March 25, 2010 / 6:35 AM / 9 years ago

Retired, and supporting a family

LONDON (Reuters) - Andrew Webster was teaching English at a private school in west London and had just turned 67 when he got a notice of retirement in his pigeonhole.

With still-dependent children, he had been looking forward to gradually slowing down, but not this. His employer wanted to make use of a law passed in 2006 enabling companies to tell staff to leave on any date after their 65th birthday, for no reason other than their age.

“I was very cross: it was the best job I’d ever had,” he said. “I felt particularly bitter about it because I had been helping to hold the place together.”

The school had come under new management and he was not getting on well with the headmaster.

“I shot myself in the foot,” he said. “I told him how old I was and I saw a look of dawning on his face.”

He had also let his trade union membership lapse. At the end of the academic year, he left and the school replaced him with a young Australian woman.

Now 69, Webster’s pension entitlement is limited to rights accumulated during 16 years teaching in the state sector, so his 56-year-old wife has returned to full-time work as a primary school teacher to help keep up the family’s income.

His youngest daughter at 19 is still living at home preparing to go to university. His oldest, 26, lives at home part of the time and after a long search has just secured a job as an assistant physiotherapist — she was one of 260 applicants.

Webster makes about one-third of his previous salary giving private tuition to students who come through agencies:

“I find myself teaching a huge range of syllabuses, I have to be more flexible, adapt more. It’s fun, but it’s not possible to earn the kind of money I was earning. (Students) can only usually come after school, and you don’t get paid for what you don’t do.”

Britain’s government is reviewing the legislation, dubbed Employment Equality (Age) Regulations, which prevents employers from forcing early retirement on those younger than 65 but gives only a right of request to over-65s who want to keep working.

Lobbyists for older people say the law is discriminatory, and in any case, fails to address the need to increase the labor force participation of older workers.

Webster, for whom any change would come too late, has two pieces of advice for older workers who want or need to keep their jobs: “Make sure they’re a member of a union — a strong union — and keep on the right side of their employer.”

Reporting by Sara Ledwith

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