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We must do more to help over 50s return to work

The success rate of people over 50 supported in to a long-term job are worse than any other group

There are now more than 1.1 million workers over the age of 65 and more than 60% of all the additional workers in the labour market since 2010 have been over the age of 50. The removal of the Default Retirement Age also means that employers are not able to impose mandatory retirement on their employees without justification. However, while many people are entering later life in rewarding, productive and fulfilling jobs there are many others who are not. We need to focus on an often overlooked group – those out of work in their 50s.

Some are unemployed, but much larger numbers are out of work but not officially registered or recognised as unemployed. They may have taken early retirement, have long-term health conditions or disabilities, or be carers. Not all will want or are able to work, but there is still a large hidden group surviving on redundancy payments, a small early pension or on the low income of a partner. With the rising State Pension age there is less scope for people to ‘hang on’ until retirement.

If people over the age of 50 are out of work they have more difficulty than any other group in getting in to work. Analysis of the government’s Work Programme shows just 14.2% of people over the age of 50 are supported in to a long-term job. That is a success rate of less than one in seven – worse than any other group regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or disability.

Work that is appropriate and undertaken in a safe, healthy and supportive working environment is good for people’s physical and mental health. There are also obvious financial benefits for people working for longer if they can, especially with an estimated 12 million people not making adequate financial provision for their retirement.

The Centre for Ageing Better is committed to ensuring that as many people as possible are able to access the benefits work can bring. With rising life expectancies we want to ensure people are able to make informed decisions and have control over where, when and how they work in later life. Our research found that the most important factors for people as they age are health, financial security, and social connections. We also know that each of these factors is closely related to people’s working lives.

The current situation isn’t working for individuals, the places they live in or the national economy. We need to find out more about what works, without making assumptions and provide solutions that actually reflect people’s lives.

People’s lives are complex, as are the barriers that people face to get in to work – caring responsibilities, long term health conditions, a recent bereavement or relationship breakdown, problems with debt, a lack of relevant work experience or skills gaps, transport or a housing issue. It could be any of these on their own or in combination and tailored responses will be needed. Crucial as well is the local labour market, outright or unconscious biases from employers and recruiters, and the types of work available.

We recently announced a five-year partnership to develop and share innovative approaches to tackling social, economic and health inequalities in later life with Greater Manchester Combined Authority. One of our immediate priorities is to help many more people aged 50 and over stay in work and get into work. Working collaboratively in Greater Manchester and elsewhere, we will develop and test new approaches. By building and sharing the evidence of what works, we hope to raise the bar so that ‘one in seven’ is no longer seen as being acceptable in supporting people over 50 back in to work.

Patrick Thomson is senior programme manager at the Centre for Ageing Better