The debate about whether the country can afford to pay public sector pensions will, I’m sure, continue to rage long after the current dispute is resolved. And I doubt some sections of the media will ever stop referring to them as ‘gold-plated’.
But I’d like to take a step back from the politics, and look at the practicalities. So let’s try to disregard the fact that people are being asked to work longer and pay more in order to receive less (go on - I know it’s hard, but do try).
There are some basic issues that make the ever-rising retirement age simply unworkable for a huge proportion of public sector workers – and nurses in particular.
As they work on into their mid and late sixties, how are nurses expected to keep up with the demands of the job? They can have access to hoists, sliding boards and other equipment to move patients, but even so, many other aspects of the job make it hard physical work.
Will there be a division of labour so younger nurses take on the heavy work and older ones are given light duties? I can see that playing out well on the wards.
And while ageing doesn’t have to equate with ill health, I’m only too aware myself that it is associated with a certain amount of unavoidable physical decline. A lot of it is manageable if irritating if you’re deskbound – the aching knee means you don’t bother going out at lunchtime, and I sometimes think a reduction in my hearing ability wouldn’t be all bad when a colleague bellows across the office while I’m trying to proofread.
But I’m lucky, my job doesn’t require me to walk miles a day, and hearing loss would mean I’d only miss out on an unwanted opinion rather than a plea for help from a frail patient. Working until 68 is unlikely to cause me much physical damage – although I’d probably benefit from having someone responsible for finding my glasses every time I leave them on a printer or someone else’s desk.
I suspect the working conditions of those who make decisions about how long people can be expected to continue nursing are more like mine than they are like yours.
Maybe Mr Osborne should spend a week working as a healthcare assistant. After all, you’re expected to ensure patients can make informed decisions, so surely politicians should be enabled to do so too?