SAGA chief attacks call on OAPs to do community work for full pension

Suggestions by a former benefits chief that older people should be made to work in the community for a full pension have sparked angry reactions.

Dr Ros Altmann, Director-General of Saga, commenting on Lord Bichard’s suggestion, said: “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 with angry messages of incredulity.”

Lord Bichard said “imaginative” ideas were needed to meet the cost of an ageing society. He accepted that although such moves would be controversial, they would mean that older people were not a burden on the state. He made the comments at a committee which is investigating demographic changes and their impact on public services.

Ros, said: “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.”

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She said the idea undermined the concept of ‘volunteering’ altogether, because if you have to do it in order to get your full pension, it was another kind of paid work.

Dr Altmann said the practicalities had not been thought out. 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?

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She said: “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.

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