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Staying at work could be key to healthier later life

12:00am | & News

Did you see that story recently about the 89-year-old Devon man who put an advert in his local paper seeking a job?

Joe Bartley took matters into his own hands because he was “bored stiff” and missed having people to talk to since the death or his wife two years previously. Still active, the ex-serviceman believed he had something to offer and was keen to be able to pay his own rent, rather than rely on housing benefit.

After his story was featured in his local paper it came to national prominence and there was a happy ending when Mr Bartley was offered and accepted a part-time job in a local café.

Working into your seventies, eighties and even beyond might not be for everyone, but many people do it and say it helps them keep active, fit and mentally alert. You hear stories too, of people who seem to go into a fast decline soon after they retire, perhaps having lost their main purpose in life. Conversely there are those who fill their post-retirement lives with hobbies, clubs, activities and volunteering and will often exclaim “I don’t know how I ever had time to work!”

Now England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, has joined the debate, suggesting that people aged between 50 and 70 could reap significant health benefits by keeping working. In her annual report on the state of the public’s health, entitled “Baby Boomers: Fit for the Future”, Prof. Davies focuses particularly on the health of people aged between 50 and 70.

“People are living longer than ever and so retirement presents a real opportunity for baby boomers to be more active than ever before,” said Prof. Davies.

“For many people it is a chance to take on new challenges, it is certainly not the start of a slower pace of life it once was. Staying in work, volunteering or joining a community group can make sure people stay physically and mentally active for longer. The health benefits of this cannot be overestimated.”

Britain experienced a ‘baby boom’ in the post-war years between 1946 and 1964, so that by 2020 more than a third of British workers will be over 50. For many years the age at which you qualified for a state pension was 65 for men and 60 for women, but from 2020 the state pension age will be 66, increasing to 67 between 2026 and 2028 and then linked to life expectancy after that.

And if you don’t want to retire at state pension age, you don’t have to. As long as you are still capable of doing your job you should be legally entitled to carry on if you want to. Of course you can also retire before state pension age if you think you will be able to get by financially.

At present more than 75% of people aged between 50 and state pension age are still in active employment, and 12% of those older than state pension age are still working.

Prof. Davies’ report found that good quality work was generally beneficial for the health of ‘baby boomers’ (those aged 50 to 70) and that employers have a role to play in helping their staff stay healthy enough to remain in employment.

Life expectancy is also better for baby boomers, up by nearly five years for men and three years for women compared to those aged 50 to 70 in 1990. Healthcare has also improved in the same period, with premature deaths from heart disease down by 75% in men and 80% in women, and big strides made in improving cancer survival rates. Men and women are also smoking less and drinking less alcohol than they were 20 years ago.

So on the whole, baby boomers are likely to live longer and enjoy better health in their later years, but does that necessarily mean they will want to work for longer, or benefit from doing so. The health benefits, both physical and mental, which Prof. Davies’ report refers to are from remaining active and challenged, which does not necessarily mean remaining in work.

The key thing is that people now have a choice – you can go on working past state pension age if you want to and are able to. Employers also have a legal duty to consider requests for flexible working, perhaps reducing the number of hours you work in a gradual transition towards retirement, rather than working full-time one day then not at all the next day. That sudden culture shock, probably after fifty years in work, can hit some people hard and leave them wondering “what next?”

Or you can take retirement and divert your energy to other activities. The best advice is to start planning for your retirement in good time. By doing so you can make sure that the decision on when you retire, how you do it, and how to spend your retirement, will be yours.

If you want to read Prof. Davies’ report in full, you can download it by clicking here.

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