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Friday, 25 June 2010

The coming storm

The idea of retirement, of a golden leisure period somewhere between work and senility during which we get to enjoy the fruits of our labour, is a very recent one. Right up until the last century work would segue straight into senility if you were lucky, or desperate poverty if your muscles and body gave out before your mind did. The concept of retirement was born with the new middle classes, the employed, for whom the distinction between 'life' and 'work' became concrete for the first time. The upper classes never retired because they had nothing to retire from, their work and their life being one.

I worked with a very distinguished old architect who learned his trade under Sir Basil Spence after the war. He was 73 when we engaged him and 76 when he completed the building. He didn't use CAD, of course; he would sketch freehand with astonishing accuracy and a minion would digitise the product. He gave me one of the few buildings I've ever been 100% happy with. As we were snagging, he was already busy on his next commission. He would die in harness, I thought, hopefully sometime after RIBA stage E. His work was his life.

Not so the vast bulk of the population. There is a sense of entitlement and every year we have to work beyond 50 is resented. We expect a healthcare system to see us through to our century, and spend the intervening 50 years playing golf. This mindset is so deeply engrained that to dismantle it is going to be extremely painful - particularly to my generation, who honestly expect the young, the new poor, to bear the entire cost of the boomers' continuing comfort. They won't.

I'm actively looking now to make the transition into a second, less intensive phase of my working life, a mix of something like restoring ancient buildings and rebuilding old boats with a couple of £600 a day consultancy days a month thrown in, or some commercial writing. And plenty of beer and fishing time around it all. If I get it right, 'retirement' will become meaningless. And this, I think, is the way we must all start thinking.


Guthrum said...

I have just spent two days with my seventy five year old French Barrister who made mincemeat of his English counterpart forty years his junior

The failure of the Welfare state to perform is the natural consequence of the collapse of a Ponzi scheme

The expectation that somebody will always look after you has broken the generational link of family care, plus it is impossible to put aside money when the State is stealing half your money, and if it is in a pension scheme it gets raided by the likes of Brown

Weekend Yachtsman said...

My plan is to do contract work in the winter and go sailing in the summer.

So far it's working out pretty well - I am still in full-time employment and manage to squeeze in a fortnight's holiday if I'm lucky.

Bah Humbug.

Manganese said...

Retirement at 50 is far too soon - 60 would be perfect but 70 is far too old. Retirement at 70 (which is on the cards) for the average male, with a life expectancy of 77, would mean working for perhaps 60 years in order to 'enjoy' just 7 years of retirement which, for many, would be spent in poor health.

Don't fall the lie that we are all living longer. We're not. More of us are living into old age. This gives us an average age of death which makes it appear that we are living longer. Just statistics and damn lies. If you've a copy of Vasari's 'Lives of the Artists' you'll see that longevity isn't something new.

For those of us who are fortunate enough to enjoy our work - and that includes me - working till we drop is not something to dread. I would think rather differently though if I were a manual worker.

Manganese said...

I meant to write "working for perhaps 50 years". I hope we've stopped sending 10 year olds up chimneys.

Blue Eyes said...

I don't expect a state pension, and I don't expect to ever "retire" in that way. For sure, my earning profile and the kind of work I do will change over time. That's just life, innit.

One of Labour's most pernicious tax changes was to reduce the personal allowance of "pensioners" to actively discourage them from earning. My mother "retired" when her employer threw her out at 65. She wanted to carry on working part time but her marginal tax rate was so high it didn't make sense to.

Three cheers for the fvcking socialists.

Anonymous said...

Radders, I think you have (unfortunately) got this spot on. Pensions in the private sector, and hence retirement, was deliberately destroyed by Blair and Brown, who set their stall out early in 97 by stating that anyone who retires at 55 is not contributing to the state. And so started their distructive hatred of "individualism".

Why? Because retired people don't pay NI and pay approx half as much tax - so how could Labour ensure that their own nests were well feathered? Simply by making everyone work until they drop. Haven't destroyed public sector pensions have they?

However, the unintended consequence of this is the dark spectre of youth unemployment. Something that NO country wants.

The other paradigm shift we need is to think differently about the formalised pension saving process. It's a feckin waste of time and money. Annuity rates are pi55-poor and you can't share the tax allowances with spouse.

My hope is that this government will set about demolishing the public sector pension arrangements because that particular sacred cow would taste lovely on my barbeque!

