Compiled by Tim Whitaker
1. THE SCALE OF THE PROBLEM FACING OLDER WORKERS IN LONDON
- The plight of many of London’s older workers is becoming more problematic since the pandemic. Whilst young workers have rightly received a lot of attention and support during Covid, the evidence is that they recovered more rapidly than those over 50s. (1) It is now older workers not just in London who are experiencing the effects of scarring in the job market and risk being left behind in the labour market recovery.
- According to ONS 57,000 older Londoners aged 50-64 were unemployed at the end of 2021 an increase of 18,000 from the previous year. The unemployment rate for these workers at 5 per cent is higher than the rest of the UK. (2)
- But what is also alarming is the increase in economic inactivity of over 50s particularly men who have simply exited the labour market during and since the pandemic – this is becoming labelled the “great resignation”. Worryingly this reverses the historical falling trend in inactivity for this age group in the last 10 years. National ONS data shows nearly a rise of over 228,000 in the 50-65s age group becoming economically inactive – a trend also seen in the US and elsewhere. Most of the increase of economic inactivity in the labour market was because of the over 50 years age group and it isn’t just the typical affluent retirees but affecting lower-income groups as well.
- The risks associated with older workers’ unemployment and economic inactivity are immense. The likely resource challenges with the impending cost of living increase, future economic shocks and prospects of a more complex retirement are challenging for older people. (3) Exiting the job market without the necessary resources for retirement will exacerbate the growing trend of pensioner poverty. (4) But, there are also adverse risks to the health, well-being and social status of workers who’ve been pushed out of the job market, storing up welfare problems for the future.
- At present, the jury is out on whether this is just a blip in post covid recovery or signs of a new normal for older workers.
2. URGENT NEED FOR AN OLDER WORKERS STRATEGY IN LONDON
- The challenges facing older workers are thankfully now becoming more apparent and appreciated by policymakers with the publication of research and data. But this needs to be translated into action on the ground. In London tackling the issues faced by older workers require greater strategic intent and greater political. This should be led by the Mayor of London providing conspicuous leadership in raising the visibility of older workers and seeking to address the problems they face. This in turn will help elevate “older workers” as a policy issue elsewhere in the London policy system.
- It’s insufficient to deal with these complex problems within the margins of existing initiatives. Instead, a coordinated strategy and policy approach across London is vital with all government partners, employers, third sector and unions fully involved. We outline below four key priorities for a London Older Workers Strategy. The core is not just more training support but also policy measures to address the drivers of the current problems – most notable ageism in workplaces and the lack of age-friendly workplaces.
3. BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF THE PROBLEMS FACING LONDON’S OLDER WORKERS
- Given the significant changes affecting older workers, we need a much better picture of the implications of the key challenges. There are useful reports at a national level which start to spell out what’s happened to older workers, but London data and insights are essential to understand the specific issues.
- Those key issues include:
- Becoming unemployed as an older person is tricky – getting a job back in the labour market post covid is notably more difficult. Research shows the over 50s have seen employment fall and a much weaker recovery in hours than all other age groups (4). The explanation is that over 50s have not been adaptable to the changing job market. 41% of those under 50s who stopped working in the first lockdown found a new job in March 2021 compared to just 17 per cent of those over 50s. And a third of those under the 30s who were not working in the first lockdown had found work in a new industry by March in 2021 – compared with only 7 per cent of those over 50s. And government support has targeted younger workers such as the Kick Start scheme.
- Older workers are 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 – 11.3 per cent of unemployed 60–64-year-olds have been unemployed for five years or more. Those with lower levels of education, those from BAME communities and women are at risk of being less likely to get jobs after becoming unemployed. Finding new work is inevitably difficult for some older workers – many don’t have much recent experience in searching for work. And worryingly the government itself has acknowledged that back to work support doesn’t work very well for older workers.
- Ageism is a major problem in recruitment. Those exiting jobs or having been made redundant cite ageism as difficulty in them finding work. A report by Legal and General on over 50s in the labour market shows the challenges of ageism (5). The 60-64 age group surveyed showed that 64 per cent believe their age made employers less likely to hire them due to feeling overqualified and not having the right skills. 17 per cent cite health reasons for not getting a job which increases with age and then there are caring responsibilities more prevalent in the over 50s.
