The news today that thousands of West Country pensioners are working way beyond their retirement age can be interpreted in a number of ways.
Is it, for example, good news that increasing longevity and improving health into old age mean it is possible to go on working long after traditional retirement dates?
And is it a tribute to enlightened changes in the law that no one now has to hang up their work clothes when they hit 65, but can keep at it for as long as they see fit?
Or is it a sorry reflection on the paucity of pension provision and the fact that many pensioners are short of cash that means thousands must keep working to keep body and soul together, long after they should have been relaxing and enjoying themselves?
The answer to those questions clearly depends upon individual circumstances and one's point of view. For many here in the West Country the opportunity to keep on working into later life is welcome. Those who enjoy their jobs, are glad to keep earning and feel fit enough to carry on, clearly relish the freedom to stay busy.
But the key word here is "freedom". And for too many older people it seems that sticking to their posts through their late 60s and 70s is not so much a matter of choice, but of necessity, whether they can easily manage it or not.
There are other consequences too. Changing the law to prevent employers forcing older workers to leave has undoubtedly helped many older workers stay active; it has also deprived some young people of opportunities to get into the workplace. We are going to have to get used to working into later life. It is a perfectly reasonable consequence of living longer that we should work longer too – society cannot support an ever growing population of workless individuals, whatever their age.
But there must be proper provision so that those who have to or want to give up their jobs, can do so and still enjoy a reasonable standard of living. Improving the state pension and encouraging everyone – through proper incentives – to invest in a private or company pension are long-term projects. We must achieve that goal as a society, so that working into later life is a right – not a curse.
We make the point, above, that for too many older people it seems that sticking to their posts through their late 60s and 70s is not so much a matter of choice, but of necessity.
Well, at 91, and after two major health scares, the Duke of Edinburgh might have been forgiven for deciding it was time to retire. But like pensioners all over Britain – although not, perhaps for financial reasons – he is still working just as hard. Yesterday he was at Plymouth University to open a ground-breaking new facility for the marine industry and accept an honorary doctorate of marine science.
The Duke has come in for his fair share of criticism from the media over the years, accused of everything from insensitive foot-in-mouth moments to arrogance.
As he has aged his spirit has not dimmed but the affection in which he is held, has grown. Long may that continue.