Why work when you can play?

This blog is one for everyone who is 50 or older and beginning to see work as a toad!


“My income now is a third of when I was working, but I’m not spending a fortune on going to work. I’m spending much less on clothes, petrol, meals . . . I’ve gone back to basics, real basics. Without Covid, I would still be working.”

That’s Caroline speaking to the FT (second name withheld)

She’s one of 250,000 older worker’s the FT’s identified as leaving the workforce since the pandemic started.

Others think the number is considerably higher.

The IES calculate that employment remains 600 thousand below pre-pandemic levels while economic inactivity is 400 thousand higher.

This growth in inactivity is increasingly being driven by higher worklessness due to ill health, which is up around 200 thousand in the last six months (and by 230 thousand
since the pandemic began).

It is also rising for young people outside full time education, and falls in labour force participation have been particularly large for older people.

In all there are now 1.1 million fewer people in the labour force than we would have expected to see based on pre-crisis trends, and older people account for three fifths of this ‘participation gap’.

The FT like Tony Wilson illustrate this graphically

Those, like Caroline, declaring themselves “retired” are relatively small

So is there a problem with older people not working?

There are clearly societal problems with older workers leaving the workforce. We saw it with the fuel distribution crisis before Christmas and we see it in the “vacancies” advertised in so many places as we travel about. There is not a labour shortage, but a participation shortage as many older people, like Caroline, choose not to work.

But – and this seems odder – there are also reports of some older workers wanting to work but finding they are not wanted for ageist reasons. Is it reasonable to expect a 55 year old accountant to work in a warehouse? Is it good business hiring  fresh graduates with no experience but higher tech-skills?

There is a school of thought that the onus is on employers to reshape work around the people available. The labour market is providing what has always been there, but the workforce is older. Is it time for employers to have a rethink about how they parcel  jobs up or is the onus on older workers to retrain and skill up?

Replacing income (but at what cost?)..

But where people have access to funds  from personal and occupational pension pots  that they can draw down as they like from 55, there is a worry that what is happening is that people are doing little more with their savings than bridging to the arrival of the state pension (itself a problematic area).

In absenting themselves, not just from the workforce, but from registering as unemployed, many older people will be missing out on credits towards their state pension (as well as any increases to workplace schemes).

Retiring or revaluating?

It’s not just Government that is pondering the retirement age. It is a question on the mind of millions of people in their fifties and sixties for whom issues such as “work” are increasingly blurred by their being no “workplace” or traditional work contract. Older people have to contend with zero hours and short-term contracts.

One of my friends described his career “spluttering to a close” and described it as “running out of petrol”.  It was hard to know whether he was referring to the work itself of his motivation to do it.

Why work when you can play?

Implicit in many discussions I have with my age-group (I’m 60) is a feeling of guilt , probably instilled in us by the protestant work ethic, parents , teachers and Government, that we should not be playing with our time while still so young.

And yet this is what we were promised in return for our work and our pension contributions and it’s what the technology dividend was supposed to be about.

The answer to why 630,000 older people aren’t turning up on a Monday, may turn out to be the biggest two fingered salute yet flicked at the toad work.


About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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3 Responses to Why work when you can play?

  1. Peter Wilson says:

    If you work from 20-55 you’ve got enough credit for a full state pension, ignoring contract out issues. Lots of thoughts and questions in this article but not many opinions. It’d be interesting to know what you think.

    I’m 58, about to pull the trigger. According to my own and those of the Aviva pension calculator (the only sane and useful calculator I’ve found) I have enough pension savings to exceed the income I actually need. I’m naturally fairly frugal and my hobbies are either inexpensive or actually make me a little money.

    My career as a software engineer was great for the first couple of decades. Back in the 80s and 90s pay was good. That’s gradually been eroded now everyone can be a programmer with a 6 week conversion course and where many jobs have been outsourced abroad. To be honest I’m sick of the workplace and the mentality of paying the minimum you can get away with. So, like many other people my age, I’m getting out.

    After several decades where every industry has driven down salaries through any means possible while government policies have driven up the cost of housing to the point it’s unaffordable it’s a little rich those employers now crying to the government that they can’t recruit anyone. The chickens have come home to roost!

    • Robert says:

      Question for Peter Wilson and Henry Tapper:

      I’ve worked from age 16 to my current age of nearly 55, although I was contracted out for approx 10 years in the British Steel Pension Scheme (The full ‘contracted out’ period for employee members of the British Steel Pension Scheme was between 06/04/1978 and 05/04/1997).

      I’m about to pull the trigger and finish work. Does this mean that when I do, it’s in my interests to register as unemployed?

      Taken from the blog…..

      “In absenting themselves, not just from the workforce, but from registering as unemployed, many older people will be missing out on credits towards their state pension (as well as any increases to workplace schemes).”

  2. John Mather says:

    This article identifies the capacity to contribute to a private pension after age 55 when the impact of mortgage and children has declined? A time to reflect and possibly a radical change to the approach to income generation a search for passion and enthusiasm in the work done or even a change of geographic location.

    The difference between a rut and the grave seems to be just the depth

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