UK state pension age rises – but what is retirement for?

sky divingThe British government has confirmed that, as expected, it will bring forward the increase in state pension age. The previous planned rise from 65 to 66 for men will now almost certainly come eight years earlier, in 2016, and for women by 2020. Meanwhile, there will be a review of how much further and faster things should move, with suggestions that there will be legislation to allow for automatic age rises every five years. If the state pension isn’t directly linked to life expectancy, it will be something very like it. Britain will almost certainly be looking at holding off pension entitlement to the age of 70 by 2050.

In France, there were strikes and street demonstrations yesterday over plans to raise the state pension age to a mere 62. There, a pension is regarded as a central part of a treasured social contract between state and citizens, in which benefits are an essential part of a civilized society. Here, the resistance to the change has not been general, driven by public sector outrage, but on behalf of the poor. Brendan Barber, the general secretary of the TUC, pointed out that at the age of 65, men in Kensington and Chelsea can look forward to 23 years more of life, while their counterparts in Glasgow can expect only 14.

In that case, we ought to be thinking more about working lives and health inequalities than about retirement. This gross imbalance is conditioned by things that happen earlier in life – by the kind of work people are able to do and the opportunities they have to live healthily. Trying to do something about it (what, though?) at the age of retirement is a matter of stable doors and bolted horses. Continue reading

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What happens when you’re old and gay?

Opening Doors

Some of the members of Opening Doors, from left: Donald Black, Tom Devine, Alexander Duncan, Willie Millar, Lyndon Scarffe

Angelo Marcellini is 75 and lives in sheltered housing in London. When he’s in the lift, his fellow residents won’t join him. If he comes in, they leave. Only two of the households on his floor speak to him. Angelo is gay. The managers of his sheltered housing are evangelical Christians and they won’t help because they don’t like him either.

Many older people are having to find new ways to live, but perhaps none as obviously as gays and lesbians. Previous generations of older gay people weren’t out; they were invisible throughout their lives and expected to stay that way when they became old or vulnerable. But for the current generation, that’s simply not good enough. Civil partnerships and equality legislation have changed Britain. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people know they are entitled to to be acknowledged for themselves. They no longer have to pretend to be something else.

The progress that has been made is the direct result of the campaigning and suffering of the older generation; by rights gay elders should now be celebrated by a society that has finally found itself at ease with their sexuality. But when I went to see a group of older gay men who meet to discuss issues affecting older gay people and asked what these were, they said: ‘persecution, depression, suicide, homophobia.’ Continue reading