It is time to develop a National Retirement ServiceJuly 3, 2012
With the ongoing crisis in the Eurozone, global growth slowing, and austerity back in the UK, one could be forgiven for not wanting to dwell too much on the other big challenge of our day: our ageing population.
The figures on ageing are indeed depressing. Millions of baby boomers are entering retirement, some may have to work till they drop, and from surveys many feel often ill prepared and abandoned as they enter what can be a stressful period of their lives. There has also been much mention of the economic impact of having a smaller workforce which will have to bear the increased health and social costs of the older population. All this makes for a time bomb of intergenerational conflict and tension for hundreds of thousands of families in the years to come.
But we do not have to see it this way. Ageing and retirement are transitions like many others in life, a source of stress but also of opportunity for people to plan and take more control if given the right support and guidance. A report I recently co-authored funded by the Gulbenkian Foundation has highlighted the many transitions we face in life from those relating to our births and childhood, to those such as becoming parents or marrying or starting work, as well as those in later life. It found that there are ways that government and civil society can better support all of us as we transition than is currently the case.
To further investigate how policy-makers can better take into account the different transitions we go through in life, Chris White MP and I have established a newly formed All Party Parliamentary Group on Life Transitions, which we are Co-Chairing with cross party support from the likes of David Blunkett MP, and Lord Rennard – because increasingly how we cope with our transitions affects us all and has become more challenging than ever for government or civil society to address. The failures happen too often in the gaps – when we change schools, or leave care, enter or leave hospital, when we retire, become unemployed, or leave unemployment, and so on. Transitions matter politically because everyone goes through them. They matter even more arguably to voters than what is happening in the Eurozone.
One way to help address the transitions that millions of people are going through is to take a National Service approach to them. Such as with the National Citizen Service Programme for young people, which has had success based on initial reports in promoting personal development and social mixing at that critical transition as young people enter adulthood and leave formal compulsory secondary education.
What would happen if we were to take the same approach, and working with the public, private, and voluntary sectors, develop a National Retirement Service? One designed by retirees for retirees? One that would be built on those activities we seek out and pay for when we near retirement, to get away or retreat, but which would facilitate for those retiring a way to better plan the decades ahead, to mix with each other and different generations to build better support networks and understanding, and which gave alumni a sense of what they could get involved with to lead a more balanced life in which work, leisure, and service were blended together? This is exactly what we have now asked the Shaftesbury Partnership to test and pilot together with interested organisations and the input and guidance of a working group of recent retirees.
Some might ask why this is necessary? Surely natural networks among retirees already allow them to find the activities and networks that they want post-retirement? Our preliminary research indicates that the baby boomers will not necessary follow the traditional expectations of previous retirees, and that they and other generations above and below them will need support to navigate the lifestyle choices this new wave of retirees are about to make. Choices which will be driven less by duty and morality, and more by feeling a sense of reward and purpose.
The baby boom is the largest generational tribe the Western world has seen in recent centuries. Their ageing and spending patterns are in part the reason why global growth in the West is slowing, just as it has in Japan. We need to explore ways to help the coming retirees support each other and embrace a conception of retirement that is more active, economically and socially, and more mixed than ever before, saving tax payers money and generating health and wealth for all generations. A National Retirement Service could be one powerful way to help all of us adapt and prepare for the Great Transition ahead.