Too young to represent

The election last week of 27 year old Chloe Smith in the Norwich North by-election led to a flurry of media comment that she was “too young” for the job – a reminder once again of the injustice of ageism. Politics aside, the question of whether she is “too inexperienced”, “too ambitious” or even “too naive” might be valid. But what’s age per se got to do with it?  

Judgement of her performance as it becomes apparent also should be made in terms of benchmarks such as these rather than simply the number of years she has been on this planet. Anyway, she can’t make a much worse job of it than many of her older colleagues whose advanced years might imply they should be be wise, far-sighted and beyond reproach. 

As they have made all too apparent recently, they’re not.

Wise and foolish virgins

The gap between the “haves” and “have nots” in terms of pension provision is widening daily.

At one end of the scale those with fat, assured, protected pensions are sheltered from the economic woes of the majority of the ageing workforce. At the other end those with inadequate pensions face a future in which they will have to work for as long as possible before spending their remaining years in penury. Unfortunately this latter scenario is not necessarily a result of a lifetime of profligacy and reckless abandon; there are numerous reasons why those who have worked hard and done their best to save throughout their working lives still find themselves in a relatively pension-less situation.

Human nature being what it is one can see that this is going to cause problems. Working past normal retirement age may become a stigma – a sign to the rest of the world that the individual hasn’t managed their financial affairs properly and can’t afford to retire. The only antidote to this sorry state will be a change of attitude that sees later life working as desirable and aspirational – something to be valued and sought after even by those who don’t “need” the money. Many years ago there was a TV advertisement for a diet product which featured a (slim) woman saying “I eat xxx because I like to, not because I have to”. Something similar needs to be done, starting soon,  to improve the image of later life working.

Let them eat cake

I’ve had the privilege of previewing a new Institute of Directors publication, “Extending Working Lives” which is soon to be published. It is comprehensive, well-written, interesting – in fact an all-round good read. BUT… for its handy tips box on “10 ways to work after retirement”.  The first five of these are: Become a non-exec / Start your own business / Take up consultancy / Act as a mentor or coach / Offer training.  Of course! Piece of cake or what?

As the remaining five suggestions are all to do with volunteering, one can only assume that the title should probably have been “10 ways to work for free after retirement”.  The panacea of self-employment for older people is often dragged out as a solution for what to do about those pesky older workers, disregarding the fact that if making a realistic income from working for yourself was  that easy most people would have done it years ago. Those making such suggestions (and the IOD should know better) have only to look at the statistics for small business startup failure rates and the level of income generally achieved by those who do manage to keep going to know it’s only a realistic option for a minority.

Old Masters?

The Elderly Accommodation Counsel (EAC) seems a useful and worthwhile organization focusing on matters relating to the living arrangements of the older generation.  However I was disturbed to hear about their Over 60s Art Awards which (to quote their website) “have been encouraging and celebrating the remarkable wealth of talent, creative energy and enthusiasm among amateur artists aged between 60 and 100+, since 1995”.

Why on earth do they feel it necessary to have a special art award for people aged over 60? If the rationale is that those in this age group are so much better than younger people (by virtue of their long years of practise) thereby making this some sort of Artistic Masters Championship then maybe there might be a point. If however, as it seems, it is simply to underline that yes, poor old dears can still hold a pencil, brush, charcoal or camera and turn out something that passes for art, then it’s downright insulting.

Surely art is an arena where age simply continues to add to expertise?  This being the case shouldn’t the good folk at the EAC simply be encouraging older artists to go and knock the socks off the judges in mainstream competitions?

How can we ever hope to overcome ageist stereotyping if it is still being reinforced in ways such as this by those who should know better?

For more information see www.eacartawards.org.uk

The fun has just begun

This week has already seen two very major announcements relating to the older end of the age spectrum and it’s only Wednesday. Firstly, there has been the news that the government is bringing forward its review of the national default retirement age, currently 65, which heralds either its demise or a significant shift upwards. Secondly, there has been the publication of a Green Paper on the subject of care costs which is likely to impact on the whole population and probably require significant financial input from us all.

We are now, quite definitely, going to see a significant shift in the need for everyone – employers, employees and society at large – to think through the implications of these issues and to plan individually and collectively for all of our futures. We will now, each of us, have to make decisions about our attitude to retirement versus continued employment which will include our finances, our motivation and commitment, and our physical and mental ability to continue on.

These announcements come at a time when two new surveys suggest all is not as it should be and certainly there is a glaring inconsistency and incompatibility which will have to be addressed. A survey for insurer LV= suggests that the over 50s are struggling to save and that nearly 7 out of 10 are worried about their retirement prospects. In reinforcing this Scottish Widows also tell us that, from their survey, the average age that people wish to retire is 61 and that, on average, they would actually be angry if they had to work past 66. Something does not stack up here – even without thinking about the social benefits of continuing to be part of the employment mainstream.

Employer body reaction to the proposed review of the default retirement age is predictably one of hostility (feigned or real) but the reality of the situation will not change. What is required, sooner rather than later, is the need for all sides to start seriously to manage the implications which, when all is said and done, will be immensely positive for all concerned.

Even King Canute could not stop this one.

Saving for retirement – the biscuit tin approach

Hardly a day goes by now without another piece of depressing information about the state of the nation’s pensions. In the last few days alone we have seen more defined benefit schemes closing, more reports on the lack of savings that individuals are making particularly during the recession, and soaring bankruptcy numbers among pensioners. One report, highlighting the fact that many are now unable to foresee when they might retire or how they might have adequate savings to live on, has  coined the term “baby gloomers”  to describe the plight that people feel they are in.

