A demographic time bomb...............


By Leon A Smith
February 16, 2012
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Life expectancy of three score years and ten has long past. We often read in the press of a variety of statistics relating to current life expectancy – depending on which particular source you happen to believe. One might believe that a baby girl born today may have a 1 in 3 chance of a life expectancy of 100. Clearly there is no solid evidence to prove this but one cannot escape the fact that life expectancy is increasing year on year. One group of people who have every interest in getting this right are pension scheme actuaries who are constantly revising mortality rates!

A succession of governments, as I have referred to previously, have been, to say the least, slow in recognising the fact that we have an ageing population. Using the simple cliché “a demographic time bomb” does not in itself really explain the story. People live longer. They therefore have many more years in which they need to be supported by the health service and many more years in which they either have to support themselves and/or be supported by the state in retirement. That is why the government is now proposing to increase the retirement age from 65 to 67. However, they are not doing it this year, or next year, or the year after – they are proposing to do this in 2024. One wonders at what stage will they start the debate about when the pension age needs to be extended beyond 67? My own view is that realistically we’re going to have to jump to a much higher retirement age – and much more quickly. When I talk about retirement age I am of course referring to the retirement in the context of entitlement to state pension. Perhaps the reason that no government is prepared to tackle it, is that they believe and probably hope that it will one day be somebody else’s problem! The current government will not be in power come Implementation Day and somebody else is going to have to worry about pushing on the retirement age even beyond 67.

Following recent legislation an Employer can no longer can have an official retirement age for its workforce, ie nobody can be retired purely on the basis of age. It is hard to imagine why things move so slowly. It’s a great shame that this whole issue has to be so politicised. If it was not politicised at least there could be a political discussion both on the pension issue and on the funding of long term care of older people. Then the quality of the decision making could be much better and the speed at which decisions are made would be very much faster. But surely this is a Utopian pipe dream. It is not going to happen. Such issues are hot potatoes and they cannot fail to have a political aspect to them. And the ultimate implication is that we simply muddle through and let somebody else worry about the problem when it occurs at a much later date.

Another issue which I wanted to refer to briefly this week which is not totally disassociated is the question of assisted suicide. This is a question which society feels deeply uncomfortable about and even feels uncomfortable about referring to it at all leave alone discussing it. . Let me make it totally clear. This is not a reference to euthanasia . This is a reference to assisted suicide. There are people – including people in our own community – who would very much like to have a dialogue on this, however taboo the subject may be.

This is not the forum in which there should be such a debate. However in the same way that the community at large is avoiding the problem of retirement , healthcare and care for older people we also cannot ignore the fact that there are those in the Jewish community and the community at large who have strident views on bringing about legal assisted suicide. I am not a advocate of this. I merely flag it as subject that we cannot run away from.

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