We now have more over-65s working than ever before. Rightly so, says the founder of Pimlico Plumbers
Today if you are under 40, you are considered young and inexperienced, and certainly too young to be in a position of authority. Our high-flying executives and politicians are often at the peak of their powers and earning potential in their 60s. Yet the rest of us are still expected to step aside by the time you are 65.
We have got ourselves into a complete tangle of contradictions when it comes to dealing with age in the workplace. This is why the government’s scrapping of compulsory retirement was one of the sanest things to come out of Westminster in years, albeit one that people are still struggling to get their heads around.
The idea that age is a legitimate reason to discriminate against people in the workplace is as illogical as it seems it is immovable from people’s heads. I argue that: if someone’s good at their job why shouldn’t they keep it? But still they reply that the old should ‘bugger off ’ to make way for the young. This is no more reasonable than a couple of other historical prejudices, namely sexism and racism.
Not a man I generally agree with on anything, but former TUC boss, Brendan Barber, was spot on when he said: “The increasing number of over-65s in work shows that older workers are highly valued and that the government is absolutely right to scrap the default retirement age.”
Take workers like my 71 year old PA, Mario Rebellato, who, before the law was changed was forced out of the civil service six years ago, at a time in his career when he was producing at the top of his game professionally, and in his spare time running ultra-marathons (which he still does). Where’s the sense in making him redundant? The same goes for my driver, Young Eric, 80, a man who handles my Bentley around the narrow streets of central London like it’s a Fiat 500.
The simple fact is that in the 21st century we need to use all the resources available to us. If we are really serious about returning to economic growth, to do anything else would be stupid.
We have an ageing population, but luckily for us, and thanks to modern medicine, one that is in remarkably good health. Let’s assume, as I do, that keeping older employees in the workforce is a public good, due to their undoubted experience gathered over the years – not to mention the opportunity to alleviate a major pensions shortfall.
Does it follow then that government should take measures to retain them? What of tax breaks, training courses or grants to employers to take on, or keep on, older workers? Absolutely not! This is entirely the wrong approach, and is the kind of codification of life that turned us into such an ageist society in the first place.
No, what we need to do is enforce anti-age-discrimination laws, not bring in a raft of hastily concocted new legislation, which seeks to reverse the effects of previous bad law. I have never been a fan of affirmative action of any kind in employment, and I’m not about to start now. By offering tax breaks and other incentives you run the risk of damaging productivity by creating a class of protected labour, and that’s something I’ve never argued for.
Instead, we need social change fuelled by good business sense – at the most companies need to gently reminded of their obligation to employ the best person for the job, irrespective of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or age.
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