This week’s latest employment statistics from the ONS still highlight the difficulties facing older workers. (Labour market overview, UK – Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)) This is despite some bold newspaper headlines of unfilled job vacancies and a booming economy

Two of the big headlines from the national stats are the 1.15 million fewer people in the labour force than pre covid and the half a million more people economically inactive, particularly due to long-term ill health and caring responsibilities. Economic inactivity for people aged 50-64 is now at 27%, up from just over a quarter pre covid. This means there are over a quarter of a million more people in this age group neither in nor looking for work.

But the key to watch is the ‘gap’ in employment rates between some more disadvantaged groups and the wider working-age population. For older workers, the employment gap is now widening significantly – to its widest in nearly a decade. The employment gap is also very wide for disabled people and the gap (narrowing) is for ethnic minority groups.

We’re hearing a lot about recruitment challenges though these vary across the UK. A crucial factor is a widening gap between current labour force participation (the sum of those employed plus unemployed) and the pre covid labour market growth. This is a gap of more than one million (1.15 million) between participation now and pre-pandemic and 58% of this gap is explained by fewer over-50s in the workforce;

Yet despite the urgency of this situation, we still don’t know enough about those older workers who exited the labour market during or post covid. There is clearly a mix of reasons for leaving – not just health and caring responsibilities but ageism and disenchantment with the lack of age-friendly workplaces. The big question is whether those who’ve left will be enticed back into jobs either through choice or of necessity with a rising cost of living. And what support do they need and how can this be accessed. One problem is that formal employment support needs to be for all workers not just those in receipt of universal benefit

Wise Age believes we need a multi-pronged approach to supporting older workers locally in London with coordinated action by policymakers and employers in a more strategic way led by the Mayor of London (WHY WE NEED A STRATEGY FOR OLDER WORKERS IN LONDON NOW – WiseAge). There are signs of a growing awareness that older workers have been badly scarred in the labour market and probably the biggest challenge facing policymakers. In London, the big test is whether London’s recovery finally recognises this.

Tim Whitaker, Trustee Wise Age