UNISON general secretary challenges pension-age MPs to spend a day in his members’ shoes


UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis yesterday challenged pension-age MPs aged 65 to spend a day emptying bins or working as a paramedic, hospital cook or cleaner.

He issued the challenge when he launched in the House of Commons a study by the National Centre for Social Research that showed more than 50% of workers aged between 60 and 65 has a longstanding illness, disability or infirmity. In addition, 28% of those people said it limited the kind, or amount of paid work they could do.

UNISON is calling on the government to get to grips with the hard reality of people working until their late sixties, following the raising of the retirement age.

The union wants better protection, including flexible working, and for best practice to be spread, so that people who want to work longer can, but those who are not well enough are not forced to keep on working. The union is calling for protection for workers who are ill and on low incomes, or who don’t have their own pension, so they are not forced to keep working,because they cannot afford to retire.

Dave Prentis said: “I challenge any MP of 65 or older, in fact any MP over 60, to spend the day with UNISON members emptying the bins, sweeping our streets or working as paramedics, cooks or cleaners in the NHS. These are tough, physically demanding jobs that are hard to keep doing into your sixties – in many cases it simply won’t be possible.

“The government needs to get to grips with the reality of people working longer. Our study clearly shows that older workers are far more likely to develop health difficulties. In a headlong dash to save money, the government has raced ahead with raising the retirement age, but made no attempt to assess or deal with the likely health problems this will throw up.

“Unless we find out what support older workers will need, and then put plans in place to deliver it, we run the risk of condemning people to work till they drop. Others will be forced to work despite a long-term illness because they can’t afford to retire – this will particularly hit the low paid who often do physically demanding jobs.  Unless the government takes action, it risks turning the clock back to times when only the wealthy could enjoy a decent quality of life when they retire.”

* The key findings of the report are: 

 · 54% of all people aged 60-65 reported having a longstanding illness, disability or infirmity

· Of those who reported such an issue, 59% said that it limits their activities and 28% said that it limits the kind or amount of paid work they could do.

· The incidence of health issues among those aged 60-65 in paid employment is lower with 45% reporting a longstanding illness, disability or infirmity. (The slightly lower figure can be explained by the fact that many of those aged 60-65 with a longstanding issue will have stopped working as a result of their health problem.)

· Of workers reporting a longstanding health problem 41% said that it limited their activities and 12% said that it limited the kind or amount of paid work they could do.

· 42% of employees aged 60-65 reported having difficulties doing everyday tasks such as kneeling, stooping, crouching, climbing stairs, or standing up after long periods sitting down, because of a physical or health problem. 

· 14% of employees reported having difficulty with other everyday activities such as getting dressed, bathing/showering and communication.

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