As the economy has steadily reopened, Matthew Lynn says one of the unexpected consequences of the pandemic has been a “great retirement” of older workers choosing not to return to work and instead to live comfortably on their savings and investments.
The great retirement will worsen critical labour shortages and eventually make health and social care unaffordable because people who live longer also need to work longer, argues Mr Lynn.
The difficulty lies in tempting older people back to the workforce when, as one Telegraph reader phrases it: “I worked like a dog for 40 years so that I never had to work again.” Readers have shared their views on returning to work in old age, with some offering alternative solutions as to how the UK’s labour shortage could be addressed.
Read on to see what your fellow readers had to say, and share your view in the comments section.
‘I am trying to save as much as possible to retire soon’
“I am trying to save as much as possible to be able to retire soon, not for a cruise or a holiday to Ibiza, just to escape the possibility of being woken up at 2am because someone made a mistake in the California office.
“My retirement will be privately funded and the risk I am taking of running out of money is a calculated one. It is a trade I am making for not dying at 65 from a heart attack caused by stress, sleepless nights and having to keep up with 20-year-olds.”
‘There comes a point where time is more important than money’
“There comes a point where time is more important than money. I do not have a mortgage, my offspring are in work and I have plenty of savings and a pension. I can have a lie-in, a leisurely breakfast, do some DIY, cook nice meals, have long baths and read various books.
“Why would I choose the stress of working? I have paid higher rate tax for most of my career, while politicians have squandered it.”
‘I worked like a dog for 40 years so that I never had to work again’
“I worked like a dog for 40 years so that I could afford to never work again from the age of 56. I now do exactly what I want to do and not what somebody else tells me to do – that will never change. While I have always done voluntary work and continue to do so, I will never rejoin the workforce again.”
‘We have been trying to recruit older workers for years’
“We have been trying to recruit older workers for years, as many have in hospitality and leisure. When you can get them they are far better than the youngsters as they can talk to people and work effectively.
“Sadly, very few over 60s wish to or need to work. Even when you can offer them shifts to suit their lifestyles. Most have been exhausted by work culture and want out of it for good, even if it means less money.
“The soul-destroying nature of the working environment, designed around those who won’t or can’t at the expense of those who can and want to, is an environment we would all happily walk away from at the first opportunity.”
‘The restrictions and mundanity of office life are a fading memory’
“I quit my career in IT after 32 years in July. Even as a contractor, the new tax burden was becoming tiresome, and with the advent of cloud computing, the IT world no longer appealed.
“Then Covid struck and after burning myself out on the test-and-trace programme for nine months I thought, ‘sod this game’. I am now a self-employed gardener and I am back at college studying for an RHS diploma to improve my skills and could not be happier. My earnings have fallen off a cliff, but as I trundle to work at 10:00 in my pick-up with a view over the cotswolds, the restrictions and mundanity of office life are now just a fading memory.
“I have been asked to go back to my previous position, and I have had several lucrative offers to return to IT, but none of these have tempted me in the slightest. I built up a decent pension and savings pots, I have no mortgage or any dependent children. I feel like I can breathe again. Not having to work for a living is joyous and those that have strived to achieve it in their fifties deserve every restful minute away from the workplace.”
‘I still do work that people half my age couldn’t keep up with’
“I was 59 years old last week, I work as a plasterer and builder and only need to work two to three days a week, but I have so much work offered to me that I am working five or six days a week for regular customers or contractors – I still do work that people half my age could not keep up with.
“I am not the only one. There are many fit men older than me in construction who are in demand, so heaven knows who will take over from us when we retire in the next few years.
“Perhaps we need to tempt more young men and women into the building industry.”
‘Why not do something about people of working age living off benefits?’
“If a shrinking labour force is such a concern, why not do something about people of working age living off benefits. Even getting 10 pc of them off benefits and into work would more than compensate for 200 or so thousand who have decided to retire early.
“Leave those who have decided to retire through hard work, saving and thrift alone. They have contributed enough already and have a right to enjoy the precious little time that they have left.”
‘Implement German or Australian type models’
“The problem is not an ageing population or retirees. The problem is our ridiculous welfare system which allows people to work part-time (or self-employed) in non-jobs without having to get a better job as taxpayers fund everything for them.
“Nearly 30 million are getting welfare. We do not have 30 million pensioners. Sorting out these ridiculous systems by implementing German or Australian type models will help to get the working age back to the working and contributor model they used to be.”
‘I want to work no more than four days a week’
“I am 57 and I want to work no more than four days a week. However, there are no jobs being advertised in my field for less than five days. Yet my level of experience means that an hour of my time is demonstrably more valuable than that of someone much less experienced. I do not even need to be paid as much as I would have been earlier in my career because I no longer have a mortgage.
“The five-day week orthodoxy needs to go, and I think it would be a great idea to incentivise companies to employ a balanced range of ages and publish statistics on this. I hope that the gaps in the labour market will bring more focus on this.”
‘For the last few years I was treated like an old fogey’
“I retired at 65 but for the last few years I was treated like an old fogey. Some of the things I saw from younger members of the workforce showed the dumbing down mentality that is now widespread, where mediocrity is valued above originality and the ‘old fashioned’ desirable attributes of conscientiousness, hard qualifications and bucket loads of experience no longer wash.
“What I could not swallow was the corruption at the higher levels, the hiring of inept relatives and friends, who were chosen over you. It really was a bitter pill to swallow.
“If anything, I wish I had been able to retire several years earlier. When I did work, many younger people around me were saying that they would be getting out by 60 latest.”