A few hours before I began writing these words, a close friend I’ve known for 50 years died peacefully, aged 83.
Spending his working life outdoors as a bricklayer, at one time he’d been one of those tough, ‘hardworking tax payers’, so beloved of David Cameron’s speechwriters.
Yet once in retirement pensioners, for many people, take on a new identity. There is a grubby undercurrent of propaganda which likes to suggest the old are scroungers, living the life of Riley on massive occupational pensions, with their state pension simply the icing on the cake. It suggests we’re all on a champagne-fuelled Saga cruises or lining up on deck in the Norwegian fjords to see the Northern Lights. If only!
At 72, I’m still working for little luxuries such as the occasional book, film or a few pints which fall far short of a Mediterranean cruise or a foreign holiday. There are many pensioners, of course, whose lifetime occupations came with nice pension packages and this has enabled them to retire in grand comfort upwards of £25k per year. With everything, state pensions included, my wife and I live on just under £15k per year. We consider ourselves extremely lucky, because there are many in our age group, especially those who live alone, who get by on much less. Yet unlike Google, Vodafone and others, I’m still filing a complicated self-employed tax return every October and expected to pay up by January 31, or be heavily fined.
So, for the benefit of those younger folk who see us as slow, bumbling pests who slow down supermarket check-out queues or dither at cashpoint machines, consider this; the expenses you fork out every month don’t go away once you retire. They don’t simply vanish when work ends.
If the younger population feel they need to bring us down a peg or two, then that’s what voting and elections are for. However, if we’re seen as beneficiaries of the Welfare State, so are you - it’s up to you to make sure it’s still there when you retire. It was my generation and my parents’ which fought for the dwindling benefits we still have; through compassion for one another, we built the NHS, hoping to ensure that unlike many tougher places in the world, in Britain there would be a safety net for those of us who could never be rich.
If you’re lucky enough, you too will become old. Yet it isn’t as much fun as you think. As I prepare for my friend’s funeral, I remember the words of Somerset Maugham: ‘What makes old age hard to bear is not the failing of one’s faculties, mental and physical, but the burden of one’s memories.’