about thirty years ago. He was considered "young" to retire at sixty but he was not well and stress was clearly part of the problem. He had been the headmaster of a number of very difficult rural schools - difficult because of the problems brought about by things like isolation and the need to consolidate a number of small schools into bigger ones bringing in children on long, complex bus routes. (The buses also had to be driven by teachers.)
Even on his return to the city he was asked to take on schools with reputations for being "difficult". He would be given a couple of years to pull things back together and then be moved on.
By sixty the Senior Cat was, quite simply, exhausted. He needed a break. He "retired" on medical advice.
After a short break he did some lecturing at one of the universities, tutored, made conjuring apparatus for magicians, helped to look after his grandchildren, taught conjuring and woodwork to children, and lectured to community groups. Much of this was unpaid work.
He is still busy. He still does some tutoring. He still turns out woodworking for charity.
If the present government had its way people like the Senior Cat would go on working not just to sixty or even sixty-five but beyond. They are saying that they cannot afford people "the luxury of early retirement" - if indeed they can afford for people to retire at all. They claim they can no longer afford the growing pension bill and the "burden" older people are on society. There is talk of taxing superannuation savings not just twice as they now do but for a third time. This is money that people have saved over the years to help with their retirement so they would not be so dependent on government pensions. Prudent savings are already over taxed when others, who have chosen not to have superannuation at all, are getting tax free pensions plus a range of benefits self funded retirees cannot access.
I doubt the Senior Cat would still be alive if he had continued to work - but perhaps that is what they want. For all the talk about "valuing the skills and experience of older people" I suspect the government, and most employers, are really not that interested. They prefer younger people with innovative ideas and the energy to carry them out. Oh yes, they like them to have some experience but not forty or fifty years of experience.
There is something else the government devalues too - the contributions older people make. Many older people I know are still working - but they are not being paid for it. How much is the unpaid child minding worth? How much is it worth not just to the families where it takes place but to the community as a whole? How would all those "charity shops" be run without them? I don't think they would survive a week. Would there be Meals on Wheels? I doubt it.
Many of the social services provided by organisations like Anglicare, the Red Cross and St Vincent de Paul (to name three of the biggest) depend heavily on "retired" volunteers. I wonder if the Blood Transfusion Service Collection Centre run by the Red Cross could provide the same service at the same price if it was not for the volunteers who staff some areas of it? I doubt it. Does anyone doubt that service saves young lives? What would it cost for the government to run the service instead of a charity which depends partly on volunteers?
I wonder if anyone has anyone really studied the economics of ageing. Yes, older people have more medical needs and often require more assistance but many more of them are independent and are still contributing more than they cost to keep.
Perhaps it really is time for the government to look seriously at what older people contribute. It may make economic sense to pay an aged pension to an older person rather than the unemployment benefit to a younger person.