A million Britons are already working past 65. Whatever happened to retirement?

More people than ever are being employed well into their old age, some on punishing zero-hours contracts. It’s probably not because they all love their jobs

By Betsy Reed

On October 30, 2023

The increase in the state pension age has affected employment rates, especially for women. Photograph: Olga Rolenko/Getty Images

Name: Retirement.

Age: 65.

Congratulations! So you’ll be slipping into a pair of slippers, opening a packet of Rich Teas and settling down in front of Homes Under the Hammer, I’ll bet? Then you’ll bet wrong; I’m just off on my delivery shift, as it happens.

Get out of here! Getir, actually.

Why, though? We’ll come to the why later, but first, some numbers. There are now 1.43 million workers aged 65 and over in the UK, up from 457,000 at the beginning of the century.

Says who? Says an analysis of labour market figures from the Office for National Statistics, carried out by the Centre for Ageing Better.

Sounds legit. Totally legit. More than one in nine workers in the UK (11.5%) are now working past their 65th birthday, compared with just 5.2% in 2000.

What kind of work are they doing? Predominantly self-employed, and part-time, but an increasing number are simply carrying on in full-time employment. And a surprisingly high proportion of this age group – 5.5%, which equates to about 80,000 people – are on zero-hours contracts, the second highest after 16- to 24-year-olds.

Can we do why now? It’s partly due to the increase in the size of the population aged 65-plus over the past 23 years. The increase in the state pension age has also affected employment rates, especially for women.

It’s positive, right? I mean, I’m a big fan of biscuits, and of Homes Under the Hammer, but this is good for you, good for the economy – filling labour and skills shortages, no? If that’s what you want. “Workers with up to 50 years of workplace experience have an incredible wealth of knowledge to share and which will be to the benefit of employers, co-workers and customers,” says Dr Karen Hancock, a research and policy officer at the Centre for Ageing Better.

I sense there’s a ‘but’ coming … You sense right. “But it should be a choice,” says Hancock’s colleague Luke Price. “For those who want to do it and can find employment that suits them, it can have positive health, wellbeing and financial outcomes.” He goes on to say that “there will be some working past state pension age out of financial necessity”.

Likely there will also be people who want to work but can’t find suitable jobs? Again correct. The stats don’t tell the whole story. “We do not know how many more people aged 65 and above would like to work but find age discrimination a barrier to securing employment, because you can’t register as unemployed once you’ve reached state pension age,” says Price.

Do say: “Oi, I’ll stop when I bloody well want to, and when I’m ready to, thank you.”

Don’t say: “Sick pay, Grandad? Are you having a laugh?”

This piece was republished from The Guardian.

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