- The exit from the labour market is unequal. People in low paid and manually intensive jobs are also at far greater risk of being forced out of the labour market early. Those working with heavy machinery and in ‘elementary occupations’ like cleaning or security are particularly vulnerable, closely followed by people in caring and other service occupations and retail and customer service (6)
- The exit highlights the lack of training and skills possessed by older workers showing the lack of investment in this age group. Various studies show how older workers lose out. CIPD data shows a pattern of older workers participating less in training with a lack of access equal access to training and progression opportunities, with the risk managers are making assumptions that older staff are less likely to want development opportunities (7)
- For those becoming economically inactive, there are uncertainties ahead. Over three-quarters of 50-59s stated they left work sooner than expected – compared with over half of over 60s (8). These 50-year-olds were less likely to have retired than those over 60s but cited stress and mental health or a change in lifestyle. But the biggest uncertainty is financial – for many they are using pension or savings and investments to fund their economic inactivity, but this may be over-optimistic and can be precarious, and so many have worries about money and savings.
- Yet many are resigned to this position of economic inactivity – less than a third of over 60s would consider returning to work – compared with 59 per cent of 50-year-olds (9). In London 77 per cent had not gone back to paid work since losing or exiting their job. Flexible and part-time work may prompt some back. Yet evidence from the CIPD is that there could be a latent demand for job flexibility flexitime, term-time working reduced hours, job shares, annualised hours etc shows either that it isn’t being asked for or is not being allowed. (10)
- There are significant numbers of older workers who are now outside of the system to easily get support. Many older workers who leave the labour market won’t be on benefits and won’t be eligible or go to a job centre – only 12 per cent receive state pensions which trigger DWP support. This throws up issues around how best to support these older workers and how best to reach them. And research shows that many over 50s don’t engage with Job centre support or other formal support as they don’t see it as suitable or relevant to them. (11) This means new innovative ways will be required to attract and help older workers using a personalisation agenda.
4. SEGMENTING OLDER WORKERS IN LONDON
- We urgently need a clearer understanding of what’s happened to older workers in London including:
- Employment levels in London pre and post covid by age group
- How many over 50s have been made unemployed for how long, and what are the reasons?
- How many over 50s have become economically inactive and for what reasons?
- How do these rates vary across London in the sub-regions?
- What are employment and exit rates by age, gender, and ethnicity as well as income levels?
- Employment changes for unemployment and exiting for over 50s across industry sectors including industry age rates and by occupational level
- Changes in hours worked and the incidence of part-time working post covid
- Formal qualifications by age and in house training received by older workers
- Reported health and caring problems for older workers
- We need the views of the over 50 workers experiencing change
There has been some limited qualitative research at a national level (12) but this needs to be supplemented by a programme of research and engagement with over 50s in London who have experienced change. This needs to look at barriers to finding work, views about exiting employment and why, what personal and family circumstances affect decisions; and what support is felt to be necessary.
- Prioritising needs and support for older workers
There are big risks of lumping all “older workers” together as well as making assumptions about needs or looking at older workers through the prism of existing provider employment support initiatives Further research and analysis are required to begin to categorise older workers to help identify and tailor support. A simple crude breakdown is those who are seeking work via JCP, those outside of the JCP system, the long term unemployed, those who have been pushed out of the labour market post-pandemic and those willingly exiting the labour market.
STRATEGIC PRIORITY ONE: PROVIDING THE RIGHT TAILORED SUPPORT FOR OLDER WORKER’S NEEDS
The overriding aim is to ensure that all those over 50s who wish to work or leave the labour market feel supported and enabled to do so in a way that suits their circumstances and can access that support wherever they live in London.
- An assessment of the skills gap facing older workers (e.g., types of digital) is necessary but also identifying the marketable skills strengths of older workers against sectors
- Many older workers report that they are put off training as it doesn’t suit their circumstances and they feel out of place. The key is ensuring the provision by way of training, coaching and courses is appropriate to the different needs of older workers.
