Monday, 13 December 2010

Dignity for the Retired

In last weeks Guardian newspaper, Jonathan Wolff, professor of philosophy at University College London, wrote an article about "Pensions are another way the already worst-off get a rough deal". He compared the relatively good pensions that those in academia would retire on, with "someone who left school at 16 will, most likely, spend almost 50 years in the workforce, often doing physically demanding work, before qualifying for a state pension and little else. They will then retire into poverty". He puts forward some proposals for an improved system in line with some other European countries.

I retired in January this year after 47 years of continuous employment, so the issue of pensions is right at the top of my agenda. I spent most of my working life fighting the cause of justice for many disadvantaged groups in society. I now find myself part of a group that I previously had no real contact with - the retired community. I now for the first time understand what poverty for the elderly really means. A survey by Help the Aged (now part of Age UK) a couple of years ago estimated that there were around 2.5 million older people who mostly lived in one room because of the cost of heating their home. Fuel poverty has still to be addressed adequately. The last few years of my working life were relatively comfortable, even though I lived in rented accommodation. I put as much as I could into a pension fund, but it has turned out to be too little, too late. The monthly payments are a joke.

Dignity for the elderly is not easy when you watch every penny, struggle to pay some bills, get embarrassed about paying your way when you get invited out for the evening, or worry about treating your family right when they come to stay. For many retired people these are not problems, and good luck to you, but for millions of people these are problems. A decent pension would alleviate many of these problems. Personally, I would like to see a state pension that was a minimum of two-thirds of someones final year salary. Will this happen? Currently, pensions are being looked at by the Government, but as Professor Wolff also says, "When everyone is thinking about reform of pensions and retirement, it is very surprising that there is so little discussion of what seems, when you start to think about it, yet another way the already worst-off get a rough deal".

I'm no longer fighting on the battlefield of homelessness, as I have a new cause - no doubt driven by a certain amount of self-interest - I'm now part of the "grey vote", and will fight (whatever that means) for dignity for the retired. Watch this space.

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