10 May 2014

Why living longer is only one part of the retirement age story

It's insane for the government to raise the retirement age to 70, and you can say that we're living longer to your hearts content, but I'm going to give you three examples about how flawed this is. 

We’re living longer but are we living healthy?
Disease-Adjusted Life Years - this says a lot!
Over the last 40 years, people worldwide have gained slightly more than 10 years of life expectancy overall, but we now spend more years living with injury and illness. According to the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation’s Global Burden of Diseases data, Australia’s Health-adjusted life expectancy in 2010 was 70.1 years, against a Life-expectancy at birth age of 81.5 years.

So while we might be living longer we are also living with more illness and disability. Advances in medicine keep us alive longer, but with a reduced quality of life – and I don’t know about you, but I would really like to have a few years of good health to enjoy my retirement. A few years without commitments of work to see some more of Australia and the world, and be more active in the community in a volunteer role.

Case study One
My father-in-law passed away two years ago at the age of 76. He had cancer, and got to the point where he was not healthy enough to survive treatment. He was a mechanic and cane harvester driver during his working life, which was hard work. When he retired, he and my mother-in-law spent a good six years travelling all over Australia in their old caravan: they saw everything they wanted. Norm was about 70 when they stopped doing the long haul trips; because Norm's eyesight was getting bad, and he didn't feel confident driving with the caravan any more.

When we flew them down to visit us in 2011, that was their last trip before Norm was diagnosed and started a year of surgery and treatment. If he had retired at 70 they might have been able to do one trip around the country, assuming that the extra five years of physical labour didn't make the knee issues he had even worse.

Being an older job seeker 
Have you ever been unemployed and had to deal with Centrelink? Do you know how crap the Newstart allowance is? Can you imagine trying to deal with all of this for the first time when you’re thoughts are heading to retirement? Older people are always the focus when voluntary redundancies are put on the table, but not all of them will get a payout they can retire on – and that will be an even bigger problem when the retirement age is 70.

Combine that with the industries that are shutting down, and you come to the realisation that it is not easy to get a job if you are unfortunate enough to suddenly be unemployed over 55 – virtually impossible over 60. So the increase in the retirement age will condemn these people, who may well have worked their entire lives until this point, to try to adjust their life to survive on government allowances until they are 70 and can access their superannuation.

Case Study Two
About 16 months ago, the company my father was working for shut down, because there just wasn't enough work in Wollongong. My Dad was just over 63 years old, he had been a boilermaker since he was 16, and was very good at his job. Suddenly he was unemployed, at 63 - and let's face it, that’s not likely to be a situation you will resolve quickly. Who is going to hire someone less than two years off retirement when there are a lot of other, younger tradies out of work as well?

Dad job hunted for 6 months, and has since changed to the volunteering option, after being rejected for everything - and yes he tried to get work outside his profession, but employers are even less likely to want to train someone at 63 years of age. Combined with this, Dad's job was very physically demanding: he is getting hearing aids at the moment, he has cataracts, he has had a few skin cancers removed after years working outside, and he has tendonitis in his elbow after years of welding. If he was forced to work to 70, he and my Mum would have to try to survive on Newstart for five more years, which is extremely difficult as it is.

Can everyone really work until 70 years old 
I don’t mean to be disrespectful here, and this section will contain generalisations.
Manual labour is hard, and most manual labourers start at a young age. It’s hard on the body, and there is much greater risk that you will suffer an injury or permanent disability of some sort that will impact on your health in later life. To add an additional five years onto what has already been an almost 50 year career is crazy: you are expecting people to be able to continue working hard manual labour over the age of 65, which is cruel.

Office jobs are not that much easier, there are a large number of perils. For the last couple of years everyone has been telling us how sitting down is killing us, and yet that is what we do all day in office jobs. Many people also end up with RSI, or other musculoskeletal issues from poor desk design, being immobile or even hazards in lifting office supplies. Lastly, there is the stress that comes from office environments, stress that is compounded from the fact that many people in these environments don’t have the benefit of exercise, sunshine or other natural anti-depressants to make it better.

In an office environment you also have to deal with the dreaded advances in technology and, let’s face it, the older people get the more difficult they find it to adapt to that technology. So changes in the tools they require just to do their jobs can make it more difficult for people to work longer, without added stress and fear of losing their jobs.

And let’s not forget the inequity of it all 
Joe Hockey has made the statement that this will affect people "of my generation". Yeah Joe, it's not going to affect you though is it? Because you served in Parliament, so you don't have the same rules as the rest of us, do you? You don't have to wait, like the manual labourers who are broken from years of hard work building our nation’s infrastructure, like people who have been on their feet every day working retail, like members of our armed forces who have placed their lives in danger overseas, or like the public servants that have to enact the stupid policies that you come up with.

No, for you, and your privileged peers, the retirement age is academic. I say, if we all have to contribute to 'fixing' an economy that you claim is so broken, that maybe the rules for political pensions and superannuation should be under the knife, before you compel hard working Australians to work their already tired and broken bodies, until they no longer have any health and fitness to enjoy their retirement.

And one last thing to consider, with all of the industries that you are allowing to shut down, and all the Government departments you are closing, where are all of the jobs going to come from for people to stay in? I am in the age group that will now have to work until I am 70. My part

ner and I are trying to set ourselves up so that is not a reality, but it's crazy. I want to enjoy my retirement: I want to retire while I am still healthy enough to spend the time well, and give back to society as well. Oh, and while we’re at it, I don’t want the public health system to keep me alive when I have no quality of life left either – but I’ll leave the euthanasia debate out of this one.

What will you do with your Parliamentary golden handshake? I guess you'll take those high paid Director positions that will be offered, in between your huge pension that kicks in the moment you leave, overseas travel, and all of the other crazy entitlements that you’ll receive; funded by the hardworking Australians you have now condemned to a 70 year old retirement.

But as long as we’re all doing our bit.

1 comment:

Mike Limb said...

I agree that it is unrealistic to set the retirement age at 70. The assumption that everyone will be fit and able to work at this age is flawed. This is an nothing more than a spending cut aimed at a group that has little power and influence to resist the change.

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