!-- consent -->
Emily Carver is a broadcaster and commentator.
The Chancellor will today set out a number of ways he intends to encourage the over-50s back into the workplace, including an expansion to skills training and changes to the pensions cap and benefits system.
Looking at the latest labour market data published by the Office for National Statistics, the economic argument for doing so makes itself. The headline unemployment rate may be at an historic low but there are over a million job vacancies.
At the same time, around nine million people are economically inactive, 1.8 million of whom are registered as “wanting a job”.
Finding ways to get people of all ages back into work is an obvious priority. But the welcome focus on specifically older workers is long overdue.
In recent years, the emphasis has understandably been on getting younger people into work; it is refreshing now to see the focus shift to an often neglected age group. Not only would encouraging those over 50 back into work help boost the economy, but it would be a boon for society as whole.
It has taken the pandemic to shine a light on what is a longer-term trend. We know that those aged between 50 and 64 have not only experienced the highest increase in economic inactivity since the pandemic, but have been the most hesitant to return since.
It is also the case that over the past 50 years or so, there has been a decline in labour market participation among older people, despite the increase in life expectancy.
The reasons why older people leave the workforce early are of course varied; people are individuals, after all, and should be treated as such. Some will have reassessed their finances and concluded that they can afford to take early retirement; others will have taken on new caring responsibilities, or will themselves be suffering from ill-health.
It is also the case that being able to retire early is something many will celebrate, and work is by no means the only way older people benefit the economy.
But it is also the case that older people face unique barriers to employment – and missing out on their experience and skills is making us poorer as a nation.
Research has also shown that early retirement can actually be bad for you, with negative consequences on physical and emotional health as well as cognitive function.
Encouraging more older workers back into work may therefore not only help fill gaps in the labour market, boost the Treasury’s coffers, and improve people’s long-term financial security, but improve their health and well-being too.
There are early signs that older workers are considering returning or have returned to the workplace, post-pandemic. It is welcome, too, that a number of high profile businesses, including easyJet, Aviva, and Halfords, have signalled their intention to recruit more older workers. With a third of companies struggling with worker shortages, it makes business sense to recruit from all ages.
It is also the case, although not always appreciated, that older people come with varied and extensive experience, different and interesting perspectives, and huge amounts of built up knowledge – something the public sector as well as businesses should welcome.
But there also needs to be a cultural shift. Recently I spoke to a representative of the over-50s organisation Rest Less on GB News, who highlighted how ageism is one of the major barriers impeding older people at work, and stopping them from returning. This is unsurprising, perhaps, considering our society’s emphasis on youth and so-called progressive attitudes.
Combatting this will not be easy. Some have suggested that age should be reported much in the same way as gender pay gap reporting, or that there should be financial incentives for employers who recruit older people, for example by reducing NI employer contributions for those over 50.
But adding additional burdens onto businesses, or using the tax system to make hiring older people more favourable, could lead to (or be seen to) replace one means of discrimination with another.
Fundamentally, the Government needs to ensure that work continues to pay for people of all ages. Boosting the tax-free allowance for pensions is one way to do this, at least for those who earn enough to be affected. If that helps the NHS to retain more experienced doctors, it would pay for itself.
Whether the Chancellor’s interventions will work remains to be seen, but the renewed spotlight on the importance of older workers, their experience, and their untapped potential, is welcome, and will hopefully encourage employers to take a more enlightened view of how to fill their labour shortages.