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Retirement – a not so rosy picture?

Julie Bullen responds to recent coverage.

05 March 2020

In your wide ranging and interesting article on Retirement (November 2019; and see also The Psychologist Guide to Retirement), there was only a glancing shot at poverty in retirement: 'there are some factors associated with retirement – such as whether or not… it causes real financial stress – that might not make for such a rosy picture'. 

It may come as a shock, but the Observer reported last year that 'UK elderly suffer the worst poverty rate in western Europe'. According to the Observer, 'The proportion of elderly people living in severe poverty in the UK is five times what it was in 1986, the largest increase among western European countries'. And the UK is one of five countries out of 16 examined, where there has been an increase in people aged 65 and over who are living in severe poverty – defined as having an income 40 per cent of the median or less. Around 20 per cent of the UK's elderly can be classed as 'better off' – they have an income of around 60 per cent of the median or more, closer to the average for Western Europe.

Yet again, we find an ever-increasing gap between the 'haves' and the 'have nots' in our society. At the European Sociological Association Conference in August last year, Professor Ebbinghaus (University of Oxford) reported that overall, European countries that have made private pensions an important source of income for the elderly have seen this rise in financial inequality. The shift towards increasing privatisation amplifies levels of social inequality.

Poverty in retirement is not so rosy a picture. As psychologists we are aware of the impact of poverty and inequality on mental health and happiness, let's keep it to the centre of the picture.

Dr Julie Bullen CPsychol DPhil(oxon)

Psychologist working with Business