Retirement should be a process, not an event

29 June 2012

A couple enjoying Later Life

Retirement is in flux and it's time to challenge the concept of what it means to be old.

That’s the message in a new report by the International Longevity Centre. It notes that, thankfully, more of us are now living happier, healthier and longer lives. Life expectancy has risen rapidly and now stands at around 80 for both men and women.

Improved health has created more opportunities for entertainment and leisure pursuits in retirement, and more people have the opportunity to stay in work for longer following the end to the compulsory retirement age last year, allowing them to maintain a higher level of income than would otherwise have been possible. 

Of course, there are challenges. For many, mobility and health problems remain, particularly for the very old, and there is increasing uncertainly around funding pensions and a creaking social care system. There are also challenges created by increased isolation and loneliness in later life.

Yet undoubtedly the idea of what it means to be old is changing. John Hutton MP said in the Daily Telegraph on 13 February 2012: “We have designed much of our public policy concerning older people according to an image of life after 65 that is now redundant. The old notion that after this milestone in your life, all you can expect is decline and dependence is hopelessly outdated”.

At McCarthy & Stone, we feel that later life can be rich, rewarding and fulfilling. We believe it is an opportunity to rediscover the things people love and explore new territory. A comfortable retirement should be a right for everyone; it shouldn’t mark the point where people no longer contribute to society. 

We are already seeing the results of this changing attitude. The ILC report shows that 65% of people want to have the option of retiring gradually. Around three in four people believe that there should be more opportunities to work part-time in later life, and around half would consider volunteering in retirement. 

So how do we respond? 
Downshifting should be encouraged by employers to promote a smooth transition to retirement and retain older people’s experience in the market place. Retirement doesn’t have to mean the end to one’s career. Linked to this, people should be made aware of how to graduate taking their state pension.

Better housing and support options should also be a priority. Well-located and suitable homes for older people increases well-being, companionship and reduces feelings of isolation and loneliness, allowing people to remain active and independent for longer.

Opportunities for older people to volunteer should also be encouraged. Organisations that offer flexible, fun programmes can allow older people to use the wisdom and knowledge that they have developed for a wider, public good. 

These are just some measures that could create the conditions where those in later life remain productive and involved in society. As the ILC notes, retirement should be a process, not an event.

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Other Comments:

Christine Hawthorn “This is a very positive blog that I believe reflects the aspirations of many people that are reaching an age when there is an expectation to retire. In my experience both in work and my personal life I have the privilege of meeting many people, some choose to be "old" but increasingly there are many that don't believe that 65 is a cut off from all forms of being valued and active citizens. We should be encouraged to use the extensive range of skills and experience that life gives us. Other cultures in the world value their experienced people that have lived for longer and its time we did too. Paid work or volunteering is and should be a personal choice. I do both and find great value in each. Thank you for bringing this viewpoint forward Paul regards Christine”

Michael Black “I would prefer to be paid for working instead of volunteering.”