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Keep older workers, experts say

[Posted: Tue 26/06/2007]

By Angela Long

Ireland faces serious economic consequences unless it encourages older people to remain in the workforce, a conference was told yesterday.

The conference, in Dublin, was organised by the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) and ASPEN (the Active Social Policies European Network).

Research director of TILDA, Professor Brendan Whelan, said there are now four working people for everyone over the age of 65, but this will fall to 2.5 by 2027. The figures, which come from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), say there will be only 1.5 workers for older people by 2050.

He called for more flexible working arrangements that would allow people to work even beyond retirement.

"Too many obstacles are put in the way of people remaining in the workforce at older ages," Prof Whelan said. 

"Policymakers in Ireland need to understand that an enormous pool of talent and experience that can benefit Ireland's economy and society may be lost by the failure to introduce appropriate policies with regard to pensions, healthcare and social welfare specifically geared to the needs of older workers."

Ashgar Zaidi of the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy Research told around 100 delegates that some international evidence shows people are retiring at older ages. "Results suggest that the increase in the employment rate of older workers is stronger for women than for men, and also there is a bigger rise for the more highly educated," Mr Zaidi said.

Donal Casey, chief executive of Irish Life Corporate Business, which has donated €4 million to the TILDA research, said that Ireland is in a better position than most other countries to cope with the problem. He addressed the pension implications of a greying population.

"Ireland has a comparatively young population and we are in an immeasurably better position than countries such as Germany and Japan which are already suffering the consequences of an ageing population," he said. 

He said Ireland has time to prepare, and the pensions industry was already taking precautions to avoid the feared 'pensions time bomb'.

Professor James Banks of University College London said the swing away from defined benefits (a set income from a pension) would cause more people to keep working.

"Much more work needs to be done on how health, disability and labour market participation interact as households move through their 50s and 60s," Prof Banks said.

TILDA was launched by the Minister for Health in November 2006. It will chart the health, social and economic circumstances of Irish people aged 50 and over. Led by Trinity College, the partners include Dundalk Institute of Technology, the ESRI, NUI Galway, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, University College Cork and University College Dublin. 

