only be achieved with an open and continuous dialogue between line managers and individuals and through support by HR policies and practices”, Strebler said.