Coney Island

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that one of the biggest problems is the lack of flexibility. After some serious health problems I thought I had things organised that after age 60 I would work fewer hours and 'wind down' somewhat. I would lose responsibility and earn less of course but that's OK and I would leave space for younger people to climb the career ladder while still being useful and not wasting my skills and experience.
My employer - and I expect they are typical - couldn't cope with that. Either I stayed fully in my high stress role or I retired - so I walked out.
For anyone who is not self employed or has no consultancy route the sensible half and half option that would allow comfortable working into older age does not exist.

Nick Drew said...

Radders, your last para is spot on: it works

(trust me on this one !)

Upper Lower said...

I used to enjoy this blog, now I'm a little insecure...

Reading lines like this: "...a couple of £600 a day consultancy days..." and the comments from most of the above contributors has given me a feeling of being in the wrong place.

I am an ordinary late forty something Joe, in the semi-skilled category. I haven't the brains to progress upwards.

As someone comments above: "...working till we drop is not something to dread. I would think rather differently though if I were a manual worker." EXACTLY.

I am not envious - good on yer. Just spare a thought for us mere mortals, thanks.

Ps: If there's a vacancy for a "Socialist Eliminator" - I'm your man!

Skint OAP said...

En passant, whatever happened to the proposed early bonfire of the 3000+ laws enacted over the past 13 years. We seem to be still waiting - and I didn't notice anything in the budget about cancelling the continuing pension grab from those funds still in business.

Anonymous said...

I see your point upper lower but personally I find it refreshing to read political opinion by someone who clearly runs some sort of business and makes a success of it. The rest of the stuff is by politicians who have never experienced real work, journalists who write about real work and bloggers living at their mum's houses.

Upper Lower said...

Anonymous (26/06/10 - 10:34).

I'm not in disagreement with Raedwald (a very perceptive "real world" blogger), just feeling a little "out of my depth" in such esteemed company!

I also agree entirely with your points about politico's, etc.

Anonymous said...

Retirement at 70 (which is on the cards) for the average male, with a life expectancy of 77, would mean working for perhaps 60 years in order to 'enjoy' just 7 years of retirement

UK male life expectancy is 77 at birth, but at 70 it's 86, so the average expected retirement at that age is 16 years.

Anonymous said...

Actually I got that wrong, life expectancy for UK males at 70 is 84, and for women it is 86. Source using UK principal projection, 2008 figures.

Anonymous said...

You also have to look at what year the people you're considering are going to turn 70. For example, from the source referenced above, the projected life expectancy for UK males who will be aged 70 in 2050 is 90.

Manganese said...

"UK male life expectancy is 77 at birth, but at 70 it's 86,(revised to 84) so the average expected retirement at that age is 16 years."

Ah, statistics - don't you just love them! A 60 yr old male has a further life expectancy of about 20 yrs - so between the ages of 60 and 70 an awful lot of people have shuffled off this mortal coil - enough to alter your figure of 84 down to 80.

Interesting to note, whilst looking at figures from the ONS, that male life expectancy in 1841 was just 41 years. No surprise then that people worked till they dropped.

Anonymous said...

So retirement with the pension augemented by consultancy @ £600 a day is something we must 'all' plan for, is it?

Reminds me of Orwell's comment about such people, that nothign will ever teach them that the other 90% of the population exist

Weekend Yachtsman said...

I am telling my children to save their OWN money for retirment, pointing out the astonishing power of compound interest, and advising them to expect nothing from the state - except bills, of course. They should take advantage of no tax loopholes (because they always come at a price - ask any annuity buyer), they should assume nothing will be done for them by anyone else, and they should particularly assume that all promises made by the State are null and void if not actually deceitful, and where possible any assets purchased should be tangible, concealable, and portable (gold is good).

They're not listening, of course - they are all in their twenties - but this seems to me quite good advice.

AndyB said...

Whatever you do for a living and however old you are, I would encourage everyone to try and find a little side-line self-employment.

I did this a few years ago and it ended up taking over my paid employment.

There's nothing like the feeling that you're able to pull yourself a few quid independently of "the day job" and if you can see that "few quid" growing into something more substantial the future begins to look a lot less scary.

Basically, don't trust the muppets in charge - no matter what colours they wear - be a bit selfish and think for yourself, it's YOUR life, after all.

Thud said...

The building restoration/retirement route is the way to go.