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  60s girl  Posted: 28/06/2007 14:49
I am over 60. In my fifties, I retrained in office work and returned to paid work. For the previously 25 years I had reared my children, one of whom had a serious health condition, looked after both my own elderly father and my husband's mother for several years. I also, in common with all the other women who were deemed by economists to be "unemployed" did all the household gardening, painting, window cleaning, shopping, cooking, made most of my own clothes and those of my children and did some voluntary community work. The contribution which I and my fellow housewives made to society has never been quantified or acknowledged. Carers are paid now. I am often angered by a very eminent female journalist who regularly berates housewives for not earning our keep. Her uninformed assumptions are breathtakingly arrogant - I was fully employed, just not paid. I earned every penny which my husband was shared with me. During the years of my children's upbringing, our political masters were allowing questionable offshore investments, which meant that families on PAYE were paying penal taxes. Even if there were jobs available in those times, the tax situation made it difficult for women to work outside the home. It would have cost a lot more financially for us to go to work, apart from the fact that, regardless of what people say, children are better off being raised by their own parents rather than creches. I am well informed, organised, efficient, and disciplined. When I returned to the workforce, I could not believe the laxity and inefficiency of the semi state organisation which employed me. The waste of public resources was breathtaking. As a retired housewife accustomed to living on a tight budget, I was appalled. I left and worked for a while in another semi state situation, only to witness more waste and inefficiency. I have since worked temporarily for a professional person. However, my hope of continuing in employment long enough to qualify for the contributory OAP is waning with every passing year, as my lovely employer is changing career. My usefulness to employers is again in doubt, simply because my hair is grey - I don't dye!
  Anonymous   Posted: 28/06/2007 15:55
So people are living longer with greater health and can't even use that to enjoy their retirement. I for one won't be working all my life. The 'pensions time bomb' is a nice little invention of the pensions industry to create sufficient hype to cause a panic.
  Chris  Posted: 03/07/2007 11:03
60's girl, unless you were signing on for unemployment benefit and actively lookign for employment - as in a paying job then you not - statistcally or economically included as unempolyed. You were either lucky enough or unlucky enough not to need to work (in a paying job) - depending on how you look at it. Women nowadaya and indeed men too, do much of what you have donw and work fulltime also. Surely you and other undertake this work not because of the anticipated acknowledgement you recieve but becuazse you want to and find it fulfilling. I no more want to be paid by society for raising my own children (whom I wanted and and chose to have) than I want to be paid for the pleasure of raising my own geraniums.
  60s girl  Posted: 04/07/2007 21:10
Chris, I think you misunderstood my comments. I am well aware of employ ment law. I did not expect payment for raising my lovely children, all of whom were and are a delight to me. Neither did I begrudge the care which I gave to our elderly relatives. I know that as a result of a lack of planning control, young couples are on a treadmill which deprives little children of enough time with their parents. Homes which used be bought with one income are now out of reach even of two income couples. Babies are being reared in the car. Families are breaking up as a result of the stress of simply living. The most precious thing to young families nowadays is time. This is what our so called economic boom has given us. However, young people nowadays cannot believe that many women were obliged by law to resign jobs in the 1960s - and that employers in the main simply didn't employ married women - that women had to have formal documents signed either by their fathers or husbands - that property laws were such that women could actually be left homeless at the behest of a disgruntled husband, even after 30 or 40 years. You may be too young to remember that contraception was then illegal, which accounted for the reluctance of employers to hire women, except of course in lower paid jobs. Also there was disgraceful favouritism shown to certain sections of society in relation to such things as education grants. Some very comfortably off people somehow managed to have all their children's university fees paid for in the form of state grants. Many of these favoured students were somehow able to own little pads in the relevant university city, even running little cars to visit home at the weekends. Their parents were allowed to declare their incomes for tax purposes in one year and not for the following years of their offspring's education. Strangely, these apparently comfortably off people had a very low income in the year of their child's application for a grant. The PAYE taxpayer in the 1980s was penally taxed without the right to access any education grants, except those on a very low income, while at the same time paying the taxes which provided the means for those who were more fortunate. However, this discussion as I understand it is whether or not older workers should be retained in the workplace today, since people are keeping healthier and living longer. The official fear that as young couples are having fewer children, the pension provision for the elderly may be in doubt in future years is justified. I believe that if people are willing, healthy and capable, age should not be a barrier to anything. I don't wish to spend the rest of my life depending on anyone. I can grow geraniums as well!
  Chris  Posted: 05/07/2007 12:16
Indeed families now are under more pressure when 30 years ago they were forced to emigrate. Young people cannot believe that women were forced to resign simply because their marital status changed 40 years ago simply becuase they see it for what it is - blatant sexism and many of us were delighted when the women in question took a case against the state regarding this and were proved right. Being forced to have legal douments signed by a husband or father for any adults was another example of gross sexism and nothing else - simply attempting to makie women the legal chattels of men. And employers in the main did indeed employ women. My moher and all of my aunts worked, but not in the civil servive as did my husbands mother and three of four of his aunts. And of course the property laws then where such that women were actually better off under the brehon law (ancient celtic law) of some hundreds of years earlier). Contraceptiion was illegal, I know - so that women either had to have "period problems" - my mother always thought it was amazing the number of women her generation who got the pill for the "genuine medical need" of period problems compared with today when such invention of symptoms has almost disappeared or women got their sisters or friends in abroad to send it back to them or worst of all - the sexual repression in marriage caused irreparable rifts for both parties.
  60s girl  Posted: 05/07/2007 14:35
The case against the state was too late for many affected women. in 1974, the then Labour Minister Michael O'Leary was the only (albeit then not married, which may have coloured his decision) public representative to ensure that the EC employment laws were implemented in relation to women. While employers may have employed women, my experience and that of many others was that they usually ensured that they were not of childbearing age.
  Chris  Posted: 06/07/2007 10:45
Indeed my mother and my aunts wrere of childbearing age and 2 of my aunts in law. Nor were they employed in low-paying jobs. They were skilled workers. IF people are willing, healthy and capable, age should not be a barrier to workign however, what I forsee is what is happening in the U.S. - a situaiton where retirement age is abolished and state provision in terms ofna pension - which we we have all worked for through our taxes, become negligible, therefore forcing older people into the workplace regardless of whether or not they want to, when they could otherwise be enjoying their retirement and leisure pursuits.
  60s girl  Posted: 06/07/2007 15:03
Chris, I can only report that which I and many other married women experienced . I do not dispute that there were of course women who managed to retain their paid employment status while raising families. Most ordinary married women were not quite so fortunate. There were few supports for the care of children and elderly relatives. Social research studies indicate that enforced retirement can be detrimental to health. I don't believe that a rigid approach can be taken with regard to retirement age.
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