Making pensioners work for their state pension is insulting and impractical

Published by Dr Ros Altmann on 03 November 2012.
Last updated on 05 December 2012

Former top civil servant Lord Bichard has suggested that older people should be made to work in the community if they want their full state pension.

Forcing younger pensioners to look after older pensioners is a very strange idea indeed. Not only would it be an administrative nightmare, it smacks of rather frightening social engineering and undermines the whole concept of a national insurance retirement pension.

Those who have retired have already made huge contributions to our society and, in fact, are the most likely to be charity and community volunteers. 

Many older people are also caring for others already, whether it is looking after grandchildren so that their own children can work, or caring for partners, parents, neighbours and friends. They play an enormously valuable role in society, but that is their personal decision, it should not be imposed on them by the government. 

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Work to earn your pension

Lord Bichard seems to be suggesting that if you decide to stop working, even once you reach the age that society determines it is reasonable to stop, civil servants should assess you and decide whether you are fit to be assigned to do work that they will assign you to, otherwise you won't get your full pension.

The idea undermines the concept of "volunteering" altogether, because if you have to do it in order to get your full pension, it is just another kind of paid work. Only this time directed by the government!

And what about the practicalities? Who would police whether these new pensioners are fit enough to work, decide what kind of "volunteering" they will be forced to do, assess how much to take from their pensions if they are not well enough to do the work one day? And how often will they have to be reassessed to check on their health? With millions of pensioners, the mind boggles at the complexity and cost of administering these armies of elderly "volunteers".

Record number of people working beyond 65 already

There are already record numbers of people working beyond age 65. The abolition of the default retirement age is an excellent step to help people stay economically active and keep contributing to the labour market if they can and if they wish to. That will boost national income. And it is appropriate that society should encourage part-time work in later life. But, it should be individual choice, not as directed by the government, once people reach the age at which their pension starts.

We must not confuse the concept of a state pension, with the concept of volunteering. Our National Insurance system is based on a contract that says, once you reach a certain age, you will receive a level of support that you have contributed to during your working life. We can argue about the age at which this payment is made, we can debate the amounts paid, but we must not then attach other conditions of work to a "retirement" pension.

It is true that we have a crisis in social care and the country has not prepared adequately to look after an increasingly aging population, but the solution cannot possibly be to force people who are already older themselves to carry on working in a socially dictated manner. We will need to address the lack of preparation for elderly care at a national level, not invent a new form of "National Service" for pensioners that would entail intrusive, complex and costly administration.

This article was written for our sister publication Money Observer.

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