Jayne Dowle: The women who want to work well into their 60s

Should women sign on the dotted line to work longer?
Should women sign on the dotted line to work longer?
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WOMEN to work until their late 60s? Since when was this news?

There’s been a tremendous outcry lately arising from the “shock” revelation that the number of women working in their 50s and 60s has hit a record high.

In fact, the total has almost doubled in 20 years. There are now 4.2m employed women in this age group, compared to 2.4m at the end of the 1990s, according to the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics.

Well, knock me down with a feather and pass the smelling salts. Personally, I don’t see what all the fuss is about.

When the average life expectancy for a woman in the UK is now 83, is it really that much of a huge ask to expect her to keep working until she’s 67 or 68? Perhaps not full-time, but part-time, flexi-time, remote working or self-employed.

Talking to most of my friends, it’s clear that my generation of women – I turned 50 last year – have accepted that we won’t be sailing off into the sunset on a retirement cruise any time soon.

If anything, we’re champing at the bit to work harder while we can. Our children are grown and no longer require 24/7 care. And our determination and confidence has never been higher.

Why shouldn’t we use these so-called “twilight” years to work as hard as we can, pay off mortgages and salt into our pension pots and investments what we can afford? Earning money, or looking forward to the basic state pension of just £122 a week, which equals just 29 per cent of average earnings? I know which option I’d choose.

I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me because I might be required to carry on writing until my late 60s. I want to embrace this time and enjoy the intellectual freedom that having older children brings.

I appreciate that I’m lucky because I have a job which takes its physical toll only on my typing fingers. Let’s be honest though. Our attitude to “pensionable age” is still rooted in a world dominated by heavy industry and early mortality.

We have to get real and look at what people actually do for a living these days. Talking to other women from lawyers and teachers to shop assistants and secretaries, there is the growing feeling that they don’t want to be written off just because they’re approaching their mid-50s.

Employers need to embrace this. There have been some notable initiatives by major companies such as supermarkets to recruit mature staff, of both sexes. However, it’s the big public services which need to adjust their attitude.

Ask many women in their 50s or early 60s working in local government, education or the NHS and they will tell you that they face a constant battle to not become invisible. Public service employees may benefit – in general – from decent pension arrangements in comparison to others, but it doesn’t mean that they should be obliged to take them before they feel ready.

Our generation grew up in the 1970s when our mothers and grandmothers fought for equal rights. It’s wrong to move the goalposts; if we want equality in the workplace, we can’t change the rules when it comes to retirement.

We’ve all learned some hard lessons over the years. When I started work all those decades ago, a pensions advisor told me to expect to retire in my early 50s. Turns out he was wrong about that, and he was also wrong about the private pension he advised me to opt into when there was a perfectly sensible company scheme available.

This is a blunt generalisation, but if you earn money, you see it appear with your own eyes in your bank account. If you rely on a pension, private or state, you are always at the mercy of someone else, be it pension companies, former employers or government. I’d like to keep control of my own destiny for as long as possible, because I’m not sure I entirely trust anyone else to do it for me.

I don’t know about you but personally I’d like to put off retirement day for as long as possible, good health willing. I’m not planning to “retire” at 55 when I’m eligible to take the modest lump sum I’ve got in my pension fund and spend the next three decades (if I’m lucky) gnashing my false teeth because I ducked out too soon.

There will be women who disagree with this view, and of course they are entitled to do so. However, I would like to see a working world which accepts that everyone has the right to choose when to retire, within reason. Underpinning this, we need a serious attitude change towards women who want to work in their 50s and 60s.

We’re worth investing in. Innovative working practices to help us balance our time between other responsibilities should be a right. And above all, we
need the Government to accept that if we are prepared to put the work in,
they must do the same in return, and promote new ways of working – and retiring.