In the first of a new briefing series Wise Age summarises some of the key employment trends affecting older workers in London and discusses some of the key issues to help older workers in London. We aim to distil the key data and informed analysis to raise policy and practical issues and dispel some of the employment myths circulating around.

Publication of the latest January ONS Labour Force Survey (LFS) data gives a detailed picture of the economy and employment. This survey is the largest household survey in the UK. There is some extremely limited London data available , but Wise Age has been calling on the GLA to develop better monitoring of how older workers are faring across London in the labour market .

Employment levels for older workers

Despite claims by some politicians’ and the media employment growth post pandemic appears to be slowing . The current employment rate estimate is 75.5 per cent compared with 76.3 per cent pre pandemic with a slight increase on the previous quarter,  but overall employment is estimated at 600,000 below pre-pandemic levels. In London, the employment rate is 75.6 per cent for 16–64-year-olds

  • For older workers (50-64) the employment rate is 70.8 per cent compared with 72.7 per cent pre pandemic  This amounts to 208,000 fewer older workers in employment compared with pre-pandemic levels
  • For those over 65, the employment rate is 10.7 per cent compared with 11 per cent pre pandemic .
  • Employment amongst over 50s continues to stall, with around 208,000 fewer in employment compared with pre-pandemic levels.
  • The employment rate for the 50-64 age group has been steadily increasing over the past 30 years but the last time the rate was 70.8 per cent was back in 2016.

Unemployment of older workers

Across the UK the unemployment rate is 4.1 per cent and declining close to pre pandemic levels. In contrast London unemployment stands higher than other regions at 5.4 per cent.

  • For UK older workers aged 50-64 the current rate is 3.2 per cent – an increase from 2.6 per cent pre pandemic.
  • 40.7 per cent of those unemployed over 50s remain unemployed after twelve months and 23.7 per cent over 24 months.
  • Pre -pandemic 34.3 per cent of over 50s unemployed were still unemployed after twelve-months.

Growing Economic inactivity of older workers

The big trend in the figures is the growing economic inactivity (those classified as either not looking or not available for work). In total there are 1.1 million less in the labour force and this is being driven by higher levels among older people and particularly older women older people account for three fifths of this gap. The estimates are that the economic inactivity gap for older people overall is now 630,000 this month and this has grown from 530,000 last month. Some commentators are calling this the “great retirement “. Others such as the Institute for Employment Studies argue there’s a need for a government plan to improve participation in the labour market with improvements needed on public employment services

  • For those aged 50 -64 the inactivity rate is 26.7 per cent compared with 25.3 per cent pre pandemic.
  • For over 65s the inactivity rate is 89.1 per cent compared with 88.8 per cent pre pandemic. This means there are 200,000 older workers inactive since the beginning of 2020.
  • There are several reasons being put forward for this overall growth in economic inactivity and factors may have changed during the pandemic. Some of the is increasingly being driven by higher worklessness due to ill health, which those affecting is up around 200,000 in the last six months (and by 230,000 since the pandemic began).
  • But we need much better evidence particularly in London of the motives for older workers becoming economically inactive – who they are demographically, by location, by roles and also job sectors.

Job Vacancies

The flatlining of employment levels is though in sharp contrast to the rapid increase in job vacancies which we are reading about in the media. Vacancies are twice the levels last year and 50 per cent higher than pre-pandemic. This means that there is a tightening job market. The sectors where there is a growth in vacancies are notably health, social care, hospitality, and professional jobs. Whilst this demonstrates a robust demand, we still don’t know how this translates into older people seeking jobs. Simplistic equations of “job gaps equal older workers” are unhelpful in tackling the many issues affecting older workers.

Sources and further reading

  1. ONS Summary of Labour Market Statistics 18 January 2022, A01: Summary of labour market statistics – Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)
  2. Institute for Employment Studies Briefing:  Labour Market Statistics, January 2022,  Title (employment-studies.co.uk)
  3. Centre for Ageing Better article 18 January 2022, “Ageism in the labour market will stifle the economic recovery”, Ageism in the labour market will stifle the economic recovery | Centre for Ageing Better (ageing-better.org.uk)
  4. Economic Observatory 19 January 2022,  What do the latest data tell us about the UK labour market? – Economics Observatory

Compiled by Tim Whitaker Trustee Wise Age January 2022

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