“This is a very strange idea indeed.Those who have retired have already made huge contributions to our society and are already the largest group of charity and community volunteers. The Saga website has been buzzing all day with angry messages of incredulity.
“Many older people are caring for others already, whether it is looking after grandchildren so their own children can work, or caring for partners, parents, neighbours and friends. They play an enormously valuable role in society, but that is their personal decision, it should not be imposed on them by Government.
“Lord Bichard’s suggestions smacks of social engineering of a dangerous kind. He seems to be suggesting that if you decide to stop working, even once you reach the age that society determines it is reasonable to stop, civil servants should assess you and decide whether you are fit to be assigned to do work that they decide you should do. The idea undermines the concept of ‘volunteering’ altogether, because if you have to do it in order to get your full pension, it is just another kind of paid work. Only this time directed by the Government!
“And what about the practicalities? Who would police whether these new pensioners are fit enough to work, decide what kind of ‘volunteering’ they will be forced to do, assess how much to take from their pensions if they are not well enough to do the work one day? And how often will they have to be reassessed to check on their health? With millions of pensioners, the mind boggles at the complexity and cost of administering these armies of elderly ‘volunteers’.
“There are already record numbers of people working beyond age 65. The abolition of the default retirement age is an excellent step to help people stay economically active and keep contributing to the labour market if they can and if they wish to. That will boost national income and society should encourage part-time work in later life. But, it should be individual choice, not the Government’s, once people reach the age at which their pension starts.
“We must not confuse the concept of a state pension, with the concept of volunteering. Our National Insurance system is based on a contract that says, once you reach a certain age, you will receive a level of support that you have contributed to during your working life. We can argue about the age at which this payment is made, we can debate the amounts paid, but we must not then attach other conditions of work to a ‘retirement’ pension.
“It is true that we have a crisis in social care and the country has not prepared adequately to look after an increasingly aging population, but the solution cannot possibly be to force people who are already older themselves to carry on working in a socially directed manner. We will need to address the lack of preparation for elderly care at a national level, not invent a new form of ‘National Service’ for pensioners that would entail intrusive, complex and costly administration."