No one would disagree with the notion of “Good Work” if you can get it. The London Recovery Board’s Good Work Mission is in place to support London’s labour market- which has been hit harder than the rest of the UK. There’s a lot of good sentiment here and for older Londoners, the aim is that those who wish to work are supported and enabled to do so and in a way that suits their circumstances.
Although we hear a lot about the economic plight of young people, the second age group hardest hit by the effects of covid on the labour market are older workers. Over 50s are at most risk of “scarring” – it’s been projected that 14,000 older workers in London may drop out of the labour market because of uncertainty.
Research shows that pre covid older workers were less likely to return to work after spells of unemployment than younger workers. Among all those unemployed in their late 50s, less than one in three returned to work over the course of a year, compared with about half of those unemployed in their mid-30s. This is more acute for those who have been long term unemployed. Those with lower levels of education, those from BAME communities and women are at risk in being less likely to get jobs after becoming unemployed. Finding new work is tricky for some older workers – most older workers don’t have much recent experience of searching for work. These problems are compounded by the effects of ageism in recruitment and a lack of age diversity by some employers.
For many older workers facing unemployment, this not only affects income and prospects of retirement but also has a knock-on effect on health and wellbeing.
An agenda to address these problems needs to be wide-ranging but properly thought out. The risk is that well-meaning solutions are rolled out which have negligible impact. Wise Age the employment agency for over 50s in London has a grant from Trust for London to explore these issues. But what are the tips for this much-needed strategy?
Beware of the quick generalisations
We’ve all heard the bold statements that job shortages in bars or the lack of uber or petrol tanker drivers can be simply filled by employing older workers – just send in your CV. Owen Paterson MP allegedly made a similar point five years ago claiming that British pensioners could be recruited to pick fruit and vegetables in the fields instead of EU workers. The job market is far more complicated than this and older workers aren’t some sort of lumpenproletariat ready to correct a dysfunctional employment market with cheap Labour !.
We need to have a clearer understanding of what’s happened to older workers in London.
Instead, we need to have up-to-date data on what’s happened to older workers in London. What are the overall employment rates of older workers post-pandemic; who has been made unemployed and for how long; who are exiting the employment market into enforced retirement and why; what are skill levels amongst older people and the gaps; and how do employment rates vary across London and above all what are the views of older people. This requires a bespoke programme of data analysis plus research on older workers particularly exploring the barriers facing older workers in different circumstances and identifying the needs of disadvantaged groups such as BAME and older women and those who are digitally poor.
Support needs to be tailored
It’s key that education and training support needs to be bespoke to meet the needs of older workers not just more generic training. So, we need a much better segmentation of older workers. And the support needs to be properly targeted and appropriate – for example, not all older workers are digitally impoverished, and some skills can be recycled into new roles This employment support provision will be better if it is designed with the insights that older workers can provide.
Metrics are key
We need to be able to measure what’s happening to the labour market for older people. It requires a balanced scorecard to show different employment needs, and what difference support is making. And this should be published – the theme of older workers requires more saliency as an issue amongst London politicians. And this also applies to employers – the employers who are the “Anchor Institutions” in London’s recovery need to be reporting on their post 50 employment rates to set examples for other employers.
Ageism is still “the elephant in the room”
What’s inevitably more challenging is how to end the effect of ageism in recruitment and employment which may hamper efforts in providing impactful support. Obviously, there’s merit in publicising the benefits of older workers in London and spreading age-friendly good practise. But as anyone who’s suffered from ageism in their employment knows you feel isolated and disempowered. Ageism is seemingly allowed and very difficult to challenge. Having a debate in London about this is essential with conspicuous leadership from the Mayor of London to stop ageism in employment.
Tim Whitaker Trustee Wise Age