- An audit of training support across London is required ensuring standards are met, the content is tailored and those providing it are skilled and empathetic with the differing needs of older workers as well as the performance of programmes of support in terms of outcomes. This needs to be across sub-regional partnerships
- The Mayoral Academy programme needs to be assessed on how far it is catering for older workers and what can be done more.
- Access to all training and support needs to be promoted. As many older workers are not in receipt of state benefits then ensuring existing employment support services reach a wider audience of over 50s through a personalisation agenda will be necessary.
STRATEGIC PRIORITY TWO: AN IMPROVED ADVICE AND INFORMATION SYSTEM FOR OLDER WORKERS
Older workers seeking support need appropriate advice in seeking employment. But that advice needs to be carefully tailored around needs as well as using different channels to reach older workers. Unfortunately, the experience of older people using materials is they fail to cater for older people – photos of older workers are few and much of the focus is oriented around young people.
- Greater information is required about the options open to older workers in employment. The Mayor needs to coordinate an Older Worker’s information hub. This would provide advice on ageism, rights to flexible working, support for health problems and caring responsibilities.
- There is evidence is that some older workers made redundant during covid left to become self-employed.
- The complex issues around retirement and paying for later life require greater information for older people so they can make the right choice but also have up to date information. This is even more important with the cost-of-living crisis and whilst the Mayors’ Cost of the Living hub is a good start there should be more bespoke information on issues facing older workers.
STRATEGIC PRIORITY THREE: ADDRESSING THE CAUSES
Although tailored support is vital, the problems facing older workers will only be solved by tackling the underlying causes of the problems. This needs to be through a range of new Mayoral led initiatives.
- Championing older workers in London campaign
We need more awareness of the value of older workers in London and their benefits to the job market with them seen as part of the solution, not just a problem. Through paid work alone, older Londoners contribute at least £47 billion to the capital’s economy. The Mayor and London councils in conjunction with employers and other partners need to run a campaign that publicises the active role of older workers and the value of multi-generational workforces and the need for more organisations to become age-friendly.
- Promoting good quality work and training for older workers
One major problem voiced by older workers is the quality of jobs. Local employers need to be persuaded to provide age-friendly workplaces by promoting good practices. This should include championing schemes such as the London Healthy Workplace Award and the aligned Good Work Standard stimulating employers to create healthy work environments such as flexible hours for older workers with caring responsibilities. Initiatives such as midlife MOTs phased retirement and financial wellbeing schemes are required.
- A Mayoral Challenge on Ageism
But the “elephant in the room” is always ageism in employment which affects many people seeking jobs – shown in the surveys, particularly those who’ve exited employment. Despite concerns, there needs to be more leadership around challenging ageism. This requires a mayoral campaign around combatting ageism in employment. This needs to promote sectors that employ higher levels of older workers, develop case studies of innovations for older workers as well as encourage all employers to publish data on employment (GLA it should be noted employs 19 per cent over 50s – only 4 per cent over 60)
- London toolkit for age-friendly employers
Manchester is the first UK city to launch a toolkit for employers to promote age-friendly workplaces in business terms. London needs to follow suit and produce guidance and support for London employers on flexible working, and career development throughout their lives, making workplaces more inclusive and developing an inter-generational dialogue on the future of work. This would be based on Wise Age’s Older People’s Employment Charter (10)
- Making Anchor Institutions the exemplar of age-friendly workplaces
Anchor Institutions to date have concentred on younger workers though they have an expectation to recruit more over 50s. As part of the broader London older workers campaign, Anchor Institutions need to be persuaded to all become accredited age-friendly employers setting an example to their supply chains and communities.
STRATEGIC PRIORITY FOUR: JOINING UP THE LONDON RECOVERY BOARD PLANS TO SUPPORT OLDER WORKERS.
