I'm a gran of six – I have to go back to work until my 80s to pay bills and charge my kids for Christmas, I'm scared | The Sun
UPDATING her resume Caroline Duddridge, 64, asks her daughter Amanda, 36, for advice on what employers like and don't like in job applications.
The nan-of-six takes copious notes and Amanda explains she needs to remember the correct pronouns of people she meets.
Her daughter also suggests her mum, a former teacher, who lives on a widow's pension, do some “top up courses” in safeguarding, and student on student bullying.
Undeterred by the long “to do list”, 64-year-old Caroline, who retired from teaching in 2018, is up for the challenge to begin her fifth decade in the workforce.
“Unretiring and going back to work is the only way I can have enough money to cope with the rising cost of living crisis,” she tells The Sun.
“I’m a grey rinse grafter who is now back at work to pay the bills.
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“My widow's pension isn't enough. I have gone back to school to survive.”
“Instead of pottering around the garden, I am monitoring the school playground at lunchtime.
“It is staff meetings for me, not garden club meetings with other OAP’s for me as I unretire to work at least two days a week as a teaching assistant at a local school.
Caroline first started working as a teacher 40 years ago and never imagined at 64 years old that she’d be down on her knees, bending over primary school tables helping youngsters with finger painting, maths and English.
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“This wasn't the plan. It’s scary for me. It’s terrifying for many other people who now face a penniless retirement unless they work part or full-time," she says.
“I’m not the only one who can’t afford to be retired. Many of my friends are the same. I am a ‘pensioner seeking employment’."
The cost of living crisis, spiralling inflation and volatile financial markets mean pensioners in their sixties and seventies are forced to spend the day scouring wanted ads rather than enjoying their twilight years.
“I won’t stop working now until my eighties. It’s a case of grafting to the grave," she added.
“I am not complaining. I come from a generation that does what they have to do to get by and be prepared for old age emergencies on my widows pension of £1,126 a month.”
Caroline now works two days a week as a supply teaching assistant at local primary schools, as well as working as a carer for her elderly mum, when she isn't in the classroom.
“I was offered TA work at secondary schools but dealing with teenagers would be worrying for me now,” she says.
“I used to teach secondary school but unretiring and teaching older students I do think my age would be a problem. Some kids in secondary school are incredibly intimidating.
“I’d feel worried about not being able to control them. The littlies at primary school are lovely. I am just grateful for the work.”
'It's incredibly hard work but I love it'
Caroline has signed up to an agency which provides supply teachers and TAs.
She now works two or three days a week at local primary schools doing everything from TA work, playground duty and school gate monitoring.
“It’s incredibly hard work but I love it”, she says.
“My knees and back have seen better days but with the reception and year one kids you have to be up and down all the time.
"I get the best results helping them when I am eye to eye on their level.
“Instead of pottering around the garden I am monitoring the playground at lunchtime.
“It is staff meetings for me, not coffee mornings,” she says.
“As a new member of the grey rinse grafter brigade I am teaching alongside men and women I taught thirty years ago. I am teaching the grandchildren of children I taught decades ago.
“I may be an OAP but I am still taking the register, giving out homework and taking control of the blackboard.
“There is no ‘OAP around the world trip’ for me. I am back to timecards, teaching and constant retraining to ensure I can pay the gas and electric bills,” she says.
Caroline isn't alone in having to unretire and represents the new breed of “grey rinse grafters” having to unretire to make ends meet.
She is just one of the nearly 900,000 Britons aged over 70 which a Retirement Villages Group report reveals are heading back to work or staying longer in part- or full-time work since the pandemic and cost of living crisis.
The Office of National Statistics reveals there are now more people aged 50 and older in work or looking for work than before the pandemic hit.
More than half the total increase is among men aged over 65, whose economic activity levels increased by 66,000, or 8.5%, in a year, with 37,000, or 6.8%, more women over 65 in or looking for work.
Caroline lives in fear of "pensioner poverty" and "retirement ruin".
“Before Covid I thought I’d have enough to retire on with the widows pension and downsizing our home," she says.
