Monday, 25 January 2010

How the Government Makes People Old Before Their Time

The UK's Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has come out in favour of scrapping the so-called "default" retirement age of 65: the age at which employers can require a worker to retire and against which the worker has no legal recourse. The EHRC points to the economic benefits of retaining older employees in the workforce.
Employers's organisations don't like the EHRC proposal because they don't want the problem of trying to dislodge workers who are, frankly, past their use by date.

The bigger problem is that government can't make up it's mind what to do about older people. It knows that they are going to cost increasing amounts of money for pensions and health care, as they live longer, and it is committed, in the long run, to raising the pensionable age and with it the default age of retirement. In the mean time, it sends out continuous messages to older people to take it easy and the sooner the better.

Women are encouraged to leave the workforce at 60, since they are eligible for state old age pension at that age. They do have the option of continuing to work till 65, but at the same time they can collect their pension and are exempt from further National Insurance contributions. Men can't achieve such bliss until 65. This extraordinary unequal treatment does not trouble the EHRC - or women. It is unadulterated sexism on a grand scale.

At 60, both sexes are offered Free Bus Passes, Free Prescriptions, Free Swimming Passes, and an annual cash handout allegedly for the purchase of "Winter Fuel". None of these benefits are means-tested and all of them are simple electoral bribes.

At least one - Free Prescriptions - is actively pernicious. All the evidence is that the over 60s massively misuse prescription drugs, because they are free and because GPs add one drug after another to the patient's free portfolio, until the combinations are often toxic.

Free Bus Passes are a disincentive to walking or cycling, neither of which are subsidised, and thereby more than undo whatever good work the Free Swimming Pass does in improving the fitness of older people.

The big objection to all these hand outs, however, is that they encourage the onset of a dependency culture among older people many years before they need to become dependent and, in many cases, at a time of life when they are at their most affluent: mortage paid off, children grown up, salaries at a maximum.

Next time you get sentimental about the Winter Fuel Payment, remember that it is paid, tax free, into the accounts of silver-haired bankers

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