Retirees feeling squeeze as pensions shrink

By Geoffrey Murray
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, September 7, 2011
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Risky shot [By Jiao Haiyang/]

Risky shot [By Jiao Haiyang/] 

My long-time British friend has just come up against the harsh realities of life as he approaches retirement.

Now 62, he occupied a respectable position in a well-known international company based in Tokyo for 20 years. Despite his long service and flawless record of achievement, when he turned 60 the company replaced his existing long-term employment contract with one that he had to renegotiate every 12 months.

He was able to extend his contract this year, but his salary was cut by 32 percent. When he pointed out his good working record, he was literally told he was lucky to have a job at all at his age.

In some respects, this is not a good time to be getting old. Improvements in health care and living conditions mean human life expectancy in many countries has almost doubled from a century ago.

In recent years, we've heard a lot about pensioners being a 'golden generation' enjoying benefits and a lifestyle that their forbearers could never have imagined.

However, a report by British pressure group Age UK says that meager State pensions on offer, high inflation and low savings interest rates means that in reality, things are rather different.

A survey found that nearly half of today's pensioners are only just 'getting by' and one in ten claim they're really struggling. Many live on low-to-middle class incomes and are being squeezed by rising food and energy costs.

As winter approaches, many are cutting back on heating, going out less and buying cheaper food. Since 2008, bills have risen 47 percent and on average, Britons are 100 pounds (1,035 RMB) a month worse off than they used to be.

'The sign of a civilized society is how its government looks after the marginalized, needy and impoverished. By any meaningful definition, many Australian pensioners are living below the poverty line," observed a 2008 Australian report.

It's also been pointed out that the Australian central government provides a single refugee entering the country with up to A$2,470 (17,000 RMB) per month, while an Australian citizen, after working for half a century, gets only A$1,012.

Lack of money for funding state pension schemes means many Western governments are raising the pension-linked retirement age.

The British Government has proposed linking pensions with life expectancy. It used to make sense to set the pension-linked retirement age at 65, when few workers lived much beyond that age. Nowadays, we can look forward to living perhaps another 20 years or more.

A leading UK insurance company, Standard Life, calculated the government plan would mean today's teenagers would work 60 years on average in order to start receiving a State pension at 77. Compare this to France, where riots broke out when the government revealed plans to move the retirement age from 60 to 62. In the US, the retirement age is now 67.

Those with the means saw the writing on the wall years ago and invested in private pension schemes. However, even after retirement, these private pensions are still subject to taxation. Thus, for many, life is still not comfortable, even with multiple pensions.

It's highly doubtful that people will be able to keep working until the new delayed retirement age. Older workers may have decades of accumulated experience, but their pay packages tend to be larger than youngsters, not to mention the burden of health care.

In the past in China, a major concern among most people was 'who will care for me in my declining years?' That led to couples seeking security through large families, especially sons, to meet the care burden. Now, the government has drastically curbed its birth rate while creating a social welfare support system for the elderly.

In fact, with the tight employment situation forcing many young people to stay on at school to get ever-higher qualifications, the elderly are often the ones still providing the support to their children, not vice versa.

In Britain, annual tuition fees for undergraduates have tripled, forcing many youngsters to take out student loans running into thousands of pounds. Typically, these student debts won't get paid off for years, unless parents step in and mortgage their own future security.

In a moral society, we should be treasuring the elderly and ensuring their comfort after a lifetime of hard work. Instead, we may be creating a situation where they are financially excluded and isolated within society.

I wonder when the next boat of refugees is leaving Indonesia for Australia? I'd better get on it.

The author is a columnist with For more information please visit:

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of


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