Why we need a National Retirement Service

By Lord Wei of Shoreditch on 29 June 2012

It has been a while since I last posted, partly because I have been heavily preoccupied with the question of major life transitions, which I and others will be publishing a report on next week. This will coincide with the launch of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Life Transitions which Chris White MP will be chairing with my backing and that of David Blunkett MP and Lord Rennard. This is an issue that has attracted real cross party support, especially the idea of a non-compulsory National Retirement Service, which the Shaftesbury Partnership will be developing pilots for over the coming year or so. There are a number of other key recommendations from the report which will come out on Monday, for employers, government, and social entrepreneurs, but for now if you or your organisation are interested in getting involved in developing and supporting the pilots then please contact Patrick Shine at the Shaftesbury Partnership, and if you have press enquiries or want to come to the launch event, please send your request and our media team. A huge thanks to Andrew Barnett and the team at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, as well as to UnLtd, the Beth Johnson Foundation, Saga, ManpowerGroup, NIACE, and many others for helping us get to this point, with more excitement to come! The following article was published today in the Guardian’s Comment is Free section which sketches out Why we need a National Citizen Service. More details to follow when the report is published on Monday.

With the ongoing crisis in the Eurozone, global growth slowing, and austerity back in the UK, one could be forgiven for not wanting to dwell too much on the other big challenge of our day, our ageing population. The figures on ageing are indeed depressing. Millions of baby boomers are entering retirement, some may have to work till they drop, and many from surveys feel often ill prepared and abandoned as they enter what can be a stressful period in their lives. There has also been much mention of the economic impact of having a smaller workforce which will have to bear the increased health and social costs of the older population. All this makes for a time bomb of intergenerational conflict and tension for hundreds of thousands of families in the years to come. But we do not have to see it this way. Ageing and retirement are transitions like many others in life, a source of stress but also of opportunity for people to plan and take more control if given the right support and guidance.

A report I recently co-authored funded by the Gulbenkian Foundation which we are publishing next Monday the 2nd of July has highlighted the many transitions we face in life from those relating to our births and childhood, to those such as becoming parents or marrying or starting work, as well as those in later life. It found that there are ways that government and civil society can better support all of us as we transition than is currently the case. To further investigate how policy-makers can better take into account the different transitions we go through in life Chris White MP, David Blunkett MP, and Chris Rennard and I, together with a number of other interested Parliamentarians of all parties and none are establishing over the coming week an All Party Parliamentary Group on Life Transitions. We are doing this because increasingly how we cope with our transitions affects us all and has become more challenging than ever for government or civil society to address. The failures happen too often in the gaps – when we change schools, or leave care, or enter or leave hospital, when we retire, become unemployed, or leave unemployment, and so on. Transitions matter politically because everyone goes through them. They matter even more arguably to voters than what is happening in the Eurozone.

One way to help address transitions that millions of people are going through is to take a National Service approach to them. Such as with the National Citizen Service Programme for young people, which has had success based on initial reports in promoting personal development and social mixing at that critical transition as young people enter adulthood and leave formal compulsory secondary education. What would happen if we were to take the same approach, and working with the public, private, and voluntary sectors, develop a National Retirement Service? One designed by retirees for retirees? One that would be built on those activities we seek out and pay for when we near retirement, to get away or retreat, but which would facilitate for those retiring a way to better plan the decades ahead, to mix with each other and different generations to build better support networks and understanding, and which gave alumni a sense of what they could get involved with to lead a more balanced life, in which work, leisure, and service were blended together?

This is exactly what the Shaftesbury Partnership has now asked to test and pilot – together with interested forward-looking organisations such as Saga, Manpower, Heinz, various Foundations and relevant government departments – and with the input and guidance of a working group of recent retirees. Some might ask, “Why this is necessary?” Surely natural networks among retirees already allow them to find the activities and networks that they want post-retirement? Our preliminary research indicates that the baby boomers will not necessary follow the traditional expectations of previous retirees, and that they and other generations above and below them will need support to navigate the lifestyle choices this new wave of retirees are about to make. Choices which will be driven less by duty and morality, and more by feeling a sense of reward and purpose.

The baby boom is the largest generational tribe the Western world has seen in recent centuries. Their ageing and spending patterns are in part the reason why global growth in the West is slowing, just as it has in Japan. We need to explore ways to help the coming retirees support each other and embrace a conception of retirement that is more active, economically and socially, and more mixed than ever before, saving taxpayers’ money and generating health and wealth for all generations. A National Retirement Service could be one powerful way to help all of us adapt and prepare for the Great Transition ahead.

Download the report: Next steps: Life transitions and retirement in the 21st century