The dark side of pressuring Australians to work until 70

The government wants to push the pension age to 70 by 2035.

The government wants to push the pension age to 70 by 2035. Photo: Getty

A new report has challenged the wisdom of pressuring all Australians to work longer before they retire.

The Per Capita think tank warned on Tuesday that the policy risks hurting older workers who physically cannot work, or cannot find jobs, in later life.

“The push to extend working lives has the potential to stigmatise those who retire from the paid workforce as no longer pulling their weight in a society where being retired is increasingly viewed as a kind of unemployment,” the authors, Philip Taylor and Warwick Smith, wrote.

“What happens if governments remove one of the moral foundations of the welfare state – retirement – without there being a realistic alternative?”

The Turnbull government sparked outrage last month by confirming it plans to push the pension age to 70 by 2035 in order to reduce welfare spending, the biggest area of federal expenditure.

The current eligibility age is 65.5 years, which is legislated to gradually rise to 67 years by 2023.

That announcement followed a warning from the World Economic Forum that Australia would be forced to push its retirement age to 70 by the middle of the century to avoid a retirement funding crisis.

The Per Capita report cautioned against assumptions that working longer is achievable, beneficial and desirable for everyone.

“Simplistic arguments for the ‘right to work’ may make older people’s advocacy the unwitting bedfellow of a strong policy push to extend working lives in order to reduce welfare costs.”

Australians are being asked to work longer without a clear sense of whether this is a realistic expectation, the authors wrote.

“The availability and quality of paid work and how those not in work will build and maintain a sense of identity are issues of importance for ageing in Australia that have received little consideration.”

As The New Daily has reported, there are certain occupation groups – such as construction workers – for whom longer careers are physically impossible.

The Per Capita report also made this point: “The potential dignity of retirement for those in certain occupational groups for whom paid work is a near impossibility is also being overlooked by many advocates and policy makers.”

It urged “more realistic” expectations of the contribution that older Australians can make to the workforce, in the hope that the public debate would change “from one that is primarily grounded in notions of generational conflict to one that is based on the value of promoting generational solidarity”.

The criticism of the current stance on working longer was just one section of the wide-ranging Per Capita report on workforce ageing.

It also tackled ageism, discrimination, harmful stereotypes, worsening casualisation and the rise of automation.

The report recommended many changes, including the introduction of a job guarantee that rewards the participation of long-term unemployed workers in unpaid work; and grants for workers over the age of 55 who want to start a small business.

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