Whilst elements of the recovery plan package in the London Recovery Board Good Work Mission do touch on older workers, more can be done as part of a coherent strategy which addresses all the issues rather than a collection of initiatives. Key actions here are:
- An older workers governance group with representatives of GLA, London Councils, sub-regional partnerships, employers, unions, training providers, adult education, third sector and age activist organisations specialising in over 50s support. This would monitor support against the overview of older workers’ needs, coordinate an action plan and align existing initiatives. This would be comparable to the Youth Recovery Board set up by the LRB
- The Skills Roadmap needs to address the skill gap for older workers across London with an audit of AEB funded provider delivery plans for older workers. There needs to be a publicity programme geared at older workers on the value of education and training in later life. The forthcoming Londoner learners survey should assess the outcomes and value for those over 50s.
- The No wrong door programme is a valuable approach yet needs to ensure that older workers’ needs are catered for by tackling the barriers facing older workers and utilising unemployed over 50s customer journeys in planning access to advise. The missing over 50s who have exited the labour market need to be catered for.
- Mayor Academies Programme and hubs need to ensure they are providing the right training and support for older workers. New sectors need to be reviewed in terms of how older workers can contribute to them.
- Borough led job brokerage and skills provision needs to ensure there is adequate provision for older workers across London in an equitable way including dedicated support for those over 50s.
- There needs to be better integration of the various elements of the London Recovery Board Structural Inequalities Plan to provide a coordinated approach to older workers with needs clear objectives and measures for evaluation. Issues of age discrimination are promoted in terms of employer’s rights. And financial well-being support needs to be devised to help older people face a challenging future.
Ultimately the aim of the strategy is to improve employment outcomes for those over 50s, reduce the adverse financial risks of older people and also promoting age-friendly workplaces to root out ageism. But whilst plans can be produced, we need to track the impact of the strategy through a range of measures as shown below. As part of the Older Workers Strategy, this needs public reporting and discussions with employers, unions, and other stakeholders.
- Percentage of over 50s employed
- Percentage of over 50s unemployed
- Percentage of over 50s classified as economically inactive
- Percentage of over 50s economically inactive by ill health and caring responsibilities
- Percentage of over unemployed 50s still in unemployment after 12 months
- Numbers of over unemployed over 50s receiving bespoke training
- Percentage of over 50s receiving GLA adult education programmes
- Percentage of over 50s in work reporting receiving training by their employer
- Percentage of over 50s reporting ageism in recruitment or in the workplace
- Percentage of London employers employing 25% workers aged 50 plus.
- Number of London employment tribunals cases citing age discrimination
- Percentage of London employees’ awareness of age as a protected characteristic under
- the Equality Act
- Percentage of London employers with diversity or equal opportunity policies in relation to
- age discrimination
- Number of contracts to SMEs run by over 50s
- A Survey of older workers on support received
- Institute for Fiscal Studies “ A year pf covid – the evolution of labour market and financial inequalities through the crisis “https://ifs.org.uk/uploads/WP202139-A-year-of-COVID-the-evolution-of-labour-market-and-financial-inequalities-through-the-crisis-3.pdf
- Office for National Statistics (ONS) Labour Force Survey, Oct-Dec 2021
- Phoenix Futures Longer Lives Index – The Longer Lives Index | Phoenix Group (thephoenixgroup.com)
- Independent Age” Poverty in Later Life “ Poverty in later life: How people in older age move in and out of poverty, and what should be done to reduce it | Independent Age
- Legal and General “Over 50s in the labour market “ Over 50s in the labour market (legalandgeneral.com).
- TUC report “Older workers after the pandemic “https://www.tuc.org.uk/research-analysis/reports/older-workers-after-pandemic-creating-inclusive-labour-market
- CIPD “Understanding Older Workers report” Understanding older workers: Analysis and recommendations to support longer and more fulfilling working lives (cipd.co.uk)
- Institute for Fiscal Studies op cit
- ONS “Reasons for workers aged over 50 years leaving employment since the start of the coronavirus pandemic” Reasons for workers aged over 50 years leaving employment since the start of the coronavirus pandemic – Office for National Statistics
- CIPD “Understanding Older workers report “ op cit
- Centre for Ageing Better Work – The State of Ageing 2022 | Centre for Ageing Better (ageing-better.org.uk)
- ONS “Impact of coronavirus on people aged 50 to 70 years and their employment after the pandemic “ Impact of coronavirus on people aged 50 to 70 years and their employment after the pandemic – Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)