“The cost of living price hikes and the fear that grips every person I know who’s retired is unrelenting.
“My husband and I were always planners. Now that planning is out the window.”
Caroline graduated from teachers college when she was 24 and started her career in state schools.
“I loved teaching primary and secondary students.
She married Brian Duddridge in 1979 and the couple had five children now aged 18, 35, 33, 30 and 25.
Brian worked for the Welsh Assembly as a civil servant and Caroline continued to work part-time and casually as a teacher while raising their five children.
“Money was tight. We kept to a tight budget and always saved for a rainy day, she says.
“That day has come and it’s a deluge of worry and anxiety over money.”
“I didn't go back to work full time until after our eldest was in school.
“We scrimped and saved and were always frugal, especially with five children.
'My income was halved when my husband died'
Tragically in 2015 Brian died of cancer aged 67.
“It was devastating. He was the love of my life and we’d planned to spend our twilight years together.
“Suddenly my expendable income was halved. I was working part-time as a TA and started receiving a widow's pension of £1,169 but making ends meet was considerably harder."
Caroline’s council tax is £128 a month, her heating and gas £300 in winter, groceries cost £200 a month while petrol and car insurance eat into another £150.
Caroline spends £60 on her internet and phone and says each month once the water bill and other expenditures on her house are taken into account, she’s left with £100.
“People may think £100 is a lot but it gets eaten up quickly if I need the car serviced, some DIY done or a lunch with my friends," she says.
“I cut my own hair. I recycle clothes and repair what I can and use pound shop face cream to save money.
“I need my car to work. When I am not teaching I am a full-time carer for mum. I also babysit the grandkids. I am more busy now than I have ever been.
“I even charge the kids for Christmas dinner because of a lack of cash.
“I discovered living on your own was incredibly expensive. Many widowers experience this as well as pensioners.
In fact, Caroline says buying and cooking for one is as expensive as buying for two and radically downsizing her home was the only option after her husband passed away was the only option.
Caroline sold the couple's six-bedroom home for £410,000 and bought a two-bedroom house for £212,000.
“I helped the children out with their mortgages and put a little in the bank and cleared credit card debt. I had a tight budget but I didn't factor in skyrocketing inflation and price hikes, she says.
Then in 2018 Caroline was made redundant after a shake-up at the hospital where she helped run a school for ill children four days a week.
“I got £12,000 and I split that with my children no expecting and thought I could manage on the widows pension.
After lockdown, Caroline knew her retirement funds would not last and also admits she missed working.
“I’d retired but I still wanted to give back. I was lonely and having a coffee with pals was lovely but without my husband I missed the hustle and bustle of work.
When Caroline nervously contacted a local job agency they welcomed her with open arms.
“I was worried I was too old. The agency said I’d be in demand.
“Staff explained I had decades of teaching knowledge and would not only be in demand with schools but I could mentor younger TA’s.”
“I was genuinely shocked. To realise I was still needed and wanted in the workforce as a grey rinse grafter was amazing.
“I was realistic about the physical demands of teaching with the agency.
“I explained that secondary students would be too overwhelming.
"I also knew physically working full-time would be shattering at my age but I’d take on as many days as possible.
“It did mean some re-training and skills updating but I love showing my kids and grandkids I am not ‘over the hill yet.’"
For Caroline realising that employers and schools valued her skillset and needed her, even as an OAP TA, made the return to work easier.
Caroline explains her “unretirement” is more fulfilling than when she first started her career.
“It’s invigorating. It’s keeping me focused and I do feel younger," she said.
“The relief I have in knowing I am able to pay my bills and put money aside for my ‘second retirement’ is immense.
“Retirement working is part two of my career. It’s the next chapter.
“But like all unretired workers I worry illness or simply old age will begin to limit my second working life.
“I live daily with the anxiety that I have to work as many shifts as I can to replenish the retirement coffers. The fear I feel is real and I am not alone."
Those getting a state pension and still on a low income could be entitled to extra support through pension credit.
It's estimated that around £1.7billion of the help is going unclaimed, plus it unlocks extra perks, like a free TV Licence.
Find out who's eligible and how to claim.
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