The advice that comes from the financial industry is plentiful but very self-serving: “save more for a pension”; “release some equity from your home”; “tuck your money away in an ISA”; “invest in buy-to let”; and more. The government believes that the answer lies in personal accounts which everyone will flock to in a few years’ time – we will see.

Many people, knowing their savings are insufficient but not by how much, would like to work longer, certainly past 65. Yet the government is still dragging its heels in a most extraordinary fashion. This is despite the fact that change is inevitable. The state pension age will be increasing to 68 in the coming years but the default retirement age is currently 65. What are people going to do –starve for three years? One glimmer of hope that the recession is providing is that firms are beginning to see the futility of redundancy as an answer to their problems and are looking at more innovative ways of managing the current problems with flexible arrangements, part-time working, sabbaticals etc. all now featuring. These are also ideal tools for dealing with an ageing workforce.

However, the first problem that must be addressed is one of awareness. There is, in the country as a whole, an order of magnitude lack of understanding among people of all ages as to exactly what it takes in financial terms to retire in some form of comfort. A fundamental and far reaching “reality check” is needed to reconcile the aspirational dream of an interesting, financially secure retirement with the ongoing provision that individuals are making through their working lives.

Retirement financial planning involves running up a store of wealth, retiring, and then running it down again over the course of the rest of our life – as simple as that. Building up a retirement pot is very much like tucking money away in a biscuit tin each week to save for Christmas – except Christmas may last twenty years or more.

For more see  Saving for retirement – the biscuit tin approach

He who knows not…..

As may be seen from our own approach here at in my prime we firmly believe that internet access and online activity is not only the future but is already the present. Accordingly, we very much welcome the Government’s Digital Britain Report and initiatives such as NESTA’s “Reboot Britain”.

It is, therefore, rather disconcerting to see in research carried out for Ofcom that not only is there a significant minority who do not have the internet but that many of them, particularly older people, have “self-excluded” themselves and do not see the need nor the value in getting to grips with the new technology.

We are now in a transition phase and many elderly people did not work in or were not brought up in a computerised environment. Their attitude is at least understandable. The learning curve for them is particularly steep – although that should not, in itself, be an excuse. I have experience of trying to help someone make the transition and there is much that can be done by the computer industry to make the experience easier for the elderly – core programs only, spam-free, virus-free, pop-up free, update restricted etc. etc.

But for those over 50s who have not yet reached this stage in their lives there is no excuse. Whether it be employability, keeping in the social mainstream, access to information, finances, improved purchasing power or a host of other uses and benefits, being connected is of paramount importance. Otherwise a truly second class citizenship will emerge and is already doing so.

Every encouragement, incentive and opportunity must be provided to bring people aboard. This is not another example of a nanny state telling us what is good for us and restricting the freedom of the individual – people must not be allowed to shy away.

He who knows not and knows not that he knows not is a fool; avoid him.
He who knows not and knows that he knows not is a student; teach him.
He who knows and knows not that he knows is asleep; wake him.
He who knows and knows that he knows is a wise man; follow him.
Ancient Proverb

Goodbye 9 to 5 – on TV

Following on from my previous blog, this week I tuned into a new TV programme “Goodbye 9 to 5” aimed at those over 55 who have retired or are about to retire.

It can be found on “Information TV” (Sky 166 or Freesat 402) and is put together by Chris Gosling who runs the firm Serious Leisure TV from East Anglia. The programmes are low budget but very interesting and professionally put together, and obviously now need all the visibility they can get as they roll out their schedule.

55 is an interesting age to choose but we can fully understand why. There will be those who have retired and will appreciate the leisure aspects and also the injustices that some in retirement will have to face but there are many for whom retirement is not yet an option and those people will be looking for content of a differing nature. Advance notice of issues to come show that Chris is well aware of this and we look forward to watching the content develop.

Furthermore, there is also a networking site to back it up which is actively seeking feedback and suggestions from people regarding the direction the programmes should take – and even, maybe, the possibility of contributing to the programmes at some future date. Check it out and sign up at http://goodbye925.ning.com/.

We wish this venture every success and look forward to seeing it progress.

Another one bites the dust!

This week has seen the demise of yet another high budget, high profile over 50s social networking/lifestyle site – this time in the USA. Its name is irrelevant since it is now history.

Here, at in my prime, we carry out global research on a daily basis covering all kinds of issues as they relate to the world’s ageing population and to older people (whatever that might mean exactly). Some while ago we wrote here about the nature of sites for the over 50s and the genuine need for subject specific social networking sites, for example ones which might bring together those seeking employment or those who have been out of work for some time. This time can be very lonely, frustrating and depressing in which knowledge, advice and mutual support would be of tremendous value. We are still waiting to see one but we know it will come.

Websites, currently, tend to fall into a number of categories. There are a few sites or blogs, rather like ours, which are run by professionals in the field and which provide useful information and commentary on what is happening in the over 50s arena. I will come back to those in a future blog.

For the rest they tend to fall into three main categories.

There are some very good sites emanating from charities and central or local government which provide a wealth of information and advice and which all “silver surfers” should refer to. They tend, on the whole, to be geared towards issues affecting the more elderly end of the age spectrum.

There are sites which are run as a hobby by old codgers for old codgers. These are cosy, friendly and non-threatening but, in the end, there is a limit to how many times one can laugh at a joke about going upstairs and not remembering why.

And there are those, the ones now falling by the wayside, which are what one might call “lifestyle” sites. These are based on the false premise that “older” is a condition that you wake up to one morning having been “younger” the day before and from now on all your friends only fit into the “older” category and anything you buy must be purchased from an age-specific site – insurance, washing machines, holidays – anything. Why?

The mature market (mature meerkat?) does not operate like that and does not want to operate like that.

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