Opinion: Rising pension age hard on older workers facing extra years of toil
PICTURE this, if you can. It’s 2035 and you’re, say, 68, still well shy of the new pension age of 70.
It’s time for your annual performance review and you’re locked in an office with a middle-management high achiever. Why, he’s the bloke you interviewed for his first job a quarter of a century ago.
He looks at the paperwork and says: “You don’t seem to have achieved the targets you set at this time last year.’’
And you haven’t because your career peaked at least a decade back and you’re inevitably slowing down.
“So, what are your goals, your targets, for the coming year?’’ he asks.
You look blankly because your only goal is survival and the age pension in a few years’ time.
You think he knows nothing; he thinks you’ve forgotten everything.
From July 1, the pension age will rise by six months every two years, climbing to 67. And, if the Government can get its ducks in a row, it will rise to 70 by 2035.
It’s embarrassing for you and, unless he’s a complete prat, it’s embarrassing for him.
But, it’s an entirely realistic scenario as we enter the brave new world of an incrementally increasing pension age.
It’s the sort of workplace cultural adjustment we haven’t even begun to make as we blithely declare that from July 1, the pension age will rise by six months every two years, climbing to 67. And, if the Government can get its ducks in a row, it will rise to 70 by 2035.
However, the Government – the whole political process – doesn’t seem to have looked beyond the Budget savings as it whittles away the expectations of older Australians.
The main question that hasn’t really been addressed is: Who will give the jobs to those effectively locked into toil until they are 70 and how do we protect them?
Many employers instinctively agree with lifting the retirement age and cutting the “welfare” bill but the evidence all about us is that they’re not so keen on employing older people.
Anyone over 50 is flat out getting a job, so good luck if you’re 65 and rising.
Sadly, we have made little progress in making the workplace more hospitable to older people or in making them more adaptable in the same workplace.
Some workplaces are just hostile to older people; some inflexible older employees are speed bumps on the road to change.
A few more years at the coalface might not sound too arduous to those driving political or academic desks but, trust me, they are hard years.
They are probably harder than I can imagine for those who earn their daily bread with manual labour.
There will be outrage from old-timers who still manage businesses, run farms and labour mightily. But they are the exception rather than the rule and it is drawing a long bow to pretend that one size fits all when it comes to carrying the burden of years.
What will happen – what does happen in some places now – is that many older workers will be elbowed out of the workforce and will take their accrued holidays, long service leave and superannuation and tough it out until they hit pension age.
Great for the Government in the short term, but leave entitlements and savings are not meant to be some kind of de facto unemployment benefit in later years.
And still we wait to see what sort of economic miracle a government of any colour can work to provide jobs for those between 65 and 70 and, at the same time, soak up the wickedly high youth unemployment rate.
If you move one end of a piece of string the other end inexorably follows. To me, addressing a youth unemployment rate of 13.5 per cent (and much higher in some regions) should have a higher priority than saving a few bucks on the pension bill for old timers.
And I have seen nothing to suggest that this new longevity which will enable us to work on to 70 will be reflected in changes to the age restrictions that apply to just about everything from insurance to driving a car.
In the grand scheme of things, raising the pension age is little more than a thought bubble, full of gas and little substance.
If ever we needed a dedicated Minister for Ageing in the federal Cabinet to think these issues through in their totality, it is now.
With Minister for Aged Care Sussan Ley’s demise from the frontbench and her portfolios, there’s an opportunity to fill a Cabinet void.
If nothing else, plummeting support for the Government among the over 50s (just 43 per cent, according to Newspoll) should concentrate Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s mind wonderfully when it comes to the brutal realities of ageing.