The overwhelming majority of Britons believe that a mandatory retirement ages is outdated and that older people should be able to choose when they stop working.
A poll of 1,000 adults for the charity Age Concern showed that nine out of ten do not believe that employers should have the right to make people retire at the age of 65 and six out of ten disagree that older workers should make way for younger ones.
The poll has been launched as part of a new report by Age Concern, “Choose, not lose, the right to work” and comes as the Government considers how it intends to implement the EU Employment Directive that will make discrimination on grounds of age unlawful from October 2006.
Age Concern said that the right to choose when to leave work is the lynchpin to legislation that will value older workers in an ageing society.
The Government was at a crossroads in deciding how far to adopt EU age equality laws from 2006, it added. It could respond positively to our ageing society and give people choice about when they retire. Alternatively it could bow to pressure from industry, ignore public opinion and perform what the charity termed “a cowardly u-turn that would continue to force people to retire at an arbitrary age”.
Such a move would send confusing messages to workers and business making age an acceptable reason to deny employment rights, it claimed.
Professor Magdi Yacoub, 68, the world-renowned heart surgeon who has contributed to the charity's report, said: "I feel passionately that people should be able to work for longer if they are able and willing to do so."
In the United States, he said, mandatory retirement ages have been outlawed since 1986 and he knew from first-hand experience how older talent was not wasted.
"I am always hugely impressed by how doctors and scientists are recruited in their mid-60s to head up teams doing fantastic work. Who benefits? Everyone. Can we ever put a price on that kind of experience?"
Another doctor highlighted in the report, Christopher Naylor, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, said he will not be able to see patients, operate or consult in two hospitals where he works from August when he turns 70 because of arbitrary age limits.
"Given the crisis in the pension industry, there is a sound economic reason for me to work, bringing the Treasury a significant amount of money," he said.
Age Concern's Director General Gordon Lishman said that the Government could respond positively to an ageing society and give people the choice about when they retire.
"The Government must stick to its guns and not compromise,” he said. “This decision will be a litmus test of how ready the Government is to deal with an ageing population and whether it is serious about giving older people the right to choose, not lose, work."