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Getting older workers back

Getting older workers back is very much on the agenda but there are many obstacles in the way, not least from employers. Stephanie Spicer writes.

There has been much focus, not least in the recent Budget, on older people (sorry to those over age 50 but that’s where the definition starts) returning to the workplace.

Workers over 50 who have left the workplace have done so for a variety of reasons; the lucky ones because they can afford to and the unlucky ones because they are ill or incapacitated.

And there are those who lost jobs and have found it difficult to find employment because of their age. Arguably, the latter category is the one that most needs addressing because there you have willing workers thwarted by a biased and intransigent attitude from employers.

It remains to be seen whether the Chancellor’s magnanimous gesture in abolishing the lifetime pension allowance to remove the tax hurdle for consultants staying in the NHS encourages any who have left to return.

For the sake of the economy, it might be an idea to focus on other early retirees and those who really can’t afford not to be working.

Catherine Mann, policymaker at the Bank of England in an interview on Blomberg TV warned that she is worried about whether the UK economy can grow without sparking inflation, a legacy of Britain’s decision to exit the European Union and thousands of people over age 50 dropping out of the labour market since the pandemic. 

Quoted also in The Times Mann said: “I worry that a couple of years down the line, we’re going to see people trying to come back into the labour force, and that’s going to be much more difficult.

“I worry about the supply side of the UK economy. It really is striking how slow growth is in the UK -much slower than what we observed for the US or for the euro area. Brexit is a factor on the supply side and on pricing power.”

The Government acknowledges, in its Spring Budget statement, that the falling participation in the workplace is a key economic challenge. It has mapped out how it hopes to tackle those who are ill, those perhaps disabled and who are concerned they may lose essential benefits and those who are ‘inactive’, whether they have chosen to be or not.

It remains the common case however that whatever the acknowledgement of the issue and whatever carrots and initiatives are thrown at the problem the employer elephant in the room is the one who doesn’t want to employ older workers.

The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) says that of more than 1,000 managers working in UK businesses and public services surveyed, just 42% would be open to hiring people aged between 50 and 64 to a large extent. For workers over 65, only 3 in 10 were open to hiring and 1 in 5 said their organisation was not open to the idea of hiring those over 65 at all.

So, time to tackle the disconnect between those in the ‘third age’ who want to work and employer perception. After all, fit and healthy people in their 60s may well live for another 30 plus years – that’s a lot of knowledgeable human capital to write off.

There is also age discrimination legislation – let’s employ that more as well.

Stephanie Spicer is head of content at Quill PR

Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash